Fall 2023 Sex Worker Advocate Interviews

Kamau Interview



Grace Kamau’s peer-education within the field of sex work started when she was 21 years old while in university. She started as a sex worker in university which would later evolve into her becoming a bar hostess. She started with peer education which evolved into outreach work. Kamau’s sister passed away from HIV as well as her close friend in university, also from HIV, which sparked her journey in sex work advocacy. She became a project officer and obtained an AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC) fellowship. From there, Kamau worked at the Sex Worker Alliance for Kenya, then moved to the African Sex Workers Alliance.

This transnational form of advocacy is important as the criminalization of sex work is not just limited to Kenya but expands to most of Africa. Kamau strives for holistic change that will improve the lives of sex workers. Kamau states:

We’ve seen the biggest barrier is also there is a lot of anti-gender, and anti-rights movement whereby we’ve seen like very punitive roles, being even criminalizing populations— like Uganda, whereby they have introduced the law to criminalize —same sex marriage more. And we are seeing this affecting us because the anti-gender, anti-rights movement, now they are talking about family.

She expresses how the victimization of sex workers is used to further victimize other populations, an intertwined system of discrimination. Additionally, within a Thomson Reuters Foundation article, by Nita Bhalla, there is discussion on the exposures of sex workers during the pandemic. Kamau pinpoints the positive feedback loop caused by COVID-19 mitigations, from shutting down business to at-home violence. Sex workers were scapegoated by clients, law enforcement, and neighbors (Bhalla 2020).

Grace Kamau has dedicated her life to sex work advocacy in Kenya. From her work in AVAC to attending conferences and advocating for the rights of sex workers, Kamau has been involved in all aspects surrounding sex work from client violence to the criminalization of sex workers. Kamau described the personal violence she has experienced and the prevalence of violence against sex workers inflicted on them by their clients. Kamau identifies that, “I would say 90% of the clients that sex workers, we interact with are very violent. Very violent. 90%. And most of them will either beat you. They will abuse you. They will not even pay your money.”

As a response to the frequent violence sex workers face, Kamau shares the ways in which sex workers come together to protect themselves and each other. The example Kamau gave regarding methods of protection is in brothel-based sex work. The first method of protection that was cited by Kamau was screaming to raise alarm if a sex worker was being attacked. Sex workers can also request brothel owners to have clients’ Kenya National Identity Cards recorded in an attempt to ensure safety. Additionally, in some cases, there is a paralegal on standby in the event that the police need to be called.

Grace Kamau’s work in The African Sex Worker Alliance has reached 35 African countries. Within the organization, their advocacy puts an emphasis on a human rights-based approach. Kamau found that the criminalization of sex work is one of the largest obstacles within the field of sex work even identifying it as a “double criminalization” as they are abused by the legal system.

Kamau speaks on the judicial system in Kenya surrounding sex workers. The policing of people in this profession is rarely in favor of the sex workers themselves. There is sometimes a paralegal on standby to prevent violence inflicted by the clientele, however, the police rarely intervene on behalf of the sex worker. The clients more often than not are very dangerous, using violence to try and control the situations. Kamau explains, “Most of the clients will use the police to threaten the sex worker and tell the sex worker if… I’m jailed. I’m going to kill you. I’m going to send people to kill you.” These threats aren’t empty.

Mental wellness support is limited to none. Kamau explained her perspective on the amount of support sex workers have:

Most of the people don’t think about our mental wellness, but for me, if it was before, like 5 years ago, I would be crying… recently there was there was a survey that was done ensured that 95% of the violence cases of sex workers in Africa is is attributed to clients of sex workers and police.

Kamau explained how sex workers are unable to talk about trauma that happened to them creating a snowball effect where they are not able to get the support they need. Kamau also spoke on the community’s perspective of her work. Kamau stated “We’ve seen a lot of backlash from the community saying that…it’s not our will to do sex… In all African countries sex work is criminalized.” People believe that sex work is always non-consensual and as a result, sex workers do not have support in their communities.These attitudes make it even more dangerous for sex workers to be doing their jobs. Overall, sex workers struggle with their mental wellness as Kamau explains, “We have not been able to overcome that because we don’t have anybody to talk to, and it’s because of clients [and threats to their privacy].”

