At the height of the Coronavirus Pandemic, the President of Malawi, His Excellency, Reverend Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, constructed and implemented several new laws to counter the spread of the virus. As expected, there were communities that opposed these laws, and in Lilongwe and Zomba, it was the sex workers. The president declared that drinking areas should close ‘no later than 8pm’ and that no one should be found ‘wandering around socially between 9pm and 5am’. Although these laws are somewhat permissible, they do serve as a strain on sex workers. The sex workers in Lilongwe and Zomba were not pleased with this tension and therefore took their concerns to the streets.
On the 28th of January 2021, the sex workers in Lilongwe, Malawi, protested for an extension of the curfew, to allow them to provide their services from 2pm to 12am, from Monday to Thursday, regardless of the curfew. They have argued that they are required to do so, for they are in fact, an ‘essential service’. Surely others would be opposed to this notion, however, if we are being honest, we all have our needs.
Unfortunately, after their march commenced at Lilongwe District Commissioners office, their petition was denied. However, the empowered women instead marched to Lilongwe City Council to present their petition and have their demands met.
Zinenani Majawa, Executive Director for the Female Sex Workers’ Association stated “We have not put an ultimatum in our petition because once we present this issue, we hope that our grievances will be heard and addressed accordingly.” These peaceful negotiations led to the Lilongwe Council Chief Administrative Officer, Hudson Kuphanga, commending the sex workers for the graceful way in which they conducted their peaceful protest, following all required procedures.
Zinenani Majawa also emphasized that this march was organized to simultaneously bring attention to the public issues of the stigma that is related to sex work. As a ‘cultured’ or ‘third world’ country, Malawi reprimands, not only sex work, but sex entirely. This occurs to the extent that discussions about sex are whispered in the eeriest of tones. For, if you are sexually empowered, people see you as either a whore, not worthy of marriage, unclean, or perhaps even psychologically distorted. This march was to accentuate the significance of sex work and to abolish the abuse that prostitutes suffer at the hands of police officers.
On the other hand, In Zomba, sex workers similarly chose to exercise their freedom of speech and took their concerns to the streets. The sex workers argued that the curfew is an infringement on their economic right to earn a living, which is rightfully so. Unfortunately, just as in Lilongwe, the sex workers were turned back. Although, unlike in Lilongwe their reason for being turned back was on the basis that their demands should rather be presented in writing, than verbally expressed at the top of their lungs.
The Coronavirus has resulted in unforeseeable times that call the President of Malawi to present a safety net for all citizens and residents. If the demands should not be met, surely our sex workers must be subsidized.