Fearless Sex Worker Peer Leader challenge discrimination during COVID-19 Government Relief Program.

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Ms. Justin is a 32 years old mother of two children living in Mbuya-Gaetano Hotspot, Nakawa Division-Kampala, and a Sex Worker Peer Leader trained by Lady Mermaid as part LMB-AIDS-Fondet HIV program for KPs in Uganda. Ms. Justin was trained to promote access to HIV services and advocate for health and other rights of Sex Workers in her community.

 Ms. Justin narrates that; “On 13th April while the whole country was in first lockdown due to COVID-all bars were closed, no movement, and due to abrupt ban of transport means, Sex Workers in our zone got stuck in brothels with no enough basic needs and support. The government promised food relief on assumption that each of the residents in targeted communities (ours inclusive) was to benefit.”

She adds that, “On the day of distribution, the food distribution trucks led by the women local leader, zone chairman, army, red cross and Local Defense Unit (LDU) officials parked in our zone (Buyinja) which is the 1st zone in the division, but because the zone is full of Sex Workers (because it’s a rest area for trucker drivers) they skipped it, and started from the far extreme zones of Katooko, Kinawataka, Mbuya Hill, Kago e.t.c, and later on they returned to our zone/hotspot. We hoped it was our turn (Sex Workers) to receive food, but when distribution kicked off, to our dissatisfaction, Sex Workers were skipped by the officials.”

The “Nabakyala” (women local leader) who led the distribution team would point at Sex Workers and say, “That’s a Prostitute, don’t give her food” in that way they skipped four (4) households of Sex Workers before arriving at mine, and gave me 1 bag of posho (despite the fact that my household of 3 people was eligible for 3 bags of posho and 3 bags of beans).

I told them it’s impossible, let’s go back and you equally give food to all other women (Sex Workers) you have skipped because they have similar needs and even some of them are on medication, need food support. “haven’t you received your own food?, shut up” the red cross lady on food distribution team barked at me, well as the army officer asked whom I’m call myself to challenge them.

 I replied to them that well I had received a bag of posho, but am their peer leader, I’m mandated to stand up for their rights, they need support too. The army official threatened to arrest me if I don’t zip up, but I stood firm on my quest, when the ladies who have been discriminated heard me fighting for them, they joined me, we caused a commotion that forced the distribution team to hold an immediate meeting inside Gaitano bar, and consequently, they surrendered and re-distributed the food to all Sex Workers they had skipped at first in our Hotspot.

 Although we succeeded at our hotspot, food we received was not enough as allocated to other people, we also learnt that the incident had happened even among other Sex Workers from neighboring zones and a good number of them who didn’t have a trained peer leader to stand up for them, didn’t receive food at all. If I was not trained and empowered to challenge discrimination against sex workers, we would miss out.

And I never stopped there, I also reached out to our organization, Lady Mermaid who supported us to give food to other members who didn’t benefit at all from government food relief program.

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