Grace Kamau is currently seeking a scholarship for her journey towards her masters degree, an occurrence she cites as uncommon within the sex worker community. “Most of us are illiterate. I would say 90% of the sex workers are illiterate in Africa. So very few of us will go to school because of the challenges that we face.” She aims to further the progress of her sex worker advocacy through her own education, even identifying that many global spaces are inaccessible to “sex workers [that] lack knowledge.” This exposes the double standards of such institutions that push for the empowerment of members of their communities but are inaccessible to many of those members, creating yet another power hierarchy.

When asked what she would like changed about the public’s perception of sex workers Kamau simply stated that she wished people would accept sex work as a profession. She has found that sex work is viewed as a completely separate entity than what is traditionally defined as work. In the interview Kamau explained, “Anybody can choose the profession that they want, and I would like people to change their mindset that sex work is work, and people should accept that.”

Kamau’s involvement in sex work and advocacy is prevalent in every aspect of her life. Kamau describes sex work’s meaning to her:

Sex work means everything to me. I am who I am because of sex work. I take my kids to school because of sex work. I am respected in my community because of sex work. So for me, sex work means everything to me. I don’t know anything else apart from sex work, and sex work is my life. It’s what I eat, it’s what I drink, it’s what I drive, it’s what I wear. So sex work is everything to me.

Kamau has dedicated her life to sex work and her advocacy as a peer educator. Kamau has found her place advocating for sex workers who have not had access to education and hopes to continue her work of advocacy and raising widespread awareness on the issues presently affecting the lives of sex workers.

When asked for her final thoughts Kamau shared that it was crucial for organizations, especially universities such as Connecticut College, to encourage discussions and awareness on the struggles that sex workers face from stigmatization to criminalization. For Kamau, awareness is crucial and she hopes that this will continue. In the future Kamau would also like to see further mental wellness support for sex workers as well as less violence and more protections established for sex workers. As Kamau found that violence and a corrupt judicial system were the largest problems, she hopes that more work will be done to improve the lives of sex workers in Kenya and around the world.





Bhalla, Nita. 2020. “’Hunger or murder’: Lockdown poverty exposes African sex workers to more violence.” Thomson Reuters Foundation News, June 4th, 2020. https://news.trust.org/item/20200604011704-4gk53/


Global Network of Sex Work Projects. “Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme.” Global Network of Sex Work Projects, 2016. https://www.nswp.org/featured/bar-hostess-empowerment-and-support-programme


Hawken MP, Melis RDJ, Ngombo DT, et al. “Part time female sex workers in a suburban community in Kenya: a vulnerable hidden population.” Sexually Transmitted Infections, 78:271-273.  2002.



Panneh M, Gafos M, Nyariki E, et al. “Mental health challenges and perceived risks among female sex Workers in Nairobi, Kenya.” BMC Public Health, 22(1):2158. 2022.



Wanjiru Rhoda, Nyariki Emily, et. al. “Beaten but not down! Exploring resilience among female sex workers (FSWs) in Nairobi, Kenya.”  BMC Public Health 22. 2022. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-022-13387-3

Transcript from Interview 11.19.2023



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Elizabeth York: Okay. So to begin, we wanted to ask you just a few warm up questions, just a little background. So where are you originally from?



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Grace Kamau: Okay. So I’m African. And I’m originally from Kenya. And I’m Kenyan.



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Elizabeth York: Okay, and where do you live now? And if you moved, what brought you to the new location.



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Grace Kamau: I have not moved. I work from Kenya.



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Elizabeth York: Okay, and before we move on to the next section, we would like to ask you to describe a typical day in your life. What does it look like? What do you do in the morning? Afternoon? Evenings? What about in your spare time… things like that.



