by Rachel Muthoni
With the current inflation in Kenya, the number of Commercial Sex Workers (CSW) in Nakuru, the capital of the most populated Rift Valley province, is rising steadily – a trend that began after the 2007-2008 post-election violence.
The dangers CSWs are exposing themselves to range from HIV infection to mistreatment by clients and other workers. Karen Gakii, 22, will never forget the ordeal she underwent at the hands of her fellow CSWs.
“I was introduced to the ‘job’ by a neighbour, who also came from Meru. She told me I would make more money that what I was earning as house help,” says the mother of one son.
True to her advisor’s words, Gakii made an average of KES279 (USD 3.40) per night while working as a CSW along Gusii road in Nakuru’s Central Business District. This was four times what she was paid per day as a domestic worker.
“I had never dreamt of working as a CSW, but my parents in Meru demanded that I send money for my son’s upkeep, yet I earned too little.”
For close to two years Gakii would sustain herself and send home some money. While at work, Gakii was introduced to four other women from Meru who also worked as CSWs in Nakuru. The group would often meet at the junction between Nehu Pandit and Gusii roads.
“Every one of us had regular clients, but sometimes we served new ones. The regular ones were from around here while the new ones were mostly visitors from other towns,” says Gakii.
She says her colleagues were unhappy that she got more clients and often accused her of using love potions to woo clients. But it was not until she served a colleague’s regular client that Gakii would face the wrath of her life.
“They all turned against me. My colleagues swore to teach me a lesson,” she tells me.
Somehow Gakii’s colleagues had learned that Gakii had not undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a practice still rampant among the Meru tribe. “One day they drugged me with a drink, carried me to a lodge in Kivumbini slums, and mutilated me,” says Gakii. “I woke up the following day. The only thing I remember was taking a drink with my colleagues. I was bleeding furiously.”
It took Gakii two weeks to seek medical attention. By the time she went to the hospital, the infection had spread. “Doctors told me my condition was very bad and I risked losing my uterus. I regret having served that client although he paid me KES 492 (USD 6). I have spent much more on treatment,” she tells me.
Mary Masinde* is also still nursing injuries she suffered at the hands of her client. I was informed about her experiences by sources within the Kenya Police and met her at her home in the Kwa Rhoda slums.
Masinde’s client, a banker, picked her up along Gusii Road and took her to a relatively high-class hotel. After negotiation, they agreed she would be paid KES 984 (USD 12) in the morning.
“Normally I charge KES 189.29 (USD 2.30) for a night but sometimes I increase the price judging by the type of client,” says Masinde. “This one had a good car and also took me to an expensive hotel.”
In the morning when Masinde asked for her pay, the client drove her to an Automated Teller Machine. He withdrew cash and drove towards Eldoret. “I kept asking for my money but he only gave me KES 189.29 (USD 2.30) instead of the amount we had agreed on,” says Masinde.
Near the Ngata Bridge, he slowed down and pushed her out of the car. Masinde was left nursing a hand fracture and a badly bruised body.
“I will still go back to the CSW job. This is the only way I get food for my two children,” she says.
The Peer Counseling Department at the Catholic Diocese of Nakuru (CDN), which deals with rehabilitation of CSWs, blames the government for the increase in twilight women. “If the government created jobs for women, then most of the CSWs in Nakuru would not be in the streets,” says Vincent Omollo, the program coordinator.
According to Omolo, who has been working in this department for 10 years, the last five years have seen the number of CSWs swell rapidly in Nakuru, Molo Gilgil, Naivasha, and Kampi Samaki in Baringo. Poverty, he says, is the bottom line of what drives most women to join the trade.
“The situation is so bad that even high school girls confess to getting involved in commercial sex to raise school fees and earn pocket money,” says Omollo. Such girls, he says, attend school during the day and ‘work’ at night. Some are even their family’s breadwinners with most of them coming from slums.
Most CSWs, Omollo says, prefer to be referred to as single mothers. This way, they try to justify the fact that they are involved in commercial sex to feed their children.
While the CDN advises CSWs on the dangers of their job, Omollo says the challenge lies in giving them an alternative means of livelihood. “Most of them are willing to leave the commercial sex trade if they are funded for an alternative source of income, but sometimes we are faced by financial constrains to fund such projects.”
According to Omollo, about 60 Nakuru CSWs have benefited from the program and have been helped to start businesses.
While Nakuru District Commissioner Kangethe Thuku admits to having received the report on the rise in numbers of CSWs, the government has yet to do anything about curbing the situation. “I am planning to discuss the issue with the Security Committee to see how the women can be arrested and charged before court,” he told me.
Thuku advises CSWs to reform, form groups, and take advantage of the Women Enterprise Fund offered by the Ministry of Gender and Children Affairs. Such women will be taken to a government hospital for HIV testing, treatment, and counseling.
Thuku blames inflation and the fast growth of the town of Nakuru for the increase in CSWs. The government has already started several projects to fight poverty, especially among women. Under the Women Enterprise Fund, women are funded to start businesses and given a grace period of three months to repay at an interest of eight percent.
While poverty may surely be blamed for increased prostitution in this region, women also need to become creative and active. They need to learn that there are better, more decent ways of earning a living.
Rachel Muthoni is a Kenyan journalist. She holds an International Diploma in Journalism and Media Studies and has worked in international and local media for the last seven years. She is pursuing a bachelors degree in Communications and would like to tell many stories about under privileged people to change their lives for the better.