Author: Bethlehem Tekola
*The following is the Book Review provided by FSS:
Unlike the situation a few decades ago, commercial sex in Addis Ababa has increasingly become an occupation of women born and brought up in the city, a study reveals. The new study, “Poverty and the Social Context of Sex Work in Addis Ababa’, by Bethelehem Tekola*, indicates that more than 50% of the women who are engaged in the commercial sex are born and grew up in the city.
The expansion of urban poverty over the last three decades and the further socio-economic complications are the main reasons that the majority of the sex workers are indigenous to the city, says the author in her monograph published by the Forum for Social Studies (FSS). The study conducted in the city’s major sex trade centers of Mercato, Piazza, Arat Kilo, Kasanchis, Cherkos, Meshualekia and Kolfe involved a sample of 100 sex workers. It has revealed that the majority, 73%, of the women started commercial sex as teenagers. Even though the women cited various push factors that contributed to engage to commercial sex, the major factor that forced 63% of them was escaping economic hardship.
The study criticises the very common castigation attached to sex workers as being social misfits who pose dangers to society. The study proposes a humane approach towards them and their dependents. This should begin by making a clear distinction between the institution of commercial sex and women who practice it, the author suggests. Almost all of the participants covered in the study maintain social ties and carry obligations as heads of families or bread winners and other tasks that society values.
The study has identified seven distinct types of sex work practiced in the city based on venues and conditions of work; Street or Asphalt, Small drinking houses, Bar, Hotel/Club, Yetewosene Akafay - those who work on the bed owned by others who work for fixed payment to the owner, Ikul Akafay- Equal Share, those who give 50% - and on the Bed- Be-alga. Women in all the various forms of sex work are exposed to greater exploitation by those who have direct or indirect control over residential or venue space, the study reveals.
According to the researcher this implies that strategies for dealing with sex trade should focus more on curbing the many problems associated with it. Though the degree as well as the forms of vulnerability of the sex workers to HIV depends, among other things on the type of sex work that the women involve in, the author argues that they become more vulnerable in their non-paying relation with the men which they call ‘lovers’, ‘husbands’, or, ‘friends’ than their paying or commercial customers. The women reported that they are engaged in unrestricted and almost unprotected sexual relationships with these partners.
The study suggests that affirmative action should focus more on poor women who suffer from severe economic and social marginalization rather than on understanding its general sense of expanding opportunities for women in general.
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