Selling sex in Uganda’s illegal industry
Prostitution is illegal in Kampala, but that doesn’t stop sex workers operating in secret in what experts have made us believe to be the world’s oldest occupation.Rachael Nalwoga (not her real name) has been involved in the sex industry for just over five years.After her senior high school education well known as senior six in Uganda in her home village of Masaka, she left for Kampala to pursue higher education in Kansanga, a suburb of Kampala, she was introduced to the illegal trade while studying a degree at a Kampala university.“It was something that intrigued me, rather than it being a need to go out and find money,” Ms Nalwoga said.She worked casually in a Kabalagala brothel for several months before setting up privately in her hostel where her more than ten of her clients followed her.Although her practice was illegal under Ugandan law, Ms Nalwoga’ business was well known by local authorities and she paid protection taxes and “ran it like conveyorbelt”.After four years as a sex worker in Kansanga and Kabalagala while studying at a University located in same area, she was introduced to commercial sex workers NGO, a support network for people in the business, and now manages the organization as a field worker.“We are supported wholeheartedly by ministry of Health and by the government in general but obviously we are still operating in a criminalized environment and that is our major stumbling block.” In her time in the sex industry, Ms Nalwoga has seen just about every stereotype about the industry debunked.In Kabalagala, images of a drug-addicted women standing on street corner, too scared to report an assault to the police in case she gets arrested, is not reality.In Ms Nalwoga’ experience, drug use is no more prevalent among sex workers than it is in the rest of the community in Kabalagala, Kansanga and Kibuli.“The biggest drug of choice amongst sex workers are tobacco and bhang,” she said. Organizations such as the she’s working with to ensure sex workers feel safe to report crimes against them to the Uganda Police Force.“All sex workers, just like anybody else in society, have a right to report crimes that are committed against them.”Though there is a small percentage of street-based sex workers, the majority operate out of houses in Kabalagala and Kansanga.WhatsApp, Viber and other Message boards, blogs, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter pages have become the new medium for sex workers in Kampala to peddle their wares.Under the Republic of Uganda laws, the act of soliciting prostitution attracts a maximum penalty and those found to be living on the earnings from prostitution can be fined or jailed as an additional offense.
Clients of sex workers can be fined or jailed for a first offense, with files and jail terms doubled for subsequent offenses.Legislation also outlaws landlords renting properties to tenants for the purpose of sex work and Local Council officers well known as LCs have the power to close such illicit businesses.“The amount of private sex workers has skyrocketed,” Ms Nalwoga said.“When I first went private and I advertised on the net. The website I used at the time had two pages of adverts (20 individual adverts but there are now over 1,000 ads just in Kansanga and Kabalagala on that website.”Ms Nalwoga said as new technology evolves, sex workers in Kampala and Uganda in general are very quick to use it.Contador Harrison decided to do a quick scan of tweets and Facebook messages promoting services in Kansanga and Kabalagala which revealed many of the workers have found ways around Uganda’s advertising laws. Cynthia Tumusiime has been working full-time as a sex worker for six months in Entebbe.As she talked about her life before entering the industry, she said she was not a promiscuous teenager and grew up in a fairly normal family in the Nakiwogo, the most densely populated area in Entebbe municipality. “I was 18 or 19 before I lost my virginity, so I wasn’t particularly sexually active as a teen.”Through her recent involvement in the fetish community,she met several sex workers.“I wanted to earn a bit more money at the time, so I went to try out at a place where I knew one of the people worked.”Tumusiime decided not to enter the industry after her first attempt.Commitments in her personal life took priority.Once the commitments had passed, Tumusiime left her job in Kitooro and began full-time sex work.She sees the work she does as an important service for the community.“For a lot of people, it might be their only outlet to have physical contact or any kind of intimate relations.” She is hesitant to tell her friends about her work and has not considered talking to her parents about what she does. “I would like to be able to talk about it openly with everybody, but sadly there are a lot of people in Entebbe that have a bit of catching up to do, and the laws do as well.”Tumusiime said the sex workers in Entebbe and Kitooro she now mixes with come from differing backgrounds. They range from previous UN base in Entebbe staff, office workers, military and police officers among others. A busy day for her would be three to five clients, with a standard booking of one hour.Tumusiime sees her sex work as a normal job, but believes she could easily walk away from the industry if her circumstances changed. “If I met somebody and they weren’t happy with me doing the work, I’d be just as happy doing a different job,” Tumusiime said.At the end of our conversation, Nalwoga told me she believes that liberation will be delivered for Ugandan sex workers in the form of regulated working conditions.“Every single benefit a person who works usually has, a sex worker does not have in Uganda because its illegal.”However, she hopes that the stigma associated with being a sex worker across the country will lessen.“It’s a step in the right direction what Nalwoga and her organization are doing,”Tumusiime said.