Under the radar: Female sex workers in Ghana

Sex-workers-and-clients-i-008It was another Saturday night in Accra. While I would normally be hanging out with friends, this night I was at Nkrumah Circle, commonly known as Circle, to interview female sex workers in Greater Accra. As I walked towards Vienna nightclub, neon lights from the club lit up the dark sidewalk and streets, highlighting the faces of scantly clad women strolling the area for customers. As the night progressed, the number of women on the street lessened, as the women found the customers they were looking for or returned home in hopes of a better night the next day. The streets were finally empty.

For the past two weeks, I, along with 10 other research assistants, have interviewed female sex workers in Accra, Tema, and Koforiuda to evaluate the quality of HIV interventions in Ghana for populations most-at-risk for being infected by HIV. Because female sex workers are on the margin of society in Ghana—prostitution is illegal and society frowns upon these women—their rights as workers are not protected, and the nature of their work put them at risk for physical harm, Sexually Transmitted Infections, and domestic abuse. Thus, my job in the past two weeks was to interview female sex workers and find out just how helpful HIV interventions in Ghana have been to improving their lives.

While the study was centered on health, I was surprised to find how education or better yet, the lack thereof is one of the many determinants that forces young women into sex work. While I cannot talk in detail about any specific interviews or the women I met, here are some of my observations on the relations of sex work in Ghana and secondary education.

-Women with only a junior secondary school education (JSS) are severely limited in their work options. Without a Senior Secondary Certificate and the command of the English language, they are restricted to jobs in the informal sector, such as trading of goods on the street, and sex work.

-Secondary Education in Ghana does not guarantee employment either. Secondary School graduates should be taught some trade or entrepreneurial skills so that they can build their own businesses versus resulting to sex work.

-There should be more support, governmental, non-governmental, and private sector, for working mothers who want to upgrade their skills and training that provides small monetary support.

Each week, hundreds of women line the streets and fill bar and nightclubs across the country in hopes of gaining income to buttress their families. While HIV interventions are great first step to reducing these women’s risk of HIV, skills training and education can transform these women’s work from marginalized to valued, from dark shady street corners to market kiosks. Female education is not just an idealistic goal but a hope for a more equitable future for all.

Photo Credit: Picture taken from theguardian.co.uk

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