Conference in Kenya Examines Risk of HIV/AIDS Among Bar Workers
Kenya's second national bar hostesses' conference recently was held in the capital of Nairobi, during which participants examined HIV/AIDS and sexual violence prevention strategies, IRIN/PlusNews reports. The meeting was organized by the Bar Hostesses Empowerment and Support Programmes, which also released a study that said 90% of bar hostesses in Nairobi are sexually active and have multiple partners. The organization estimates that HIV prevalence in this population is higher than the national average of about 7.8%, although there are no firm statistics. Peninah Mwangi, head of BHESP, said bar hostesses are "relegated to subservient status" and "find it difficult to negotiate for safe sex or good terms of employment." Mwangi also said that violence against hostesses is "widespread and accepted," adding that they "face sexual harassment at work and are often raped, as they leave work in the middle of the night with no protection."
Assistant Minister for Medical Services Danson Mungatana said the government plans to provide bar workers with HIV/AIDS prevention measures, including providing them with female condoms and strengthening the legal and policy frameworks to support women's economic independence. "There is a need to promote behavior change communication so that they understand their rights and members of the public also give them due respect," he said.
Catherine Wacira, a bar hostess in Nairobi, spoke at the conference and said that bar workers "need the government to be on our side," adding that an increase in wages would help curb the spread of HIV/AIDS. "If we had good wages, our chances of getting HIV would be reduced," she said, adding that the workers "would not be forced to sleep with customers" to increase sales at the bars.
According to IRIN/PlusNews, there are more than 40,000 nationally registered bars in Kenya, with an average of four workers at each bar. BHESP has a national membership of 5,000 and is in the process of creating a union to strengthen the bargaining positions of women working in the bars (IRIN/PlusNews, 10/29).