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Grace Kamau: Okay? So my typical day as a sex worker. First, my name is Grace Kamau. I identify as a female sex worker and I have actively done sex work for the last 15 years. But currently I’m the original coordinator of the African Sex Workers Alliance where we work in 35 African countries. So my typical day is, I wake up. I wake up at 5:30. I go to the gym. After the gym, I’m back home by 6:30. I shower. I pick my kids. I drop my kids to school. I go to the office. I work from 8… I work from 9 to 4, and then from 4 I go pick my kids. I drop them home from there. I have a business. I go to my business. From the business… we close the business about 8 PM Kenyan time. So from 8 I will go to do a bit of sex work, I would say. Not necessarily every day. But there are some of the days like, for example, Wednesday. It’s a ladies day out. It’s a ladies night, so I’ll go out on Wednesday to meet up with a few… a few clients. And now, because I work, most of my clients are clients who will call me. And they will… we will arrange where we will meet, and then I do the same the whole day until Friday. That is my routine until Friday. So on Saturdays, when I have more time to do sex work. So I have a hotspot in Nairobi where I do… I do sex work. So I do my sex work around near a golf… a golf. I would say, it’s a golf club. That’s where I do mostly my my sex work, not inside the golf club, but there is a restaurant next to the golf club. So if you need me, I’m always there. So on Thursday… on Saturday I wake up in the morning. I wake up at about 7. I go to the gym at 8, and then I’m back to to the house. I leave the house at about 11, and that one is when I…I go to my hot spot. So from 1 until 8 AM. On am in that hot spot doing sex work, and then I believe, I believe, from 8, or maybe I’ll have drinks in that hot spot, and then I go home late. On Sundays, I don’t work. So on a typical day on Sunday, I wake up at around 9. I will shower. I shower the kids, and then we go to church. And then, after church we will go, maybe for a family outing, or if we are not going for a family outing we’ll go visit my parents, and then my day ends like that. So that’s a typical week for me. Yeah.



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Mimi Katz: Thank you for telling us. Okay, so the next question is, um, about your work history. So how do you think you would describe your work history?



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Grace Kamau: So I’m not sure what you are talking about which work as a sex worker or as an employed sex worker or all.



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Mimi Katz: I think all. As much as you’re willing to share.



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Grace Kamau: Okay, So my work experience. I have never worked anywhere else apart from the sex worker movement. So I joined the sex worker movement when I was 21 years, and now I’m 39 years. So all my work, experience, and all the work that I have done have done in the sex work movement. So when I was 21 years I joined as a peer educator. So I used to do sex work in the university, so I was employed as a peer educator to mobilize my self, my fellow sex workers who are working in the university. And then after I did the job. Then I was promoted to an outreach worker from an outreach worker to a project officer and then a project officer. I did my project officer work, and then I got an AVAC fellowship. And then, when I got the AVAC fellowship I worked in the sex worker movement. After the AVAC fellowship that is, 2010, I worked 2010, 2011, in an organization that was called Bar Hostess. And then from 2011, I moved from Bar Hostess and I went to the Kenya Sex Workers Alliance and I worked in the Kenya Sex Workers Alliance from 2011 until 2018. From 2018, now I moved to the African Sex Workers Alliance. And so during all that time I would say, I have been an active sex worker, because, apart from the times that maybe I was, I was pregnant with my kids because I have 3 kids. That’s when I’m pregnant is when I’m not actively doing sex work, because sometimes I have pregnancy complications. So the 9 months that I’m pregnant is when I don’t do sex work. So the rest of my years the rest of my time I have been actively doing sex work, and, as I said before, my sex work before… before I joined… before, when I joined the movement in 20, I joined the movement in 2017. So 2017-2018, I used to go on the street. I used to go to the bars, but now, because I have a big base of clients, most of my clients are phone calls. And also, if I don’t have a client on phone call, I use Bumble or Tinder. That’s where I get most of my clients. So for me, I don’t go to the streets to solicit. But I used to do that, but for me now I use technology for me is easy. And so over time I have had done… I have had active sex work. but I have also vast experience in programs and managing sex worker programs for over 16, 17 years or so. Yeah.



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Kazi (They/Them): Thank you. It’s great to see how you like to develop your skills throughout your work experience?



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Grace Kamau: Yeah. And I forgot to say, I forgot to say that when I joined as a peer educator I was in college. I was doing my undergraduates, but I was stuck with school fees. So when I started doing my peer education, the organization that was working for Bar Hostess… one of the things that my line manager did… they paid for my undergraduate school fees, and I was able to graduate. Yeah.



