Increasing numbers of women in Zimbabwe are being forced to turn to sex work and prostitution to stay afloat, a report revealed Thursday, as the impact of lockdowns triggered by the Chinese coronavirus batter the socialist country’s already failing economy.
Reuters detailed how thousands of women who lost their jobs when lockdown measures were imposed this year are now selling sex so they can continue to provide for themselves and their families.
One of those women, 24-year-old single mother Esther Kamupunga, told the agency that she was forced into the sex industry after losing her job as a waitress in March.
“Life was better until the advent of this coronavirus. Our business came to a standstill due to lockdown … unfortunately I was one of the people who were retrenched,” she said. “I have two children. I could not watch them going to bed without eating anything. I had no option but to follow some friends to this shopping center.”
Kamupunga typically charges clients $2 USD for a short session out in the open, in places such as a public park, although she often ends up settling for just half that. Those clients who want her services for the night must pay around $10 USD.
“We lie on a cloth spread on top of the grass,” she explained. “It provides comfort suitable for a short time.”
Other women, such as Hazel Zemura, have sold sex for decades to earn a better standard of living in the southern African country, which has long been beset by dire economic conditions as a result of the leadership of socialist dictator Robert Mugabe and his successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
“Hunger drives us into the sex trade,” explained Zemura, who also works with the Women Against All Forms of Discrimination, which provides health programs for sex workers. “As our incomes, like the cross border trading — the importation of weaves and makeup kits from China for resale — got eroded during the lockdown, we had to turn to men for survival.”
As an authoritarian police state, Zimbabwe has imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdown regimes, with reports of mass arrests and officials demanding bribes to let people free. Health officials have recorded a relatively low number of cases — around 8,300 infections and 250 deaths — compared to other neighboring states, but this figure is likely to be higher due to a widespread lack of testing.
The strict measures have damaged the country’s already struggling economy, which before the pandemic had an unemployment rate of at least 16 percent and crippling hyperinflation, with prices for basic goods rising on a daily basis. Sex workers saw their income significantly diminished after the government forced the closure of brothels. Many have also been unable to access condoms due to the closure of the health clinics they depend on.
The rise in sex work is one of the many unfortunate consequences of Zimbabwe’s current predicament. In July, the South African NGO Gender Links revealed that the country has seen a boom in child marriage and general sexual exploitation since the pandemic began.