Gang raped, beaten and dumped at unknown places; Sex worker tranforms lives
Seeing Beatrice Chanda lecture a class full of obscene looking girls and women, one cannot imagine that the well-dressed lady, so eloquent in her lectures, was once a sex worker.
The only thing that tells of her past is her patched skinned face, due to overuse of skin bleaching chemicals, and a few scars as a result of beatings from men.
Chanda 37 is among the many women and girls who have fallen prey to sex work in Zambia, a country that has high levels of poverty. Over 65 percent of urban dwellers here survive on less than a dollar per day.
High prevalence of HIV/AIDS, where 14 percent of the 13 million population is infected, has led to the increase of orphans who are often left with no means of survival. To get by, many of the orphans become street kids and girls turn to sex work.
This the situation that Chanda, who today works as an activist to reform and prevent girls from joining sex work, found herself in when she lost both her parents at the age of 12.
Chanda explains that she was lured into prostitution after her aunt, who took custody of her, introduced her to a business of selling fritters at a drinking place near her area.
‘’My aunt never took me to school. Instead she started sending me to sell fritters at a nearby bar in our area. I was tasked to ensure there were no left over fritters, no matter how late it was,’’ Chanda recalls.
Before long, sex workers at the bar took interest in her and offered more money than the fritters cost and eventually employed her as their maid.
Chanda mistook the offer by sex workers for generosity; little did she know that the women were slowly luring her into sex work.
“I worked for some time as their maid, but still bringing the fritters to them and my aunt was not aware of this. I was later enticed with a lot of money…to join them in prostitution.’’
“I was young and most men preferred young girls so I attracted a lot of clients, but the women were getting the money on my behalf,” says Chanda.
Chanda remembers initially resisting most men until her ‘bosses’ took her through the business rituals.
“The women forced me to drink beer and smoke marijuana so I can be brave to have sex with any man,” she recalls.
After taking permanent residence with sex workers, Chanda embarked on seven year career of exchanging sex for money. She slept with three to five men per night but confesses she rarely enjoyed the act.
‘’Even when I’m tired, I would do it just for money. I never wanted money to bypass me.”
While the fear of getting infected with the incurable HIV/AIDS is what deters most people from engaging in careless sexual acts, she says otherwise.
“I was very aware of AIDS, but I was always drugged and when you see money all you want is to have it, and most of the time I never used condoms. I suffered from a lot of STI’s (Sexually Transmitted Infections). Fortunately I’m HIV negative,” says Chanda.
Chanda looks back at her profession with regret. For once she wears a sad face during the interview.
“Sex work is not an easy job, I wouldn’t like anyone to go through that.We were at times beaten, gang raped, and sometimes dumped at unknown places. Sometimes men would use you and instead of paying you, they would grab the little money you made, and leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere,’’ she says.
She recalls that her most frightening experience was when her friend was murdered during their tour of duty.
“A situation that made me think twice about this job was when we were picked with my friend by some men,” she narrates.
“To our surprise they told us to have sex with each other, we hesitated but they threatened to kill us and one of them placed a log in my friends private parts. I sensed danger and I asked if I could go to the toilet. I was ordered to leave my clothes. That is how I escaped, naked. I didn’t know where to go, but a good Samaritan helped me. My friend never came back.”
After five years in prostitution Chanda fell pregnant in 1992 and gave birth to a ‘fatherless’ baby girl. Parenthood gave Chanda more need for money. She continued her business and left her daughter in the care of a retired sex worker.
Chanda’s daughter is now pursuing her secondary school level and is not aware of how she came into existence.
“I told my daughter that her father died when she was young, and that I have lost track of her father’s relatives,’’ explains Chanda.
Chanda’s redemption process started when she met activists from a drop- in- centre ‘Tasinta,’ meaning deep transformation in the local Zambian language.
The activist offered counseling and life skills courses to Chanda and her friends. Equipped with tailoring and business management skills, Chanda was ready to reform and was offered a full time job at the drop-in- centre as an instructor.
After four years of working as an instructor, Chanda finally met the man of her life, who accepted her past life and married her. Today, Chanda lives a normal married life and is now a mother of three.
Her duties at the drop-in center involve counseling and giving life skills such as tailoring, catering, gardening, hair dressing and business management skills to help girls who are on the path of transformation from prostitution.
In addition to counseling sex workers, Chanda also teaches life skills to young girls who have no means of survival to prevent them from becoming prostitutes.
Chanda is proud to be part of the ‘Tasinta’ program that has transformed over a million prostitutes in the country. She stands as a true activist, sharing the same background with her students.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.