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Kazi (They/Them): So powerful. I’m so… that’s so good to hear. Oh… sorry… So, then that really builds off to the next question., How did you become a sex work… sex worker advocate. What was your journey like? And then what have you learned? And you talked about your skills. So what skills did you build for that type of advocacy work?



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Grace Kamau: Okay, so my journey of sex work advocates started way back in 2008, when I joined the movement. Because that time I had lost a very close person in my life who made me learn about sex work and learn about HIV. So in 2009, when I lost a very close… my close sister. Who we were brought up together… because we were barely a year apart. So we were very close. But now, when I lost her, and I came now to see that I came to realize when I got to the university my sister was a sex worker, and she died of HIV. So that’s when I saw an advert on the TV that was, there was a very big conference in Nairobi for Bar Hostesses. And one of the things they were talking about is HIV in the bars. And there was a very big advertisement on the TV. So I said, I’ll go there. So when I went there I had the zeal, and I wanted to really learn about HIV. And I also knew a couple of people who used to be with my sister because I used to live with my sister because my parents are really old, so my sister was the one who was taking even of my school fees. So I knew a couple of my sister’s friend who are doing sex work and also… some of the also some… of some of the people who are HIV positive, and also that time, I would say in the University, because of lack of school fees, lack of finances we used to go with sponsors. I don’t know whether you know, sponsors like sugar daddies so that they can be able to like maintain our lifestyle. So when I went to this conference is when I started understanding then what we are doing in the university still sex work. So, so when that is how I started my journey. So when I became a peer educator, I started building my skills, I started being exposed in conferences that were talking about HIV. I remember when in 2010, I went to Austria for the International Aids Conference, and that’s when now I would say, my advocates… my advocacy journey started because I was able to meet sex workers from different continent. And that is when I saw the power of sex workers. I met sex workers from Europe there. Europe… it’s called (unintelligible) Europe network of sex workers. And when I saw that sex workers can come together and we can advocate together, that is where my journey started. And so from there from 2010 we came together as African sex workers. I remember we are about 5 sex workers in that conference. We came together. We did a proposal through the help of the global network of sex workers. I have a lot of history. I hope I’m not boring you.


Okay, So we came together through the global network of sex work project. So we did… they helped us do a proposal. We got money from Open Society Foundation. And we went for a learning experience in India. So the Indian sex workers had a very strong sex worker movement that was doing a lot of good work. So we went to India, and we stayed in India for 3 weeks, whereby we were able to learn and sharpen our skills as sex workers… how we can learn that we can be able to run sex worker led organizations. And remember, in my story I told you in 2010 I was an AVAC fellow. So in 2011, when we are going for the Freedom Festival, I was a sex worker still in Bar Hostess. So coming back to Bar Hostess In 2011 we formed the Kenya Sex Workers Alliance, which is sex worker led for sex workers and by sex workers. So we started our journey and we started now the information that we got from India, we started building our sex worker movement. And if you check, even if you Google, the Kenya Sex Workers Alliance is one of the strongest sex worker movement in Africa. So after that is when again we sat down in 20- 2014 and said, we need an… an African outfit for sex workers. And over time I’m building my advocacy skills. I would say AVAC was very instrumental because they used to invite me to many meetings to speak, to talk about the plight of sex workers. And the good thing about my journey of sex… advocating for sex workers is my lived realities being on the street. And how it feels to be on the street giving my story as a mother because I give birth to my first daughter when I was very young. I give birth to my first daughter when I was 15 years, and giving my story as a sex worker, my lived realities as a sex worker, my difficulty of raising my baby, who I don’t know, the father… who… who I don’t know who is the father. My difficulty of being brought up by a sister who was a sex worker who died left me on the street, left me hanging, so I would say my journey of advocacy has been even a plus because of the lived realities that I give. But over time also I have done… also, like my personal trainings. I have also had, like the AVAC fellowship, have also done small courses like program management. I have done a diploma in program management. I have also continued to being exposed, like even applying for conferences, going to conferences. And also doing also my personal learning on issues of sex workers. And now, currently, I’m trying to look for scholarship to do my masters, because I really want to, because one thing in our sex worker movement is a few.. very few of the sex workers are literate. Most of us are illiterate. I would say 90% of the sex workers are illiterate in Africa. So very few of us will go to school because of the challenges that we face. So currently, I’m looking at also doing a Master’s degree. So I have applied a few scholarship. And it’s because of my my sex worker advocate journey. And I would like to even make the sex worker movement better, and also even occupy spaces where we have not been able to occupy. For example, their global spaces that would like to engage, like CSW (The Commission on Status of Women) that happens in New York. But most of us sex workers will lack knowledge to… to engage in those spaces. So we get engaged. But we would like to engage as sex workers, but not through other partners. Yeah, I hope I, I answered the question.



