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Inspired by others, male sex worker pushes for key populations' rights

Lawrence Phiri is the director of Zimbabwe Rainbow Community (ZRC) a male sex worker led organization in Zimbabwe. He was born on the 1st of November 1987 in Gweru. Here is his story.

I became involved in the sex workers’ rights activism because of the issues and inspiration from people around me. As a sex worker for over 15 years, I am driven to share my experiences with others.  In addition, I experienced discrimination from the LGBTI community and more so on account of my HIV status (I have been living with HIV for more than 5 years now). My family has also been affected by HIV and I have lost several family members to the disease. Many of my sex worker friends were in denial and as a result, most of them, died which greatly affected me. It was this, as well as the silence around these issues by my family and friends that pushed me to break the silence. I then resolved to do my utmost best to make lives better.

When I began to be vocal, I met and was inspired by several people especially activists in Zimbabwe and Kenya who are open about their sexuality. I was encouraged by their boldness. When I encountered other sex workers in Zimbabwe, I was exposed to how sex worker activism works and how it is organized. At my first meeting of the Key Population Forum, the male sex workers voice could not be heard. I changed this when I was appointed the first male sex worker coordinator in Zimbabwe. I worked closely with female sex workers, activists and organizations.


Lawrence facilitates a KP members workshop on access to KP friendly healthcare services 

My work focuses on Zimbabwe where sex work is mostly associated with females, leaving the male sex workers out.  I have therefore focused on male, female and transgender sex workers. My work is diverse, focusing on human rights and health. I advocate for sex workers living with HIV. I also lobby on local and regional platforms for sex workers’ rights, including access to health and rights, support for policy change, anti-violence campaigns and legislative reforms. I also advocate for condoms, lubes, PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) and ARV provisions to all

I work for and with various organizations such as National Aids Council, PZAT, UNFPA, CeSHHAR, ZIMSWA, WAAD, POW WOW, TRANSMART. I am also a member of the African Sex workers Alliance (ASWA). I am currently a full time Director of the Zimbabwe Rainbow Community, one of the largest male sex worker organization in Zimbabwe.  I am currently part of the technical working group that is contributing to ZIMSWA’s efforts in strengthening and reviewing its constitution and mapping of sex worker led organizations in Zimbabwe. I also work with CESHHAR Zimbabwe where I help link other male sex workers to clinical service

I represent Key Populations (KP) in the Key Populations Technical Working Group (TWG) under the Ministry of Health and Child Care and National Aids Council, KP Forum under NAC, KP Stigma Index (UNAIDS), KP Quality Service with PSI/NAC among others initiatives. 

Through working with UNFPA I have grown as a person and as a male sex worker. Through the empowerment programs they implement I have grown personally and professionally.  I was part of the team supported sent to Kenya by UNFPA for an exchange program where we learnt from other sex worker led organizations. UNFPA has been supporting our organization with safe spaces and funding to implement other components of programming for key populations.