The decision to sell one's body cannot be taken lightly. But for many mothers the alternative is to condemn their children to hunger, which is why "increasing numbers of women in their thirties, who are victims of the crisis, are resorting to prostitution," Amanda Gumbo, a social services worker said.

Amanda, who has spent the past 20 years working with prostitutes, said that never before had the situation in the country been so serious – as the constant anxiety caused by the crisis is driving more and more women, and also men, into prostitution.

Fear stalks the novices to the game, many of whom are divorced, or married and plying their trade behind their husbands' backs.  "A few days ago, a woman told me: 'When my apartment doorbell rings, I tremble to think it might be someone I know, and if it is, what on earth would I do?'" said Amanda.

Alex Mukoyi, a researcher at the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences at the University of Zimbabwe, did her doctoral thesis on the world of prostitution in Harare.

Highly stigmatised
"Prostitution should be legalised to make it socially acceptable," she said, adding that it is still "highly stigmatised."

Alex studied prostitution in the streets of Harare for six years, using the ethnographic method in which the researcher goes into the field and learns about what is going on by questioning, listening and observing the practitioners, to analyse their behaviour from their point of view.

Her findings indicate that most sex workers, especially streetwalkers, come from the lower socioeconomic strata, have little formal education or professional training, and are from poor backgrounds.

The incidence of drug abuse is high: the main goal of 30 percent of prostitutes is to earn money to support their habit. The level of addiction has apparently changed.

All about money
What causes a woman to become a sex worker? We asked two women who took up the life because of the crisis. Pamela and Panashe said they are only in it for the money, but emphasised that it's not at all an easy job.

"Lots of people mistakenly say that women who prostitute themselves do it for sexual pleasure, but they have no idea why we do what we do," said Panashe, a 29-year-old divorcée from Chitungwiza with two children whom she has to "feed, clothe and educate."

Pamela and her partner also split up. "From one day to the next he left home, and when a woman is left on her own with two children and the bills mounting up every day, life becomes pretty grim," said Pamela, who worked in the textile industry up to a year ago.
After several attempts to get a job, "nothing worked out," she said. The unemployment rate currently stands at over 80 percent, according to official figures. "That's why I ended up resorting to prostitution," she said.

Double life
Both Panashe's and Pamela's families are unaware of their activities. Most sex workers lead a double life that their relatives do not know about.
They were asked if they knew how families reacted when they found out what their women relatives were doing. "According to some of the women I know, reactions vary," said Panashe, a former office worker in Chitungwiza.

One woman, Panashe said, "confessed to her parents what she was doing, and they became furious and said they would never accept it. But in other cases I know, their families accepted the idea, because they had a vested interest and expected to receive some money." As for the sex itself, both women stated that they themselves set the rules, defining very clearly what was acceptable and what they were not prepared to do. "We always insist on condoms. It doesn't matter if a client offers more money to have unprotected sex, we won't agree," said Pamela.

Can one be happy in such a life? was final question. Panashe  answered for both of them, with Pamela nodding agreement: "When you are constantly judged and condemned, naturally you don't feel very good. If our line of work was regarded in the same way as any other profession, I think we would feel better about what we do."


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