Peninah calls herself a sex worker and women’s rights activist. As the Founder and Director of Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme (BHESP) she is amongst the change makers who have been championing for the rights of sex workers for close to 17 years now.
‘’I believe sex work is work. What inspires me every day is to make a difference and break the status quo in society that generally misunderstands women sex workers and labels them as immoral. Systemic oppression over the years towards this group needs to come to an end. Like workers everywhere, sex workers should work in an environment where they feel safe, accepted and well remunerated.
When starting out as an activist in the sex work movement, I received a lot of backlash from family, friends and mentors. Many people would offer me alternative jobs all in the aim of trying to ‘cleanse’ me from rebellion. At some point I got tired of trying to answer questions such as “What do you mean you’re working for an organisation that supports sex workers?” But this did not deter me from advocating for the inclusion of sex workers’ rights. I am a firm believer that sex workers’ rights are human rights and should not have to be demanded.
As a movement, BHESP has promoted a policy environment where sex workers’ rights are upheld. In our peer-to-peer outreaches, sex workers are the cornerstone of what we do. We recruit them as peer educators to empower fellow sex workers and help them make informed choices when it comes to their health and well-being.
I am grateful to organisations such as Hivos East Africa that were amongst the pioneer organisations that believed in us. They were willing to take the risk and walk with us in an unfamiliar domain. Hivos supported the first BHESP conference in 2004 that addressed issues of violence against women.
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