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Mimi Katz: Sorry I am going to have to hop off of this meeting, but I really appreciate you answering our questions and learning about your story. I’m gonna re-watch the recording afterwards. So I really appreciate everything. And I hope that you guys have a good rest of your afternoon.



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Kazi (They/Them): Thank you. But yeah, you did answer the question very well, and it really helps us tie in our next question, which is a little bit more personal. So the question is, what types of sex workers do you work with like, how would you just des- describe the types that of work that they do. Like the locations that they work in, the media that they work through, who who may, how much they earn, or how do they have even time for leisure or rest time? Like who, how do you, who do you work with? And how do they work? Essentially?



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Grace Kamau: Okay. So we work with sex workers who work in different places. So we work with sex workers work in the brothel. The sex worker who worker on the street. Their sex workers who work in the massage parlor. And also we work with home-based sex workers. So those mostly are the sex workers that we work with. We also work with bar… bar based sex workers, the sex workers who sit in the bar and wait for clients. Basically, those are the most. The most groups that we work with. Yeah.



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Kazi (They/Them): And then how do? How do they find like rest time. Like, where? What is the some of their days. Like, if you, if you’re able to describe that



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Grace Kamau: Like, how? How is their typical day? Yeah, most of the sex workers we work with. They are sex workers who either run organization or they are peer educators, or they are full-time sex workers. So I’ll give an example of a full time sex workers and most of the sex workers who work in the streets. They will work from Monday. To Friday, but during the week we will take like one day off. And they will rest, but in their typical days they will wake up shower. Go to work. and maybe, and work from about 8 to 8 in the evening and then go home. That’s a typical day for a sex worker. And also, if a sex worker is a peer educator, they will come to the organization, collect condoms, collect information package. They go, do sex work as they distribute condoms and information packages. So those are some of the ways that a typical day of a sex worker will look like.



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Kazi (They/Them): Perfect. And do you know, if sex workers ever tried to leave this type of work and do other stuff? And then what are some of the reasons that they may have for trying to leave, or wanting to leave and are there some that do leave and then come back later?



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Grace Kamau: Yeah, there are some who would like to leave and do business. But you say, once a sex worker, always a sex worker, so most of them win. Most of us will live, and then we go back. Even me. I’m a director, but I find myself going back. But there are some who will leave and get married and get married, and they become housewives and stop. Those are the cases that I have seen. Most of them don’t go back to sex work if they get married and they get married to a man who takes responsibility. Those are the ones that will not come back to sex work. But most of us who will go try business and try out some things most of us will do business during the day, and in the evening you go do sex work. So… and most of the people will not leave sex work. Sex work (unintelligible). Most of the sex workers will like to substitute income in the sense that if you used to have for example, before. I used to have, like even 10 clients in a day or 15, but not because I have other income. Like I’m a director. I get a salary. Now I get one or 2, or even I’m like, I know I don’t want, because I already have an income, so most of us will want another source of income to substitute the number of clients you have to sleep with, or you have to… to be with. Yeah. and also the risk factor when you have few clients is lower than when you have many clients. The risk factor is lower. Yeah.



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Kazi (They/Them): Yeah, that makes like complete sense it’s similar to like having just multiple jobs I, I imagined, is there like… what am I trying to ask… sorry I totally forgot what I was gonna ask. I’ll just return to this to get some inspiration. Could you describe your sex worker, your client, sex worker connections like describe the typical client for you or for other people as well as the relationship that is expanded from that client-worker relationship?



