In Uganda, commercial sex work is illegal and perceived as immoral and socially unacceptable. As a stigmatised and often criminalised group, sex workers are frequently the victims of human rights abuses, including sexual violence. Historically, the majority of sex workers have lacked adequate access to information about their rights, safe sex, health services, and equality before the law. In turn, this has significant implications for basic safety, the spread of HIV/AIDs, and unwanted pregnancies.
A new initiative is changing this, using micro chips for mobile phones. Lady Mermaid’s Bureau (LMB), the first sex workers’ organisation in East Africa, has provided hundreds of Ugandan sex workers quick and easy access to safety information which they can consult on their own phones.
Starting in 2015, LMB has distributed nearly 1000 information-loaded SIM cards to sex workers across 11 Ugandan towns.
“With my SIM card, I have been able to learn what to do and what to say when the police approach. Having this new information has helped me to retain my rights as a sex worker,” says Deborah Muffin, a sex worker from Malaba town on the border of Uganda and Kenya.
As a small community based organisation working with impoverished women’s communities and sex workers, LMB’s mission is to instigate a strong voice for women’s rights, to stop children’s participation in sex work, bring to light the harassment and abuse faced by sex workers, and help educate and empower this demograhic. Since its inception in 2002, LMB has worked with more than 12,000 sex workers in Uganda, including refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and young women aged 14-25 years.
Oliver Musoke, Executive Director at Lady Mermaid’s Bureau, says “during the course of this project, we have received multiple inquiries about HIV, condom safety, dealing with police abuse, safe abortions, where to get social, emotional, or physiological help, as well as about human trafficking”.
“The project has also led to additional community-led activities where sex workers in semi-rural areas have created information sheets for clients, as well as support networks among themselves. For example, sex workers at the border town of Malaba have developed a manual for clients. The manual explains the rights of a sex worker and requesting relevant respect of her rights.”
For more information, contact:
Lady Mermaid's Bureau
Lwasa stage House, Salama Munyonyo Rd.
Makindye division C/o Po Box 24146 Kampala
About Lady Mermaid’s Bureau
Founded in 2002, Lady Mermaid’s Bureau is the first sex worker-led organisation in Eastern Africa. The organisation broke the silence that surrounded sex work at the time, creating a basis for intervention among the most highly discriminated and stigmatised population in Uganda. It has bred all existing sex work groups and activists and, in 2003, without any prior donor funding, LMB organised for an emergency meeting with the Parliament of Uganda to confront the severe stigmatisation and brutal confrontation of sex workers by both the Police and local defense units (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/af
By challenging inequalities facing sex workers, LMB tackles the conditions that allows ongoing violation of sex workers' rights, and combats their exclusion from policy consideration and social participation. LMB aims to work with the media so that they report responsively about sex work, expose human rights violations against sex workers, and educate the public about the human face of sex workers. Amongst other projects, LMB has trained sex workers as peer educators and counselors on health issues and has always brought together various sex workers to share knowledge, skills and exchange experiences. Since inception, LMB has reached more than 12,000 sex workers.