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To counter Police Harassment, Uganda’s Sex Workers feel Phone is vital for their safety

The Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, a former Catholic priest, has vowed to crack down on both sex workers and their clients

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FILE - Women carry baskets of banana as they walk past a military personnel patrolling in Uganda's capital Kampala, February 19, 2016 Source: Reuters
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When Fatia, 25, leaves her home to sell sex in the grungy hotels and hastily parked cars of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, she keeps her hand clenched around her phone.

After three years, her biggest fear is not violent clients or exposure to HIV, but harassment by Kampala’s police.

“The police start charging you. They say it (prostitution) is not allowed in the country,” Fatia, who declined to give her full name, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

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“Some policemen even use you (for sex). They don’t pay you and then still they take you to the station.”

If arrested for prostitution, Fatia knows what to do. Call the emergency number for Lady Mermaid’s Bureau (LMB) – a sex workers’ advocacy organization – and beep once.

A representative from the bureau soon arrives at the station to gently remind the police that harassment or bribery of any citizen, even a sex worker, is illegal.

If that fails, she may invoke the name of one of Fatia’s influential clients to scare the police into releasing her.

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Gentle persuasion generally works.

Ugandan police spokesman Andrew Felix Kaweesi denied systemic police harassment. However, he said instances of misconduct by individual officers was possible.

“The police have no policy of harassing the prostitutes on the streets,” Kaweesi said.

“Those who are victims should report to our professional standards unit … Absolutely nobody will punish them. We will listen to their complaints and follow it up.”

VULNERABLE

In Uganda, sex work is illegal and highly stigmatized, making women like Fatia vulnerable to unlawful arrest, rape, bribery, beating and murder, rights groups say.

The Indigo Trust, a UK-based foundation under The Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, gave Lady Mermaid’s Bureau a grant in 2014 to help Ugandan sex workers fight abuse using technology.

It has provided around 1,000 sex workers across Uganda with information-loaded digital memory cards so they can use their phones to learn how to protect themselves against violence, HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies.

The material is available in multiple languages, and in written and video format, to maximize the number of women who can access it.

“They read them, follow them and do their work safely,” said Oliver Musoke, executive director of Lady Mermaid’s Bureau and a former sex worker.

The cards make it easier to reach larger numbers of women than through face-to-face counseling.

“Some women are not open (to meeting us),” said Musoke, who founded the organization in 2002 to improve sex workers’ access to medical, psychological and legal services and to educate them about sexual health and the law.

“They can read and take the information for themselves.”

Harassment

The criminalization of sex work in the conservative East African nation makes it difficult for those living on its margins to learn about their rights.

Fatia began selling sex hoping to save her earnings for a year and go into business, selling baby clothes.

But she continues to work the streets because she cannot earn enough to escape. Most days she gets one or two clients; some days, none.

“When you use protection, they give you very little money,” she said. “It’s not a good job at all.”

Anyone who engages in prostitution is liable to seven years in jail, according to Uganda’s 1950 Penal Code.

The Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, a former Catholic priest, has vowed to crack down on both sex workers and their clients.

But it is largely poor women who are targeted.

“Harassment occurs any time because sex work is illegal,” said Daisy Nakato Namakula, a former sex worker who heads the Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA), which promotes sex workers’ rights.

WONETHA has received 85 reports of sex workers being arrested and harassed by the police since January, but says many more cases go undocumented.

Officers sometimes threaten to publish sex workers’ faces in the media and refuse to allow those with HIV/AIDS who are arrested to be brought their medication, Namakula said.

Ugandan police spokesman Kaweesi denied these allegations.

“(All) suspects have full rights of access to their relatives, access to medical attention, access to meals,” he said.

Musoke of Lady Mermaid’s Bureau, which has worked with more than 12,000 sex workers across Uganda, believes she is slowly changing Ugandans’ attitudes.

One policeman recently asked for a memory card to learn more about the situation of sex workers in the community, LMB reported.

“I have passed through that life,” Musoke said.

“I know their problems… That’s why I decided to create (Lady Mermaid’s Bureau), to let them know that they are also human.” (VOA)

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Robots May Be Able to Perform C-Sections Soon

These big, set-piece operations will become less common as we are able to intervene earlier and use more moderate interventions

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C-section, Robots
A newborn, one of 12 babies born by C-section, cries inside an incubator at the Bunda Hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, Dec. 12, 2012. VOA

Robotics are expected to become so sophisticated, hospitals may not need surgeons. Controlled by healthcare assistants, the machines will soon be delivering babies by carrying out C-sections as well as other surgeries, say experts.

The predictions are based on the report by the “Commission on the Future of Surgery” set up by the Royal College of Surgeons in 2017, the Daily Mail reported.

According to the report, the robots controlled by healthcare assistants such as technicians are expected to conduct vaginal surgeries and operations on the bowel, heart and lungs.

This will help advance diagnoses of illnesses like cancer before they destroy organs and, as a result, operations will be smaller in scale and less traumatic.

Robot, Reading Companion
FILE – A visitor shakes hands with a humanoid robot at 2018 China International Robot Show in Shanghai (VOA)

Even healthcare assistants — who do not need any formal qualifications to get a job — could one day be trained to perform C-sections with the robots, The Telegraph reported.

Specialists and surgeons will remain in charge of operations but may not always need to be in the room.

“This is always going to be under the watchful eye and careful supervision of a surgeon,” Richard Kerr, neurosurgeon at the Oxford University and Chair of the commission, was quoted as saying.

“These are highly qualified healthcare professionals and they will be trained in a specific aspect of that procedure.

“The changes are expected to affect every type of operation. This will be a watershed moment in surgery,” Kerr said.

While some applications of robots and DNA-based medicines are expected to happen sooner than others, those with healthcare assistant-led C-sections is possible within five years, the report said.

C-section, Robots
These are highly qualified healthcare professionals and they will be trained in a specific aspect of that procedure. Flickr

However, the experts warn that the use of robots in surgery could be controversial. This is in light of an investigation which revealed that a 69-year-old man in Newcastle died when a robot was used to carry out his heart surgery in 2015.

The commission’s report also claims that major cancer operations could become a thing of past because screening DNA will pick up diseases earlier, before they ravage the body.

Also Read: AI  to Help the Students of Japan in Enhancing English Speaking Skills

Similarly, people with severe forms of arthritis could be identified early on and faster treatment might reduce the need for major hip and knee replacement ops.

“These big, set-piece operations will become less common as we are able to intervene earlier and use more moderate interventions,” said Professor Dion Mortonm, a member of the commission. (IANS)