Thoko Chikondi is an award-winning Malawian photojournalist and documentary photographer who is passionate about telling stories of women and children through imagery. Her work seeks to highlight their plight and suggest solutions to their problems. Thoko’s photos have been exhibited and published internationally. She is currently based in Blantyre where she works as a part-time photojournalism lecturer at the University of Malawi Polytechnic
Malawi declared its first Covid-19 confirmed cases on 2 April 2020. About five months down the line the country has registered 173 deaths from 5,474 confirmed cases as of 26 August 2020. Although the country has not been placed under lockdown since the pandemic began, government has put in place restrictions and regulations to curb the spread of the pandemic. While most sectors of the economy complain about loss of revenue, sex workers a marginalised group whose trade is treated with contempt are facing increased financial constraints which are widening already existing inequalities.
Blantyre-based female sex workers who trade as Queen Sheba and Tracy P feel excluded from the government Covid-19 social protection programmes. The situation is similar to many other sex workers across the country. The two sex workers feel the exclusion from the social protection programmes is putting their safety, health and lives at increased risk as they are forced to go out to earn a living. The duo complains of being turned away at health facilities because sex workers are Covid-19 carriers. The women say sex work is their only source of income with which they care for their children and families.
Despite taking the risk of going out to work amid the pandemic, the sex workers admit it is not business as usual as they have lost so many clients because most of them are afraid of catching the coronavirus. The sex workers, however, have learnt to use technology to keep their work going. Queen Sheba, for instance, uses WhatsApp to link up with her clients. “Since I stay at home sometimes, I just post WhatsApp statuses which can only be seen by my clients, when they view them they remember me and arrange for an appointment,” says Queen Sheba. On a good day, she makes 20,000 Malawi Kwacha (about 27 US dollars). This is less that what she used to earn before the Covid-19 outbreak.