Vickie Remoe Institute of Digital Communications

Aid workers still part of sex workers clientele, despite the ban on such activity during their work – The New Humanitarian Report

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A recent report by The New Humanitarian reveals that aid workers are still part of the clientele of sex workers in Sierra Leone, despite the supposed reforms that came with the #AidToo movement.

The report indicates that the lack of well-paid jobs, government safety nets, and power disparities between aid workers and the people they serve have made transactional sex a way of life for many women in the country.

The sex for survival is a consequence of some of the tragedies that have hit the country, including the 11-year civil war, the Ebola outbreak, and the economic fallout from the pandemic, being the latest setback.

According to the report, most international aid organisations have banned their staff from paying for sex, and have zero-tolerance policies for engaging in transactional sex or fraternisation.

However, several male aid workers who spoke to The New Humanitarian opined that prohibiting such arrangements is naive and unrealistic, as sex is often transactional in countries like Sierra Leone.

“Yes, we’ve been given the lectures about power imbalances and everything – and I understand that – but if we don’t pay women for this type of thing, then realistically that means they or their children may not eat for the day. It’s as simple as that,” said Leonard, who visits sex workers and works for a UN agency in Sierra Leone, asking that neither his name nor his organisation is used because of the restrictions.

Inflation and rising costs of essential items and transport, among other factors, have pushed girls as young as 12 into sex work. Although the ban on transactional sex has been difficult to police, rights groups argue that better protections and opportunities are needed instead of such bans.

“We need a comprehensive social protection programme for sex workers. “
It needs to include food relief for those sex workers in places who can’t eat; healthcare measures for those who are HIV positive; and economic empowerment programmes that sex workers can train in to supplement their income and give them more choices about how they earn their money”, said Mukoma, a member of the African Sex Workers Alliance.

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