Presidential adviser on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) Martha Kwataine has assured female sex workers that government will address some of the concerns the group raised in its February petition delivered through the Lilongwe City Council.
She made the commitment on Saturday during a meeting with Female Sex Workers Association (Feswa) in Salima, saying government will sort out the concerns through alternative economic endeavours for the sex workers.
The petition centred on the economic constraints resulting from Covid-19 restrictions, particularly operating hours for bars and police brutality when enforcing preventive measures. Feswa members also complained that they are sidelined on government programmes such as National Economic Empowerment Fund (Neef).
Said Kwataine: “Since we all know that it’s not easy to change the restrictions as they are in legal framework, the only option is to empower you in alternative ways such as businesses. If you organise yourselves, we can link you up with Neef.”
In her remarks, Feswa executive director ZinenaniMajawa said closing bars by 8pm has reduced sex workers’ revenue by 30 percent, a situation which has worsened their vulnerability.
“These are sex workers’ revenue platforms and business peaks at around 10 to 11pm. It would be better if bars were open from 4pm to 11 pm instead of 2pm to 8 pm because the operating time will be the same,” she said amid claps from the association’s members.
Majawa also said when police officers enforcing Covid-19 preventive measures catch them, they beat them up, demand money and lock them up in police cells that are filled to capacity.
She said: “So they arrest us in bars where we have enough space for social distancing and squeeze us in small police cells. Our question is, where are we safe?”
According to Majawa, some sex workers own small businesses to supplement their sex work, but government sidelines them in programmes such as Neef and Covid-19 cushion funds.
In the 2020/21 financial year, government has injected K40 billion into Neef and has promised to increase the amount to K75 billion in the next financial year.
NGO-Gender Coordinating Network executive director Barbara Banda, who was present during the dialogue, said she would link Feswa to the National Association of Business Women (Nabw) for possible business mentoring and support.
Salima community policing coordinator HardwellChimonjo, who represented the Malawi Police Service, said he had taken note of the concerns and that he would bring them to the attention of police high command.
The dialogue was facilitated by Citizen Alliance, a secretariat of several NGOs under the banner National Advocacy Platform.
Citizen Alliance executive director Edward Chileka Banda commended both sides for holding a peaceful and fruitful dialogue at a time when Covid-19 is shrinking various sectors of the economy.