A former sex worker’s story about learning to protect her sexual health and rights

In Uganda, young people can find it difficult to access sexual and reproductive health services. A youth-friendly drop-in centre made all the difference to Rose, who started sex work aged 14.

Former sex worker and single mother Rose lives in Bwaise on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital Kampala. These days Rose, 23, provides for her three children by working in a salon plaiting hair, a skill she acquired through training from the Uganda Youth Development Link drop in centre.

The centre also provides friendly HIV counselling and testing services for adolescents and is participating in an ambitious new programme called Link Up. Young people in Uganda often struggle to access such services and the programme will help improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people living with and affected by HIV.

The drop in centre is located in a busy semi-urban area close to a brothel. Rose, who started sex work aged 14, started attending HIV and sexual and reproductive health services at the centre a year ago.

Sexual health education

Rose said: “I became sexually active when I was ten and I didn’t use any family planning then. I was very young and didn’t know. I started coming here when I realised I should progress with my life and I decided to quit commercial sex. I enjoy socialising with people here and I also get further training on ways in which I can make my life better. It has given me the courage to change my life and stop selling my body.

“Before being introduced to this place I had not used sexual reproductive health services very much. I used to hear about the issues but would not respond to them, I thought they did not affect me. Now I have been trained on how to prevent unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and HIV, especially through the consistent use of condoms.”

In Uganda, young people can find it difficult to access health services as a common attitude, including among some health workers, is that young people should not be sexually active. At the drop in centre it’s a different story and Rose is not afraid to attend because there are people her own age who openly share their experiences.

The taboo of talking about sex

“The good thing about this place is that they give me helpful information and I can talk freely,” she said. “I’m not frightened to interact with social workers and health personnel. I can tell them my secrets and because the centre is near my home I do not incur high costs to come here.

“The social workers also visit me at home and encourage me to be positive towards life and to not go back into commercial sex work. They tell me to use condoms if I have sex and I know this is important because they do not want me to get HIV or become accidentally pregnant.”

When Rose was young, safe sex issues were never openly discussed in her home as it was a taboo subject. She said: “I only talked about sex with my friends, but even then we were thought to be promiscuous for talking about it. I only started getting information about sexual issues when I started commercial sex work and we shared information about HIV and getting pregnant.

“Now I try as hard as possible to protect myself against HIV and I use a condom every time I have sex. I am more confident to demand how I should have sex with a man. I can speak for myself and say ‘I cannot do this’. I know the condom can prevent me from getting pregnant and protect me from HIV. The good thing is I can pick up condoms here at no cost.”

Safe sex

Rose said: “I worry about HIV because when you get infected, you cannot get cured. Since I found this centre, I get tested once every three months. I started when I fell sick one time and I feared that it could be HIV.

“I have lost many relatives and friends to HIV but the services at the centre have taught me to have safe sex. When I get a man who wants me I can tell him without fear to use a condom or go for an HIV test. I do not fear to express my opinion on sex matters anymore.”

Rachel Amucu, a social worker based at the drop in facility, said: “The greatest challenge working with sex workers is lack of funding to empower them to start out on their own. I would like to see them start other income generating ventures. But they are young and highly vulnerable and my greatest fear is they will return to commercial sex work where the risks of HIV, sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies increase.”

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 0