‘Not easy being LGTBQI+ community or a sex worker in Mozambique’

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Despite same-sex relationships becoming legal under the Criminal Code in Mozambique in 2015, being a member of the LGTBQI+  community or a sex worker in the southeastern African country requires courage. More especially if you are going to need to access healthcare services – a lesson Atanasio Faz-Beh, a transgender activist, had to learn the hard way.

The 41-year-old, based in Ponta-Gea in Beira, says during one of his visits to a local healthcare centre, he had to field humiliating questions from healthcare workers who had gathered around as his uninvited audience.

Before he could go there, he says, he had to muster the courage to face the shame of being a transgender woman.

“At the beginning, they would be all surprised and ask questions like, ‘how can a man have anal infections? How did that happen? How is that possible?’,” recalls Faz-Beh.

“And with that some transgender people decided not to go to hospital anymore. And it was a like a novelty for the clinicians because if a transgender person would go there they could call other colleagues because it was a novelty to them and they could all come and watch the patient.”

The lanky transgender activist, whose face beams with pride when he talks about the work that he does, is the coordinator of the micro planning programme at Takaezana – a local support group that with the support of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) seeks to raise awareness around issues faced by this community.

Since 2014, the humanitarian body, MSF, has been in Beira with a special focus on what they term “Key Population” which include, among others, people with advanced HIV, transgender people, sex workers as well as homosexual people.

Faz-Beh says these interventions are bearing fruit.

For Nyaradzo Raposo, a Zimbabwean and the oldest of four siblings, conditions back home in Zimbabwe forced her to travel to Mozambique as she sought better opportunities some 22 years ago.

To make ends meet, she started working as a sex worker – a job that is still not easy to do despite sex work being legal in the country.

Also working as a “Focal Point” for sex workers at Takaezana, Raposo mobilises sex workers and fights for their rights.

She sees her role as being very important ensuring sex worker are not victimised.

“Some are afraid and some are shy because of the discrimination and the stigamatisation. Even if they go to the clinics, most of the nurses are not trained to work with key populations, they would just say ‘hi, you bitch, what do you want here?’” she says.

“So, someone would not be comfortable. So, if they are with me or any of the focal points, they are more free and comfortable and can tell me the problem and when we got to the clinic I will present the case on their behalf,” she adds.

Raposo says while sex work is frowned upon by many, it is work for them and ensures that they are able to manoeuvre the tough economic conditions for themselves and their families.

“Most of us are breadwinners, if someone loses their lives we have to look at the kids. We have to look after each and everyone.

A mother of one, Raposo says while there are some improvements in the treatment they get from different people, sex work remains a very difficult work for many.