Nthabiseng Masia-Mapetla – THIS article seeks to explore the often secretive industry of sex work.
Sex work has been on this planet for centuries.
This is the reason it is called the world’s oldest profession.
But it is also one of the most degrading forms of survival.
Sex work has become a norm in many developing countries, including here in Lesotho.
But how did we as Basotho lose the concept of sex as an act of love between two consenting adults?
The term sex work refers to women, men and transgender people who sell sex to make a living.
The term “prostitution” seems to include a moral judgment by implying that individuals who sell sex are involved in a practice that is corrupt and so they are themselves unworthy.
A far more neutral and respectful alternative is the term “sex worker”.
My focus is on women sex workers mainly because the majority of sex workers in Lesotho are women.
Most of the time people use derogatory terms to describe these women. Here in Lesotho they are referred to as Likuena, Makhosha and Jezebels. I find these terms totally offensive.
But sex work is indeed more an act of servitude than what is portrayed in movies.
Behind these women are broken dreams and humiliated souls.
One cannot imagine the agony and pain they go through in having sex with one man, and then the other, and then the other, and then the other.
It must kill your soul somehow!
A higher percentage of these women are uneducated. They use drugs and alcohol to cope with their worries and strains.
When a client presents himself, they are on him like chicken on corn, they become like animals, vultures.
It is the survival of the fittest.
Sex workers are often marked a “high risk group” in the subject of HIV and Aids.
Their clients are often referred to as a “bridge’’ population for the transmission of HIV meaning that they act as a connection between the high risk group and the general population.
Their risky behaviour patterns include high rate of partner exchange and a low rate of condom use.
The mounting number of sex workers in our country should make them a target for intervention in combating Aids.
But why do men pay for sex?
The reasons are unique to their individual situations.
Often there isn’t one simple reason why men pay for sex, rather a combination of multiple factors drive men to seek services from sex workers.
These include divorce, death of a spouse and attempts to escape authoritarian, complaining and demanding wives.
Men also seek services of sex workers because of damaged and wrecked ego.
No matter how insecure a man might feel sexually, sex workers make him feel for a time that he is the greatest man in the world.
Men’s greatest urge is to be men!
But the criminalisation of sex work in our country leaves sex workers particularly vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse from law enforcement agents and their clients.
What draws my attention and interest to these women is that there seems to be a “sister-sister” spirit among these sex workers.
The fact that we are created by one God places value on every human being.
These women are our beautiful Basotho sisters who just happen to be trapped inside a maze of misery.
My head sometimes reels with anger and pity for these women because I strongly believe they have the potential to rise to the top.
I spoke to one sex worker who was born and raised in Lesotho. She never knew her father. Her mother committed suicide when she was barely six years old.
At 12 she found herself caught up in the world of pain and abuse struggling to survive as a child with no responsible adults to support her.
This drove her into prostitution. She has sad stories to tell.
I believe it is women like these who need society’s support to quit sex work and pursue their dreams.
We need to help these women if we are to lift them up from the mire.
If we are afraid to take a moral stand, our beautiful country will certainly continue this relentless march towards disaster.
But this will require tremendous effort from all of us.
We need to change the lives of at least a single sex worker by taking her off the street.
The time for words has passed. Now is the time for action.