Melisa Timosi an 18 year old sex-worker in Neno southern Malawi uses all tactics to attract masculine attention when she is at a drinking joint. At her age she was supposed to be at school either in college or at high school; however circumstances beyond her control have forced her into prostitution.
The reasons that are forcing many girls into prostitution in Malawi are complex. However while many experts have shed different opinions on what has made the present day generation to be sexaholic, recent revelations in Malawi indicate that poverty is the sole culprit in the process.
Speaking in a recent interview, Russel Msiska District Manager for Youth Net and Counseling (YONECO) in Ntcheu said that reasons that are driving young girls into sex-work which is in most cases trans-generational, are poorly understood, but he said that poverty was the sore perpetuator of the problem.
Msiska said that many young girls were going into sex-work because they want to meet the current fashion trends that can not be met by their parents’ purse.
In Timosi’s case above, she recalls of a time when she used to lead a decent morally up right life, but her fathers death changed the whole situation.
“My father was well to do and he offered us every thing, however after his death his brothers grabbed all the property we had and life became so unbearable such that I was forced to go into domestic work while my mother struggled to assist my two younger sisters,” said Melisa in an interview.
She said that while working as a domestic servant, she was raped on several occasions by her male employer and this made her to feel that she could user her body better by going into sex-work.
She however said her only worry was the scare of an HIV infection as most of her clients are older men who can afford to pay better for the service and they usually demand sex without protection.
Melisa said that although she had to fear the HIV infection, she had no option but face the reality of catching HIV than live a miserable life in poverty.
“We could at times go without food at home and desperately my mother had to use all means to get us food it pained me to see my mother in such a situation, this changed when I ventured into prostitution “she said.
However while poverty has forced many Malawian girls into prostitution, some young girls are going into prostitution merely because of the fun of it.
Rita Kumpakiza, a 19 year old secondary school going lady in Malawi’s commercial city Blantyre said while poverty has been forcing many girls into prostitution, the present generation was sexually more active because of what it gets from the entertainment media.
She said many young people are now exposed to entertainment on the internet and on satellite television and these mediums portray sex out of marriage as a normal thing.
“When these youngsters see all the recent fashion trends on Television and internet and how sexuality is being promoted they look at sexual promiscuity as normal and they cant even value their virginity, “she said.
She disclosed that most of her peers have had at a point exchanged sex for a monetary favor and some of them have ended into prostitution.
“Sex-Work wherever institutionalized or part time is very rampant in rural areas where combined with poverty, knowledge gaps on sexual reproductive health and the wish to be recognized by their peers the young girls go into sex relationships to get the money that would make them access the trendy attire, “she said.
Cecelia Kumwembe Magombo program officer for women and young girls at YONECO said it is very sad that many young girls are given little options to achieve their goals in life because of poverty.
“Our organization has been training the young girls that are in sex-work in vocational skills so that they can lead productive lives than the sex work that can negatively affect their health, “she said.
However Gift Mwale a sex-worker interviewed at Ntcheu said that many girls that end into prostitution are victims of violence targeted at women and children.
She said her experience as a sex-worker has made her meet many tales of how they started leading miserable lives after their parents families broke up and they were taken care of by their poor mothers.
“I have met many friend that have told me that they went into town to do domestic work, were sexually abused at their work and eventually they found that their virginity did not matter and they went into prostitution in the end, “she said.
A recent meeting for chiefs and religious leaders held recently in Lilongwe observed that many Malawian women were forced into prostitution because they were still experiencing various forms of gender based violence.
The meeting observed that women in Malawi were still being denied chance to economic development making them resort into sex-work as the last resolve in their quest to material gains.
Principal Secretary for Gender and Community Development in Malawi, Dr Mary Shawa recently challenged Religious and traditional leaders to be champions of HIV and Gender if Malawi is to make strides to achieve zero new infections in HIV.
Speaking in Lilongwe at a day long meeting for the religious and traditional leaders organized by the Southern Africa AIDS Dissemination service (SafAIDS) Shawa said HIV and AIDS continued to be a challenge in Malawi because of gender imbalances that controlled Malawian economics.
Speaking in an interview Shawa said that while Malawi had achieved much in the response to HIV and AIDS the epidemic continued to have a woman’s face as many of the new infections were in women and children.
“Socially women have always been as inferiors in our society giving them little economic options thereby making them more vulnerable to HIV infection,” Said Shawa.
Shawa said that 57 percent of the one million people positively living with HIV in Malawi were women, while 11 percent were children which she said was an indicator that the country needed to do more to put gender on the HIV/AIDS agenda.
“If we are to change our cultural perspectives on gender we are going to prevent new HIV infections that are taking place in our society because of the culture of silence, “She said.
Dorothy Nyasulu United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Assistant Representative said traditional and religious leaders play a big role in shaping societal attitudes towards culture and challenged chiefs to take a leading role in mainstreaming gender in HIV and AIDS interventions within their areas.
She said because of the various gender disparities women in Malawi were not opening up on HIV and AIDS.
Said Nyasulu: “As custodians of traditional values chiefs can play an important role in ensuring that people understand the inter linkages between gender and HIV”.
Dominica Dhakwa SafAIDS Country Representative to Malawi said that her organization had targeted the traditional and religious leaders as they shape the discourse of society.
She said the conference would equip the traditional leaders with knowledge that will make them understand the inter linkages between HIV/AIDS and Gender based Domestic violence.