Persona Grata Wanita: drop in centre for sex workers in Pahang

“Without the centre I would find it harder to survive,” says Ana, 52, a sex worker from Pahang.

Persona Grata Wanita is a drop in centre for sex workers in Pahang, a state on the south east coast. It is supported by the Malaysian AIDS Council, the Alliance Linking Organisation in Malaysia. It provides a number of services to sex workers and their families including basic first aid, three meals a day, a monthly support group and peer education on how to deliver babies safely. It also has a children’s playroom that doubles up as a crèche. The woman can drop their children off here while they are at work.

Ana receives counselling, condoms, lubricants and food at the centre and says the services have made a positive impact on her life. She attends counselling once a month and can see a trained doctor or nurse, whom staff will call if they feel there is a need. Through this service Ana has undergone voluntary counselling and testing for HIV.

“Without the centre I would find it harder to survive.”

— Ana, 52yrs

Ana has been married six times and has five children. One of her husbands died of AIDS- related illnesses but Ana herself has tested negative for HIV. She says she does what she does to support her family. Her children are unaware she is a sex worker but the rest of her family knows. They are very understanding of her situation but this does not stop her feeling ashamed of what she does. “I feel embarrassed when I see other women who are not sex workers, I feel embarrassed for myself. I wish I could be one of them and not have to do this. I am sure they are looking down on me, I can tell from the look on their face,” she says.

Making friends

Fatima, 52, is originally from Thailand and comes to Persona Grata Wanita for free condoms, lubricants and medical check ups. It is also here that Ana and her spend time together, chatting over some food. “She’s all I have,” Fatima says.

Fatima‘s husband died 15 years ago, when she was five months pregnant. She was living in Kuala Lumpur at the time and began working as a chef but found the work hard and the pay low. She moved to Pahang after a friend suggested she come and stay with her. To support her children she began working as a sex worker.

Fatima now has six children and two grandchildren, who live with her sister in Thailand. She works to support them and sends the majority of her money back home. She is working here illegally and goes back to Thailand when she can but says when she goes home she is not welcome. “They say to me what are you doing here? They just ask for the money then send me away again. I don’t know what to say anymore, I’ve tried everything I can but they won’t accept me.”

Despite this she is proud as her daughter is now studying language at the university in Bangkok. She says she is currently saving to buy her daughter a laptop. “She is my only hope in life,” she says.

In the past, Fatima says she earned well, but due to her age business is slow and now it is hard to get even one client a day. “I love cooking and I would like to be a chef again one day but I don’t have the money to start my own business. I would like to get out but I can’t.”

The Persona Grata Wanita drop in centre provides a vital lifeline to women like Ana and Fatima.