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Grace Kamau: Yeah, that’s a good question. I would for clients. Some are very, very violent. There are some that you will meet one day you meet on the street and start crying when you remember about some of the things that they’ve done… they did to you but there are clients that are god sends. There’s some you click, there are some who become a regular partner. They become even like your permanent partner. Like you are on the street, but you have to say that client every day, and even most of us like for me. I have 3 kids, and those 3 kids are from different men, and most of them were my clients. So you click to an extent of even having kids with your clients, and I still like one of my kids. My clients still takes care of my kid. And he’s a client I met on the street, and he knows very, very well who I am and where we met, and he knows about the other kids. So there are clients who are good. But I would say 90% of the clients that sex workers, we interact with are very violent. Very violent. 90%. And most of them will either beat you. They will abuse you. They will not even pay your money. And I would say, and most of the men, they don’t want to be known. So, for example, for us in Kenya, we use a lot of Pesa. Pesa is a form of money so they will trick you and tell you I want to send money into your phone and when they send it they reverse it immediately they put in your phone. They send it back. And then they will even threaten you and tell you you have to delete that number so that you don’t expose me. So the client, the sex worker, client relationship is a bit tricky, and it’s because I said, 90% of the clients that you come across with. We are very violent, most of us, most of us sex workers, we have, has that. I wish you were near. I show you my legs. We have scars of clients who have caused us a lot of, a lot of pain, and somebody will beat you. Somebody will cause you pain because of just having sex, and instead of causing pain to someone you better have sex. Don’t pay me, but go instead of beating me like. Now, I have a lot of neck pain. So I have to like sit upright because I had one, one time when I was doing sex work on the street. I got this client, who was very violent, and we started. He started fighting me because of money because I asked for my money, and then, when he didn’t give me the money I had so there is a way, you know, in when we are doing sex work. You put your phone on speed dial, like the most people. If you’re on danger, they are. They’re the first people that you want to call. So that is one of the security tips we used to do when I used to work in the process. So I realize the man doesn’t want to pay me money. And then when we went to the room, he removed a knife. So I took my phone and called one of my peers, who we used to be in the same brothel. When I called that number. The man hit me on the neck, and I became unconscious. I went to the hospital and I got a neck, a neck brace. But now I think I didn’t get proper medic- proper, proper medication. And now my neck is paining, and that’s why I’m saying most of us we, have scars. Most of us, We have not healed like. Now I’m talking about it because I have gone through a lot of counseling as a leader. I have gone through a lot of thought processes. I have come to terms with what has happened to me. But if you have sessions with sex workers like even mental wellness of sex workers, most of the people don’t think about our mental wellness, but for me, if it was before, like 5 years ago, I would be crying. But now I have been able to overcome those things. But most of us sex workers. We have not been able to overcome that because we don’t have anybody to talk to, and it’s because of clients. And recently there was there was a survey that was done ensured that 95% of the violence cases of sex workers in Africa is is attributed to clients of sex workers and police. So the relationship of sex workers clients, I would say. it’s not a good relationship. Yeah.



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Kazi (They/Them): Yeah. How… in the cases where clients are violent with their workers, how do other sex workers like build each other up to like heal…? Have some peer healing as well as like to ensure, try to ensure each other’s safety through any means. You talked about having the speed dial, but what other methods do you all use to help each other?



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Grace Kamau: Okay, so there are other ways that we do it. So if it’s like brothel based sex workers we ask the brothel owners to have their names and their ID, their national identity card are recorded. and for our sex workers we ensure in each and every hot spot there is a paralegal. There’s a paralegal who can be able to call the police and can be able to respond to violence cases. But for us as sex workers what we do… if one of our sex workers is attacked, we will scream, because that is the only thing that you can do. We will scream and raise alarm so that one of us is not attacked. But we have also, like the paralegal, has also identified a police officer or a police around that place whereby you can use that police and you can call… you can call that police anytime to come arrest that…that client. But the biggest problem has been the legal system in Africa. In most of the African countries cases of sex workers are not taken seriously. The judicial system is very corrupt. It takes a lot of time to go to the police. Either the police station or the court is very firm. The sex worker will wait between going to the court or pursuing justice, or going to work to get food for the children. So most of the sex worker when they do that and the case will take even… a case for a sex worker will take even 3 years in court and it’s a pity offense. So most of the sex workers will opt to leave the case and go… go do their own work because it’s tiresome. There’s nobody who takes care of your bus fare. You have to do sex work and pay your bus fare and go do the case. So most of the sex workers will leave the sex work, and then the power dynamic. Most of the clients will use the police to threaten the sex worker and tell the sex worker if I’m… I’m jailed. I’m going to kill you. I’m going to send people to kill you. Just know if I’m released on a bill. Just know where you’re going to go. So the power relationship. The power relation is also something that plays apart. But as sex workers we are able to assist each other as much as we can. Raising alarm and ensuring if our sex worker goes with a client we are aware. If it’s Grace we know she’s gone to Room… Room 5, and she’s gone with the client who looks like this… like this. And sometimes we even use our phones to get photos to profile that person. Yeah.



