The Shining Star project uses a peer education model to reduce HIV transmission, by educating girls and women engaged in sex work who then share sexual health messages with thousands of their peers.
In Zimbabwe, sex work is one of the major drivers of new HIV infections and over half of the women involved are living with HIV. Limited access to condoms, and a lack of sexual health education for women engaged in sex work, precipitates the spread of HIV.
Gender imbalance and sexual violence also play a role, as these are embedded within society and, traditionally and culturally, limit women’s power. It makes negotiating the use of a condom between female sex workers and their clients extremely difficult - and potentially dangerous.
In 2019, the Shining Star project began to also turn its attention to the men who pay for sex, as part of their HIV prevention strategy. The team carried out a survey to identify the ‘hotspots’ where sex work was prominent, such as bars, truck stops, and military barracks.
It was evident that there was a need for the project to work with the men who frequent these hotspots and perpetuate sex work, to complement the project’s existing work with the women and girls - many of whom have been driven to sex work because of the dire economic situation in Zimbabwe.
Shining Star gained approval from the authorities to begin sessions at the end of 2019 in some of the bars and, to date, have been able to speak with 258 men about HIV and sex work. The team has also been distributing condoms in these areas, and the peer educators have continued to share sexual health messages with the women.
The project has also just been given permission by the Zimbabwe Republic Police to start a programme at Luwellin Imbizo Military Barracks. The programme will focus on providing 200 soldiers with HIV education, promoting safer sex practices and addressing the issue of gender based violence.
The barracks are looking forward to the start of the project, which is especially welcomed by the medical team there. We will update you once the work gets underway.