Fatima* is a sex worker who has become involved with a peer education group set up in Quetta, Pakistan, to increase HIV prevention and care among sex workers.
‘I nearly quit on my first day as a peer educator because a pack of dogs was set on me! I’d been to a brothel and the owner refused to let me talk to her sex workers. I can earn up to 30,000 rupees ($350) a night as a sex worker. Being mauled by dogs for 4,000 rupees ($47) per month as a peer educator hardly seemed worth it. I’m so glad I didn’t quit because I later helped save a woman’s life.
My manager came with me the next day. She reassured the owner, Auntie, that nobody planned to change her girls’ attitude towards sex work and that we were concerned only about their health and safety.
My eyes fell on a frail woman sitting in a corner in agony. The emptiness in her eyes made me wonder what she might have been going through. I tried talking to her, but was stopped. Before leaving, I scribbled and hid my telephone number under the sofa, making sure the hollow-eyed woman noticed.
Her name was Zeba*, and she called me the same night. Sounding petrified, she whispered that she needed medical attention and help. The next morning my manager and I visited Auntie, armed with ‘gifts’ including medicines and condoms. She was happy for us to distribute these among the girls.
We told them about the ‘Drop-in Centre’ run by Rahnuma Family Planning Association Pakistan where free medical check-ups are conducted by doctors. We reassured everyone that the medical attention provided was non-judgemental and stigma-free, and Auntie finally gave her girls permission to visit.
Zeba needed medicines for sexually transmitted infections and post abortion care. After she was stabilized, she shared her story. She was a mother – though her three children lived with their grandmother in Gujranwala village. She came to Quetta five years ago to work in a toy factory, but soon found herself sold by the factory owner to Auntie. Unfortunately, Auntie discovered Zeba talking to us, and Zeba disappeared without a trace.
I later found Zeba at the Drop-in Centre. Her time with us had given her confidence to stand up for herself. She had more than 18 clients a day, but before meeting me she only got a minor percentage, but now she felt better and had the courage to negotiate a better deal.
I am still a sex worker, but my work as a peer educator has given me a great sense of achievement.’
*Name changed to protect confidentiality
This is one of the twenty-four, real-life stories highlighting how IPPF's work is having a real impact in the lives of people around the world. 'In A Life' is available at: http://www.ippf.org/en/Resources/Reports-reviews/In+a+life+2010.htm