00:28:49.530 –> 00:28:57.549

Kazi (They/Them): Yeah, that makes complete sense. And I also just wanna build on cause you talked a lot about the…



00:29:03.800 –> 00:29:05.020

Elizabeth York: What happened?



00:29:05.930 –> 00:29:10.160

I don’t know. Maybe her internet cut off.



00:29:12.510 –> 00:29:14.670

Kazi (They/Them): Just gonna pause it quick. Oh.



00:29:15.290 –> 00:29:16.200

Elizabeth York: I’m…



00:29:18.210 –> 00:29:20.060

Grace Kamau: I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened.



00:29:20.600 –> 00:29:22.960

Kazi (They/Them): No, it’s okay. It’s totally fine.I was just saying that I wanted to go back on your point about sex workers’ mental illness and health. So how do you all have, like peer coping or peer helping each other with those traumatic events afterwards. Like, how do y’all heal mentally from that with each other?



00:29:47.160 –> 00:29:53.700

Grace Kamau: Yeah, we. We do our own mental illness. So we do like we meet up for just laughing. And also we get…we get like counselors to come just talk to us and have a session just to pour out, to share. Though, it’s a very underfunded program. But one of the things that we’ve learned over time as sex workers is to talk to each other. When I see you don’t look okay, we assist even you to talking out to opening up. And also maybe attaching you to a neutral person, so that you can talk to that person. So that is one of the way that we do our mental wellness. But you find that a lot of people will not pour out their personal issues to you because they fear people not being confidential, and it’s an issue for us sex workers. Confidentiality. Most of us don’t keep confidentiality, and most of the sex workers will shy away from sharing, sharing their stuff with other sex workers. But over time we also have things we call the

“chama.”  I don’t know how you call it in English, in, in English. Chama is like you come together

as women, and they contribute a hundred shillings each, and then from that 100 shillings each, like 10 people that’s a thousand, we say we are going to give Kazi, and Kazi will pay back next month with a hundred again. It’s like merry-go-round whereby we do that. And then it also helps in even keeping social contacts. Yeah, we do more of that. And maybe if you have like somebody you’ve lost a sister or somebody close, we can contribute money, and then when you contribute money you can, you are able, maybe, to bury your sister or your kid. Yeah.



00:31:51.600 –> 00:32:07.120

Kazi (They/Them): Yeah, that sounds a lot like mutual aid work. We do a lot of that back here, especially in queer and black communities in times of need for specific individuals of our communities.

So moving from the personal aspects to more of your organizational work? What does your organization specifically focus on? What are the key areas? Particular issues that you work on? As well as the best and most satisfying part of the job?



00:32:29.240 –> 00:32:37.280

Grace Kamau: Okay, so our organization works towards fighting for the rights of sex workers in Africa. Our rights in terms of human rights and health access of sex workers in Africa. So we work in 35 African countries. And our main work is to ensure that sex worker’s issues by government or partners, they are done in a human rights based approach. There are many sex work in Africa generally criminalized. So it is also making government understand criminalization. When you criminalize sex work, it is even…  it causes even double criminalization. So we’ve learnt over time to assist sex workers with advocacy, capacity to be able to lobby in their countries on importance of changing the criminal laws. So that is one of the things that we do. What is fulfilling about my work is the way we’ve started seeing some of the governments, for example, South Africa are working towards decriminalization of sex work. So that is something fulfilling for me. And we are almost there. Yeah, so it’s fulfilling for me.



