Cape Town – At least 13 killings, mainly targeting women, have been registered in the last four weeks in Sofala, nine of them in Beira, the provincial capital, according to Mozambique authorities.
The international humanitarian organisation is calling for increased safeguarding of people engaged in sex work in Beira and elsewhere in Southern Africa, as well as the mobilisation of authorities, civil society and non-governmental organisations in the region to advocate for the health and well-being of sex workers.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says its community programme includes key population such as sex workers, men-who-have-sex-with-men and at-risk youth who are often isolated, criminalised or subjected to stigma, discrimination and violence.
Recently, Dércio Chacate, spokesperson for the Police of the Republic of Mozambique announced the arrest of several suspects in connection with the killings.
Cheila Davide, a social activist, called the murders of women an attack on the human rights of sex workers.
“We are outraged at the killings seemingly targeted at highly vulnerable women in Beira. Two sex workers served by our work have been murdered in a matter of weeks. Their peers have identified them as a 32-year-old migrant sex worker from Zimbabwe who leaves behind a 4-year-old daughter and a local 22-year-old Mozambican sex worker who leaves behind three daughters and a son.
“Ahead of the 16 Days of Activism Against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) initiative and the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, we call for an end to violence and greater safeguarding for sex workers,” says Jessie Ashay Kurnurkar, MSF project co-ordinator in Beira.
“We’re not living freely,” says Maria (surname withheld), a sex worker living in Beira. “We’re not leaving our houses anymore. When we do leave, we try to walk in groups. At night, we are not opening our doors for customers because we’re scared, so we’re losing work. How are we going to make ends meet? How are we going to pay rent? We are traumatised. My peer who was murdered left three daughters behind.”
The organisation says its teams have witnessed the intense and chronic vulnerability of women, men and transgender people engaged in sex work.
“In Mozambique, South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe, our teams have seen how they face extreme violence and exploitation precisely because they survive in the shadows, especially if they are migrants.
“For as long as sex work remains criminalised and stigmatised, hundreds of thousands of sex workers and vulnerable girls and women in Southern Africa remain at great risk for their physical and mental health.
“Just like other highly stigmatised groups in society, sex workers mostly avoid making themselves visible to authorities, and often delay or avoid health-care services due to the fear of being detected, targeted and rejected,” says Lucy O’Connell, a sexual and reproductive health-care nurse and key populations adviser at MSF’s Southern Africa Medical Unit.
“We have seen how their preventable and treatable illnesses risk becoming more complex and dangerous because of this cruel reality. We know that sex workers don’t report SGBV or seek treatment after violence because of fear of being victimised again.”