NGO recalls plight of prostituted women during pandemic
DAVAO CITY – When the city was placed on lockdown because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Karen (not her real name) had to make sure she was back home before 6 p.m.
Karen said during the lockdown, she would go to “work” as early as 10:00 a.m., and return home in the afternoon, just in time before the curfew.
Karen is among the 56 prostituted women monitored by the non-government organization Talikala, Inc. as those who continued to engage in prostitution during the pandemic.
For her, the need to feed the family outweighed the risks of contracting the disease.
“Sa una gabii gyud ko pero karon kay adlaw. Magkawat-kawat kog duty kay 6:00 pm ang curfew (Before I was on the streets at night, but at that time, I went there in the morning. I sneaked to work because the curfew was at 6 p.m.),” Karen shared with The Manila Bulletin in a phone interview.
Prostitution in the time of pandemic
Karen, a 30-year old single mother, said she was doing it for her two children, a nine-year-old daughter, and a son, who was only four months old, when the lockdown was implemented. She has been engaged in prostitution since 2015.
During the lockdown, she would go to work on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Karen was only allowed to go outside during those days. The local government has implemented the clustering of barangays to avoid the convergence of people in public places to prevent the spread of the infection.
The use of food and medicine (FM) pass was implemented to control the movement of persons going to the market and essential establishments to buy food and medicine.
“Sa una Monday to Saturday ko naa sa gawas. Karon, sa isa ka semana three times lang kay TTHS ra man akong FM pass (Before, I was out to work from Monday to Saturday. Now, I only worked thrice a week, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays because that was indicated on my food and medicine pass),” she recalled.
But Jeanette Ampog, executive director of Talikala Inc., said they have monitored that men who engaged in prostitution also used the FM passes as a way out to meet with prostituted women.
“We also noted that they have a different system during the pandemic. Before the woman goes out of her home, she or the pimp has already made an arrangement where to meet the customer. Their transaction is done through text or online and the man would just wait at the agreed location,” Ampog said.
Karen said she would earn P400 to P900 a day, which she would share in their household of eight persons.
“Kung gusto pa ka mangwarta pwede ka kaduha, kaupat (If you want more money, you may get more customers),” she said.
She said her only protection was using a face mask. But Karen said, there were days when she had no customer at all.
Ampog said they have randomly monitored that at least 10 women daily have engaged in prostitution during the lockdown, while they have served 56 women during the lockdown. Talikala organized a food assistance drive for women in prostitution from March 24 until the third week of August, and given out a total of 30 to 40 food packs every week.
Ampog recalled that during their distribution, the women who were able to receive the food packs would immediately go home.
“They would thank us and tell us that finally, they can go home. It only shows that these women were engaged in prostitution due to poverty and they needed money to feed their families,” she added.
“Looking at them during GCQ, ECQ and MGCQ made us cringe with fear for their safety and at the same time empathize with them. Looking at the buyers of sex during those times will make one seethe with anger but instead turned our eyes away,” Ampog said.
On the other hand, Ampog noted that they also heard stories from women that there were men “who gave them some money without asking for sex.”
“If there are men who can do it, why not all men in our society? If that day will come when no men or person will buy sex, that will be the day that women and girls are free from sexual exploitation,” she said.
International Day of No Prostitution
Today, October 5, the world commemorates the International Day of No Prostitution.
“This day aims to raise awareness that buying sex is never and will never be a right of any person. The campaign started in 2002 and we seek to educate the public that the women, and children who are sold in prostitution are in the situation because of poverty,” Ampog said.
“Other people might be opposed to this discourse and you are free to discover for yourself the push factor which led these women, and children to enter prostitution,” she explained.