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KENYA: You don't have to be a sex worker or bandit

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Women are helped to earn a safe, legal living
ISIOLO, 17 April 2009 (PlusNews) - Much of Kenya is experiencing severe food shortages. Now a new programme is helping women forced into sex work by drought, poverty and conflict to get off the streets and pursue less risky occupations.

The initiative in eastern Kenya by the Arid Lands Office and several NGOs is still in its first month of operation but has so far funded 30 sex workers, helping them gain skills to earn a safe, legal living.

It has also provided small grants totalling US$16,500 to 115 impoverished women and young people to develop skills and broaden their opportunities.

"The programme is the first of its kind. It is very popular because it is addressing both health and socio-economic challenges facing our community," said Lordman Lekulkulai, a programme officer at the Arid Lands Office. "We aim to treat the symptoms of problems that lead to HIV."

The authorities hope the grants will also reduce the number of young men who turn to banditry and highway robbery to earn a living.

Pastoralist communities in the north and east have seen their sheep and goat herds decimated by goat plague, a viral disease, and increasing clashes over water and pasture have driven ever more people to migrate to urban areas.

A survey found that women and girls from the rural areas of Eastern Province were flocking to the town of Isiolo to support their families by commercial sex work. "They are putting their lives at risk because of poverty," said Lekulkulai.

Local health officials said Isiolo district's HIV prevalence rose from 2.8 percent in 2007 to 4.7 percent in 2008. "Girls cannot be bandits; they use their bodies to support their families,” said Fatuma, a beneficiary of the new programme.

Read more:
 Desperate times: women sell sex to buy food
 HIV-positive people feeling the pinch of high food prices
 "Belt tightening" as hunger spreads
After she fell pregnant and dropped out of school, Fatuma came to Isiolo and turned to sex work to support her child. “It is as dangerous as being a bandit," she said. With the grant from the programme, she plans to buy a sewing machine and design ladies clothing.

"I am confident that I will succeed and eventually have a family - I was already tired and ashamed of the life in the street."


Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Migration, Prevention - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

Other OCHA Sites
United Nations - OCHA
DFID - UK Department for International Development
Irish Aid
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation - SDC