Jeannette is a 28 year old single mother living in Gikondo Sector of Kicukiro District. Like ot her vulnerable women, Jeannette chose to engage in sex work in order to earn an income for herself and her 9 year old child. She has been in the sex work industry for about 12 years and describes it as very challenging.
“I joined the sex work after having sex with a widely believed infected man in our sector. I barely knew that this would result into other burdens beyond poverty, such as sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancy, and other unforeseen consequences like arrests and beatings,” Jeannette explains.
Female sex workers are one of the key populations in Rwanda with high chances of contracting and spreading HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections. Thus, to protect these key populations wherever they are, USAID supports the access and availability of health products (condoms) and services Voluntary Counseling & Testing through Society for Family Health (SFH) Rwanda in a program known as Rwanda Social Marketing Program (RSMP).
“As a matter of fact, it’s only God to thank that am still alive and my child is fine too; I
had an unwanted pregnancy and had unprotected sex with a number of men. But,
unbelievably, I am HIV negative. It’s only through Society for Family Health (SFH)
outreach programs that I learned how to live a healthier life, and that’s why I am able
to speak so that other peers can learn from it,” Jeannette explained.
She notes that before participating in the outreach activities conducted by SFH through her Community Based Organization, she didn’t give much thought to HIV, sexually transmitted infections, or other consequences highlighted above. Jeanette said, “I only saw my actions as an opportunity to make ends meet and potentially as a way to earn a living for my child.” She said.
Jeanette added “I also got to know my HIV status through the SFH outreach campaigns when my peers encouraged me to test during a Voluntary Counselling & Testing Session staged by SFH—luckily, I tested negative”. She also said her peers kept on encouraging her participation to the programs more often, and that, she’s happy for the results.
“Although am not fully out of [sex work], I now live a positive and productive lifestyle, because I am no longer worried about my future as before I tested negative for HIV and now I know the correct and consistent use of condoms,” she said.
Jeannette also now works selling condoms, educating her peers about the program, packaging products at SFH headquarters, all of which earn her a living. She also runs other errands as a fruits retailer in the Market. She says, “I am able to by myself health insurance because of all these errands”.
The program strongly emphasizes adoption of healthy behaviors and proper use of products and services. The program also adheres to the principle of outreach activities to disseminate messages using strategies such as community drama and films. These activities draw in the population and provide relevant information as well as a platform for discussion on health topics.