COVID-19West Africa

Nigerian sex worker cries for government support during lockdown

Nigerian sex workerA sex worker in the northern Nigerian has told the BBC how coronavirus has affected her livelihood.

She lives in the main Muslim state of Kano, which is in the fourth week of a lockdown. No-one is allowed to leave their houses, except on Mondays and Thursdays between 10:00 and 16:00 to get food.

And despite it being the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims have not been allowed to gather for prayers or for the iftar meal to break fast.

Aisha, which is not her real name, says she is struggling to survive because of the restrictions:

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“I’ve tried to carry on working, but it’s not possible because of the lockdown, and also because of the Ramadan period. Almost everybody here is a Muslim, so it’s not possible because in the afternoon they are all around with their family and in the evening they want to go and break their fast with their family. Most of our clients are married men, so it’s not easy for them coming out.”

Islamic law, known as Sharia, was introduced in Kano state in 2000, and to several other areas of the north.

Since then prostitution, gambling and the consumption of alcohol have been banned in Kano.

“In Nigeria the police are very, very active because sex work is not allowed, especially here in the north. If you are caught selling sex you can be arrested and jailed. We are in this Sharia state.”

Nigerian sex worker aishaAisha says she has not received any form of official welfare payment during the lockdown.

“In Nigeria there is no support for sex workers. None. The only support we have had is from the NSWA – that’s the Nigeria Sex Workers’ Association – because they have savings put aside from what we usually make. So that if anything comes up we support one another. And now the NSWA has run dry, because what [money] it had, it distributed all around the state to sustain the sex workers. I’m hoping that maybe it will get support from the government, but there’s nothing coming in,” she said.

She added, “We just have to look for another alternative and another means. The government doesn’t even want to know how the sex workers are doing here in Nigeria. But my funds are finished. They’re gone. And I don’t have any alternative. I am able to pay my bills because of the support from some clients – those that care. They are maybe getting me a little food, some money. But it’s not enough because I have to share what I have with my other sisters. So it’s not easy. And I don’t know how long this is going to be. I feel disappointed that my government hasn’t given us any support. The government is not trying at all.”


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