“I feel like a diva. I feel like Beyonce!”
“Let’s be proud of who we are, being a sex worker, being a transwoman. But first and foremost be proud of being a human being with dignity and integrity.”
Rachel lives and works in Walvis Bay, Namibia, where has an impressive collection of over 150 pairs of shoes. “It’s an obsession, and I think I need some help with it!” she says. Rachel is working to support sex workers in the region and reduce stigma and discrimination against transgender people.
Namibia has a high level of HIV prevalence, with approximately 220,000 people living with HIV. Although no data exists on the prevalence among populations most at risk of HIV infection (including sex workers, transgender people and men who have sex with men) the prevalence rate for this group of people is thought to be higher than among the general population.
As a transgender woman, Rachel has been affected by stigma and discrimination since childhood. She left home at 12 years old and has not had contact with her family since.
“I don’t even know my youngest brother’s or eldest sister’s age. I don’t know what they look like. Sometimes when I look at children being with mums, or siblings just holding hands or just giving each other hugs, I want to do the same.”
Despite her experiences, Rachel is a strong woman who is proud of her identity and profession. “I will die a sex worker and that’s me. An out and proud sex worker. It’s a profession I chose.”
“When I started being Rachel, I was a woman without confidence. But today I know what my aims and objectives and what my goals are, what I want to achieve. I will be the role model in the Erongo region to change people’s minds about transwomen and sex workers. I’m very, very proud to be Rachel.”
Voice of Hope
Rachel recently established an organisation Voice of Hope to support sex workers in Walvis Bay. She is being supported by OutRight Namibia, the national LGBTI network, which is an implementing partner of Positive Vibes, the Alliance Linking Organisation in Namibia.
“I called it Voice of Hope because we have many hopes. We are hoping in the future that things will change. This organisation wants to see sex workers having the knowledge about their fundamental human rights, accessing health services, getting protection from the police. We want to be treated as ordinary Namibian citizens. We want to change the mentality of people, the way they think of sex workers.”
Voice of Hope aims to increase access to sexual health and HIV prevention services for sex workers and transgender people, who often face discrimination from healthcare facilities. “[If] a transwoman goes to the health facility, they would say 'please go, we cannot deal with you.' We are denied accessing services.”
Rachel also aims to support her peers in their knowledge of their human rights and safe sex practices. “What we also want to change is sex workers using condoms correctly and consistently, and that’s what we are basically doing with the social behaviour change communication programme that we are running with Society for Family Health.”
She also wants acceptance and decriminalisation of sex work. “If sex work is decriminalised or we are acknowledged as Namibians, we can easily access services without stigma and discrimination.”
"I am aiming to mentor people so that they can say ‘yes, I am a sex worker, but I have the freedom to access services. I have the freedom to move, I have the freedom to choose my profession’.”
"I will be the role model in the Erongo region to change people’s minds about transwomen and sex workers. I’m very, very proud to be Rachel.”