In today’s world, some men like to make use of their power to get sex. Men in positions of power also use sex as a weapon to silence or intimidate women
For instance, if a powerful man decides to have sex with a female colleague, he may blackmail her about their sexual encounters and threaten that he will share the private information with the public. Like we have seen in different cases of revenge porn, men have used private videos to jeorpadise the reputations of the women involved. Society has reacted in favor of these men by shaming the women in the videos.
Further, men use sex as a weapon to override women whom they deem a threat to their own positions. Sex work is criminalised in Zimbabwe, and basing on this, men use this to their advantage by breaching their prior agreement before getting the service by pretending to be well meaning clients. They agree to pay sex workers, but refuse after the act. This results in loss of confidence on the part of female sex workers. It is also difficult for the sex workers to negotiate for safe sex or favourable conditions. The fact that men have more access and control to economic resources than women, also complicates the situation for women.
Patriarchy to blame
Patriarchy is to blame. It qualifies sex as a tool to access power. The male dominated society has taught women to be submissive to the men they have sex with. Some men also think that sex is almost always a business transaction, even in marriage. This is why men demand sex from their spouses arguing that the lobola they paid was to allow them to have sex with their wives as and when they like. In some cases only the male partners have a say in how married couples have sex. In our culture women are also told that the main reason they get married is because they should willingly provide sex to their husbands without fail, which is not the case. Women are therefore misguided by this belief and are in most cases manipulated by being asked to exchange sex for power and wealth. Sometimes they get neither simply because power and wealth do not come as a result of sex. In fact, this belief is just used to manipulate women. This is so because some working women who provide all material things to their husbands, still have sex with their husbands even if they do not get anything in return. So can we then argue that women have sex with their husbands for exchange with material goods?
Sexual satisfaction is also used to justify infidelity on the part of men. When a man gets involved in extra marital affairs, society is quick to blame the woman accusing her of not satisfying her husband. As such, women are forced to engage in different practices in order to enhance their sexual performance even if some of these put their health in danger. Some women get to the point of taking traditional or modern medicines or use their hard earned money to pay other women just to be taught unique sexual positions. All this shows how sex has been placed as a responsibility of the woman to the man.
Gender imbalance in sex work
There is a gender imbalance in sex work as the majority of sex workers are women, and the majority of clients are men. Due to cultural and traditional practices, men who exchange sex for material goods are not viewed as sex workers, but the typical ‘ben ten’ is a sex worker because he trades sex for material things from older and financially stable women. Even the few men who accept that they are sex workers are probably shy just like female sex workers and are not openly willing to share that is what they do for a living. Due to cultural beliefs, men are excused for having sex with different women. If a man cheats or dates an older women, he is viewed to have unique sexual preferences. Women are not excused, but are negatively labeled and called names. Men and women are not viewed as equal partners in sexual relationships.
Why women are involved in sex work?
“Young women in colleges and universities, for example, are forced into transactional sex in search of these basic needs. They know that their parents are under pressure due to the unfavourable economic situation in the country and they do not want to burden them,” she said.
Jumo added that sex workers are also victims of irresponsible men. She explained that these men force women to be involved in sex work. They make women pregnant and then they disappear, only to re-appear to be part of the lobola negotiations if the child happens to be a girl and if she does get married. It is women who are left with the responsibility of looking after these children and because of the huge responsibility and limited opportunities; some are forced into sex work. Jumo also noted that our government has failed women by refusing to recognise sex work as reality and a trade, as a result, sex workers remain vulnerable. Some sex workers succumb to sexual violence and because they are afraid to report to the police, the abuse continues.
Stereotypes and stigma attached to sex work
Sex workers and their children suffer a lot of stigma and discrimination. Due to the nature of their work, they are looked down upon by society. Some people believe that sex workers intentionally spread sexually transmitted infections (STI). They believe that sex workers add to the moral decay of society, but feminist Rutendo Chigudu opposes stigmatisation of sex work under these frameworks as they make it difficult for sex workers to access health care as well as other important services.
“The need to preserve culture is not a solution to the problem of sex work, but decriminalisation will benefit the nation,” said Chigudu
The attitude of healthcare providers also makes it uncomfortable for commercial sex workers to access basic health services. Due to societal attitudes, sex workers face violence and harassment. For instance, some clients refuse to pay them after sex, taking advantage of the fact that sex work is criminalised in the country so the women will not have a legal case against them. However, these stereotypes as well as stigma are caused by society’s lack of education on sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR).
Changing social attitudes about sex work
Bulawayo East MP Thabitha Khumalo is known for advocating for the decriminalisation of sex work. She believes sex work should be decriminalised so that sex workers can access basic services and enjoy their rights. According to her, if sex work could be legalised, there will be laws that make women equal partners in the trade and will not have to be victims of their clients.
Sharing similar views, Jumo added that society needs to respect sex workers as they are working under difficult conditions to make a living. Deeply embedded in patriarchal cultures is the idea that it is a woman’s duty to satisfy men sexually, in marriage or in sex work. Therefore, communities need intervention programmes that change the attitudes of men, women and society at large towards SRHR. This means there must be educational programmes for young men and women that dispel unhealthy and unequal representations of women. More so, there must be space for young men, in particular, to learn about sex, sexuality and healthy relationships in an open way and at a young age.
Main image taken from www.daily-mail.co.zm