In Chomoio, the capital of Mozambique’s Manica Province, an unlikely group of women are leading the fight to educate people about the causes and risks of HIV and AIDS. At night, women wearing t-shirts with the letters OMES displayed prominently on the front and back make the rounds of the local bars. OMES is the Portuguese acronym for “Women’s AIDS Education Organization.”
The women answer questions about HIV and AIDS, how it’s spread and its effect on people. They hand out condoms and speak about sexual relations unflinchingly.
Ordinarily, the male bar patrons wouldn’t pay much attention to what women have to say, but these women are different – they’re sex workers.
In Manica’s male-dominated society, many unmarried mothers, widows and divorcees turn to the sex trade as the only viable way to support themselves and their children.
OMES’ educational methods combine these bar visits with community theatre, videos and individual counseling. They have become the main source of information about HIV and AIDS in the region.
Their work has lead to higher rates of condom use and the women themselves have gained new-found respect as health activists giving them an added sense of security and solidarity. This unplanned benefit has provided many members with the confidence to insist on condom use with clients and also reduced their vulnerability to violence.