Malawi: Community Health Rights Advocacy (CHeRA) Executive Director Aniz Mitha

  • How are you and the sex workers in your country responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?

I’m doing great, the ability of the sex workers to protect themselves against COVID depends on sex workers themselves since there is no any support that come from the government to help the sex workers with the pandemic response.

  • What is the effect on the health and the livelihood on sex workers?

There are so many effects that have been raised due to COVID among Male sex Workers in Malawi such as the inability to do sex work, reduced access to health services and discrimination at the isolation Centers.

  • What are the main challenges of responding to it?

Lack of emergency funding for sex workers hinders sex workers from being reached with all the necessary support during COVID -19 Pandemic.

  • How did you become involved with sex worker rights activism? What issues or people inspired you

As a sex worker , I feel that we have the right to live , the right to corporate into community activities and help in decision making and we have  the right to good health, so after seeing how the rights of sex workers here are  abused, as a sex worker myself I decided to stand on behalf of my fellow sex workers.

  • What the name of your organization? When was it formed and what is its objectives? Is it membership based?

The organization is Community Health Rights Advocacy (CHeRA), the organization was  formed in 2017, and its objectives are: To mobilize and sensitize the wider community on sexual reproductive health rights, To promote safer sexual behavioral practices through increasing comprehensive sexuality knowledge and skills among young men, To promote socio-economic independence which leads to the psychological well-being of young men in Malawi, To cultivate collaborative synergies with like-minded and oriented individuals and organizations and Promote evidence-based programming through improved health information management practices in HIV prevention among young men.

  • Which countries and/or regions are you focused on in terms of mobilizing support for the Work that you do?

Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States

  • Have you or any person in your organization or country attended the Sex Workers Academy Africa (SWAA)? If yes, what is the impact in advocacy and movement building in your country?

Yes, I attended.  After the Academy, we have managed to bring all the sex workers together and make sure the views and concerns of the sex workers who were  living in fear were  held.

  • What organizations are you currently involved in and what are the priority areas that these organizations work in? Tell us a bit about your activism/work specifically.

Two sex workers sub-populations involved in CHeRA organization are Male Sex workers (MSW) and female sex workers in the organisation called Female Sex Workers Association (FSWA). My activism or work specifically is about raising awareness, building the capacity of MSW community. Making sure HIV preventions programs are conducted and linkage to treatment outreach campaign targeting MSW. Documentation of the Gender based violence cases, and making sure the rights of the sex workers are held.

  • What were the biggest events or challenges you’ve worked on in the past?

The first Challenge: Male sex workers at the same time being MSM ( Men who have Sex with Men)  face double blow because Section 153 prohibits “carnal knowledge” against the “order of nature” with a penalty of fourteen years imprisonment, with or without corporal punishment.  It causes the abuses by the blackmailers and the Police.So our activism has reached the sex workers with Legal and emotional support to those who faced violence and in addition to this documentation and publishing of violation cases against sex workers as a means of exposing the evils that sex workers face. The other issue, is the issues of discrimination and stigma when seeking the HIV services and this resulted into an increase in the vulnerability to HIV.

  • What do you think will be the biggest challenges for your organization/sex workers in your country in the future? Do you have one message for the sex worker rights movement? Or one message for people outside of the movement?

Most of the Sex workers in Malawi are illiterate, they are leaving school without completing the curriculum because of the problems they are facing. Sex workers are lacking support to go to high level education and vocational training which would have helped them to change their lives in the near future. As a result, they can’t deny sex to anyone who demand it as long as they will get something from it even without using Condom and this is contributing to the failure of reaching most of the goals to reduce HIV/AIDs in Malawi and the world as a whole. So by pushing the sex workers to participate into different career training will help them to sharpen their future as sex workers and depend on themselves and even be able to handle situations e.g  avoid forced  sex.

  • How do you carry out your activism e.g. what forms of social media and/or strategies do you use? (protests, social media, legislation, e.t.c.) to further the cause you advocate for?

Media, dialogue with gate keepers which include the police and awareness campaigns.

  • What is your view on decriminalization of sex work in your country?

Since the Malawi does not recognize sex work as work, so much violence against sex workers occurs and some of it emanate from even the law enforcers themselves and not forgetting the traditional chiefs in some parts of the country who see sex work as a haram (Evil) .One way of fighting for the rights of sex workers is through trainings and capacity building for sex workers to fully understand their human rights and worth. This way makes sex workers realize that they deserve to live as normal human beings and they need to acquire all the support that human beings need.

  • What is your message for both the sex workers and sex work leaders who have newly entered in sex worker movement?

We need to work together as a team and need to share the problems and find solution together, we need to make sex workers in the country realize that they are also important to the development of the country and no one should let the movement of sex worker go down. And any views of the sex workers should be held and the sex workers should be included in all the agendas that involve them.

  • Any more information you would like to add?

International organizations who are the mouth Piece for sex workers movements should continue speaking on behalf of the organizations and continue giving the due support.

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