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Twenty-six (26) year old Bathabile is a sex worker. Having lost her parents at a very young age she was left in the care of her grandmother. She was forced into sex work to take care of her herself and her grandmother.


“When my parents died my grandmother was already very old,” explains Bathabile. “She was forced to do menial jobs to take care of me and send me to school but we barely made ends meet. She was too old to take on more jobs and it got to a stage where she could not work anymore. This is how I ended up doing sex work.


One day while at home Bathabile heard about a meeting at the community hall.


“I attended the meeting because I had nothing to do; in fact I actually thought I would attend and get clients there,” laughs Bathabile at recollection. As it turned out the community meeting was an outreach meeting by the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV AIDS Research Zimbabwe (CeSHHAR) for sex workers.


Bathabile says this meeting changed her life forever. Through this CeSHHAR programme known as the Sisters with a Voice being implemented with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Bathabile says she has really found her voice.


“Before I became part of this programme I did not know I had rights as a sex worker; I looked down on myself very much because of my social status,” says Bathabile. “Through the CeSHHAR programme I began learning about so many things for example how to use a condom, how to negotiate for condom use and the services available to sex workers to stay healthy…”


Today she is a junior outreach officer with CeSHHAR in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. Her job is to conduct outreach campaigns among sex workers providing them with information about their health, distributing condoms as well as teach other sex workers how to use them correctly and consistently, among many other things. 


Through her experience as a sex worker and her exposure to the Sisters with a Voice programme Bathabile is one of the founding members of the first ever Sex Worker Association in Zimbabwe where she is the Vice Chairperson. She and many other sex workers have also benefited from Paralegal Training for sex workers which was done by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, another UNFPA partner.


“This training opened my eyes to so many things; it was very empowering,” explains Bathabile. “I didn’t know that as sex workers we actually have rights and that we are actually human beings. I know how to handle myself in cases of arrest by the police or when any of our members are arrested.”


Bathabile was also lucky to be part of a group of sex workers who went to India for a learning and support visit


 “My being part of the CeSHHAR programme has opened me to a world of so many opportunities that I never dreamt of having in my life. I thought I would just be a nobody in life; I was just fleeting through life without any hope for the future but today that hope for a better future for me and my daughter has been restored. I have managed to reconnect with my daughter thanks to this programme. We must continue to reach more women and girls through this programme to empower them with information.”


The Zimbabwe National Sex Work programme began in 2010 with support from UNFPA and the National AIDS Council. The National Sex Work Programme now receives substantial funding through the Global Fund HIV grant for Zimbabwe.  It is programmes such as these that have touched the lives of women like Bathabile in ways they had never imagined. –Bertha Shoko