Uganda: Interview with Grace kabayaga; Executive Director, Empowered At Dusk Women’s Association

African Sex Worker Activist Profiling

Interview questions

(In this interview, the sex worker leader talks about his life, work and activism.)

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

The situation of sex workers during this COVID19 Pandemic has been alarming, the number of clients reduced, there was a reduction of food and most sex workers have been in the hotspots, brothels with no money for their accommodation. Some sex workers have been evicted from their houses for not paying rent.

However, as EADWA we are trying our level best to take health consumables like ART and PrEP to our clients. Most of the clients who are on treatment have failed to adhere to treatment because of a lack of food.

2. What is the effect on the health and the livelihood on sex workers?

Poor adherence by sex workers on ART due to lack of food.

Mental health problems because even some are thinking of committing suicide because they do not know when the situation will end.

There is limited access to sexual reproductive health and rights services by sex workers.

There is also limited access to legal services by the sex workers in Uganda.

High rates of gender-based violence by intimate partners.

Difficulty in accessing transport due to the ban on public transport.

Poor living standards due to the fact that most sex workers don’t have any alternative income-generating activity.

There were high cases of violence against sex workers which were instigated by the law enforcers, especially during curfew time.

3. What are the main challenges of responding to it?

There are limited resources available to sex workers. e.g limited or delayed refills of ART and PrEP services and also there is no nutritional support to the sex workers.

High Stigma and discrimination index against sex workers.

The poor working environment is due to the punitive laws and policies affecting sex workers such as the sex offenses bill.

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

I am one of the founder members and Executive Director, a female sex worker who started up Empowered At Dusk Women’s Association back in 2008 as a result of sexual violence and harassment that we were facing perpetuated by the law enforcers in the slums of Bwaise, Kawempe Division, Kampala district in central Uganda. It is a sex worker-led organization that envisions a society where all sex workers are treated with respect and dignity.  

Our mission is to promote equal rights inclusive opportunities and comprehensive sexual reproductive health and rights services for sex workers in Uganda.

Sanyu Hajjarah Batte, the Executive Director of Lady Mermaids Empowerment Centre inspired me a lot during my career, mentored me, encouraged and guided me to reach where I am now.

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

Empowered At Dusk Women’s Association was established in 2008 as a community-based organization and later upgraded to a limited company. We are registered under the registrar of companies in Uganda with registration number 193240.

Our objectives include the following:

To facilitate quality life, health and human rights including the documentation and exposure of violations and stigmatization against sex workers.

To mobilize and organize sex workers for socio-economic initiatives.

To establish and strengthen partnerships and alliances for sex workers in Uganda.

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

We are mainly focused on the East African Region, especially in Kenya and Uganda.

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

YES, actually the knowledge I got from SWAA academy has helped me a lot in my advocacy skills, implementation of sex workers’ projects like outreaches, dialogues, and community empowerment.

8. 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.

I am engaged with different sex worker-led networks like ASWA, UNESO, Uganda Key Population Consortium, Marginalized Communities’ Network (Maco network Uganda), and The Global Network of Sex Workers Project (NSWP).

They aim at improving the lives of sex workers, especially in the areas of advocacy.

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

As Empowered At Dusk Women’s Association (EADWA), we spearheaded the campaign of nullifying the anti-pornography act in 2014 which was violating the rights of sex workers.

In 2019, during the first lockdown, we stormed Kawempe division offices demanding the release of the money that they had received to support sex workers which they had completely refused to give to them.

10. 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?

Punitive laws and policies will be affecting sex workers in Uganda and this will culminate into poor working conditions/environment for sex workers.

I urge the sex worker rights movement to work with love and solidarity to enhance better lives of sex workers

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

We use social media, protests, dialogues, sensitization, partnerships, workshops, developing publications and documentation, and training.

12. What is your view on the decriminalization of sex work in your country?

I would love my country to decriminalize sex work in Uganda because this will make it legal and we will have no human rights violations against sex workers. It will increase access to services like health and legal by sex workers.

However, the criminalization of sex workers in Uganda has perpetuated the increased spread of HIV/AIDS, high rates of violence and a poor working environment against sex workers.

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

To always be in solidarity, mentor each other, be in partnership and collaboration as they are the key to success in the sex worker movement.

14. Any more information you would like to add?

I would like to take this opportunity to thank ASWA our regional network for always being supportive and also would like to thank UNESO for coordinating sex workers in Uganda.

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