00:33:50.920 –> 00:34:02.150

Kazi (They/Them): Yeah, it’s so good to see like places, specifically governments involved for the people, and to see the people behind that work. But what are some of the challenges and issues that worry you most at your job?



00:34:09.850 –> 00:34:17.919

Grace Kamau: Okay? The biggest challenge for us in our job is the fact that most of the people don’t accept sex worker’s work. And we’ve seen a lot of backlash from the community saying that nobody will… it’s not our will to do sex. Okay, I think that’s the biggest backlash. They are also the biggest backlashes among religious leaders who want to moralize everything, and they have moralized sex work. Also, another big thing is about the legal barrier that I said. In all African country sex work is is is is criminalized. So that’s a very big barrier. And also we’ve seen the biggest barrier is also there is a lot of anti… anti-gender, anti… anti-gender and anti-rights movement whereby they say,,, they… we’ve seen like very punitive roles, being even criminalizing populations, more like Uganda, whereby they have introduced the law to criminalize homosexual… same sex marriage more. And we are seeing this affecting us because the anti-gender anti-rights movement now they are talking about family. Family being of a man and a woman, and so they protect family values. And this has hurt the sex worker movement because they say, when you are doing sex work, that is not a family. So the anti-gender anti-rights movement is a very big, also hindrance for us. Yeah.



00:35:45.600 –> 00:35:53.129

Kazi (They/Them): So communal perception plays a very big part in the challenges. So what do you want community members and people to know about becoming a sex worker advocate? What do you want them to change? What ideals do you want them to change?



00:36:06.820 –> 00:36:10.600

Grace Kamau: I think what what I would like to see change is just one thing, people to accept sex work as work and people to accept that you can willing…the way you choose to be a doctor, you choose to be a lecturer, you choose to be a professor. Anybody can choose the profession that they want. And I would like people to change their mindset that sex work is work, and people should accept that. Yeah.



00:36:38.070 –> 00:36:39.910

Kazi (They/Them): And so going back to you as you discuss multiple times about the criminalization in Africa of sex worker… sex work. How…what are your perceptions of these laws and how they affected your life specifically, and those around you. You’ve already given us a few key points. Is there anything else that you wanted to say around that?



00:37:05.310 –> 00:37:10.269

Grace Kamau: No. I think the biggest thing is violence. And I highlighted that.



00:37:13.320 –> 00:37:18.929

Kazi (They/Them): Yeah, perfectly. That’s perfectly fine. And… yeah, I mean, you really described mostly… you’ve been so great at answering questions and giving us your story, which I really thank you for. Yeah. But you’ve answered essentially all of our questions. So we just have one last one for you, which is before you end… what does… before we end? What does sex work mean to you?



00:37:50.430 –> 00:37:58.610

Grace Kamau: Sex work means everything to me. I am who I am because of sex work. I take my kids to school because of sex work. I am respected in my community because of sex work. So for me, sex work means evertthing to me. I don’t know anything else apart from sex work, and sex work is my life. It’s what I eat, it’s what I drink, it’s what I drive, it’s what I wear. So sex work is everything to me. Yeah.



00:38:20.120 –> 00:38:32.570

Kazi (They/Them): That’s really powerful. Is there anything that you would like to end… add before we end, or anything that you want to shout out? Maybe your organization or the work that you do before we close up?



00:38:34.650 –> 00:38:47.600

Grace Kamau: No, maybe, but because you come from the university, maybe one of the things is I appreciate that your university is speaking about issues of sex workers, because very few universities take up sex work and sex work as an issue. So that’s good. Also, I also, I would like to see, maybe in future maybe sessions or maybe some… What did you call them? Units or people like universities opening up to people learning more about sex workers and programs of sex workers and how to run programs. Because where I sit I think I’m an expert on running sex work programs so university to open up that so that people when they go to to the world they know that sex work exist and how to handle sex workers. Yeah.



00:39:30.650 –> 00:39:38.669

Kazi (They/Them): Yeah, I agree, academics need to do more to actually help the communities that they’re learning about. And, so you’re totally right in that and what she said. So we’re just gonna end the recording before we close up.


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Sex/Work by Ariella Rotramel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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