Pat (only first name used for privacy) is a female sex worker in one of the communities in Ibadan, Western Nigeria. Her journey into sex work began when she moved to Benin to work with her sister and then as a sales girl for a madam in a restaurant. Without realising it, Pat was being initiated into sex work by the madam with no pay. When she found out what her job entailed she rebelled but was beaten severely on multiple occasions until she had no choice but to give in. After over three years, with the help of the madam’s business manager, she was released into the custody of the owner of a beer parlour who agreed to pay her ten thousand naira monthly. According to Pat this was a much better option since she was being paid and will have some money of her own.
Pat’s journey as a sex worker eventually took her to Libya. Throughout her sex work career, Pat had never used a condom. She said that while she was in Libya, herself and other female sex workers would often stuff cotton balls into their genitalia to block the cervix in an attempt to prevent unwanted pregnancies. She eventually relocated to Nigeria and continuing with sex work came in contact with the Strengthening HIV Prevention Services (SHiPS) programme when behaviour change activities began in her new community. She was recruited and trained as a HIV peer educator by the project and has since held sessions with other female sex workers to encourage them to adopt healthy sexual behaviours such as using condoms correctly and consistently with clients and boyfriends, and to routinely attend STI screening and HIV counselling and testing. She has also trained her colleagues on income generating skills for those willing to leave sex work some day.
Her association with the SHiPs for MARPs project has greatly improved and increased her condom use; she now confidently negotiates condom use with clients and is also able to decline sex with those clients who refuse to use a condom. Through the project she was linked to a skills acquisition centre where she received training on catering and baking. She has concluded her course and is working towards a second course in cake decoration. Pat now sells condoms, lubricants and toilet roll as an alternative source of income; she is also a member of the Association of Women for Change implementing behaviour maintenance activities in her community.
As at the time this story was written, Pat had vowed to leave sex work and start her own catering business. She is also planning her wedding. As Pat herself puts it, “I no dey hustle again, I dey do this business for now because I wan go marry”.
The Strengthening HIV Prevention Services for Most-at-Risk Populations (SHiPS for MARPs) project is a five year project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and managed by a consortium of partners. The project primarily focused on populations vulnerable to HIV and AIDS; MARPs and their clients works to prevent new infections by promoting behaviour change through education to increase accurate knowledge, create demand for HIV counselling and testing, consistent condom use and develop appropriate communication intervention to reduce stigma and discrimination.
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