SMART LADIES WOMEN GROUP ENGAGES WITH THE LAW ENFORCERS TO HELP ADDRESS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AND COLLABORATE IN ADDRESSING GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE AMONG THE SEX WORKERS.
Smart Ladies is a sex workers-led organization formed in 2012 and registered in 2015 in the County of Nakuru in Kenya.
The organization was started to address the structural and legal barriers that hinder sex workers from accessing basic services from public and private facilities and institutions and address gender-based violence from the community and among the sex workers themselves. Smart Ladies was one of the Women’s Voice and Leadership (WVL) grantees premised on improving the organization’s capacity and strengthening its systems.
The core objectives of the organization are to advocate for the rights of sex workers and enhance their well-being, to address stigma and discrimination hindering access to health care services through strategic engagement with other stakeholders and partners, to prevent and respond to cases of violence at the county level through working with other key population implementing programs and capacity building, strengthening and movement building.
We accompanied the Director of the organization Dorris Achieng in her two days engagement with sex workers and law enforcers in Salgaa situated in Rongai Sub County of Nakuru County. Salgaa is one of the most active hot spots for sex workers in Kenya as it is on the transit route to western Kenya and the great lakes region consisting of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The purpose of the engagement was to get feedback from the sex workers on the challenges they face while plying their trade at the hotspots, asses the access to commodities like condoms and lubricants from the health facilities and the available drop–in centers, HIV testing and treatment services uptake, family planning and contraception counselling services, relationship with the business community in Salgaa and how the sex workers relate with the police. The sex workers, due to the nature of their work, face multiple layers of challenges which require a multi-sectoral approach and dialogue with the stakeholders.
On the second day, the organization organized a dialogue meeting with the police and county enforcers aimed at addressing police harassment, bribe seeking and arbitrary arrests. The meeting was also to seek police assistance whenever the sex workers report cases related to gender-based violence.
The sex workers were thankful to the Smart Ladies team for the advocacy efforts which have helped reduce cases of sex workers being harassed by police officers. However, there were reported cases from newly posted police officers from the Salgaa police station, most of whom attended the meeting. They also complained about the routine of police seeking to be given money to provide abstracts, writing of statements and assisting in the arrest of perpetrators of violence.
The police were emphatic, they respond to the needs of the citizens. They asked Smart Ladies to assist reign on sex workers who block other people’s businesses and assist those who engage in alcoholism and consumption of hard drugs.
The Smart Ladies Director and Program Officer Emmy Nekesa said that there shall be continued dialogues to ensure that there is law and order and that the sex workers will get police assistance in genuine concerns and in the event of human rights violations.