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IN HER OPINION: Brave Women Choose Prostitution

Akpara. Akwuna. Ashawo. Funny how in Ibibio, Igbo and Yoruba, the word for whore sounds the same – this class of women that we’re taught to turn up our noses at, because they don’t fit in with the pretty picture of society’s questionable morality.

Three days ago, I put up a post about my friend Susan Asakpa who is a cab driver in Abuja. In many of the comments, people hailed her for doing “legitimate” work rather than selling her body for money. One even said that if all young women are like her, prostitution would stop (as if prostitutes patronise themselves). This post is born out of those comments. I hope it makes sense.

It takes bravery to be a prostitute.

When I speak of prostitutes, I’m not referring to the runs girls who do it out of greed and solely for the money. I’m talking of those women whose daily grind it is to labour above or under several men every day, just so they and their families can survive.

One of the kindest and most well-mannered persons I know, is a prostitute. When we met, she opened my eyes to her world, a dark place which until then, I’d been content to scuff at from afar, while draped in the piety of my church robes. After my encounter with her and a few of her colleagues, I was less inclined to turn up my nose.

“You’re not ashamed of what you do?” I’d asked her one day. It was my belief then, that all prostitutes were brazen. Had they no shame?

“Why should I be? It’s a job and shame won’t feed my parents. It won’t pay my son’s school fees.”

“Why don’t you take the money you make and get out?”

“Babe, if we made that much money, my colleagues and I would own mansions in Abuja by now. If it were that easy to get out, many of us would’ve left on the first day. It’s like smoking; when you’ve been in this business for a long time, it owns you. You don’t know any other trade, so you stay. Sometimes, you go out to find a job that society approves of, but these men look at your boobs and ass and say, ‘If you want a job here, you have to be sleeping with me.’”

I know how I flinch when a strange man touches me in the street, no matter how inadvertent it was. Then imagine that I have to lie down and let many such men inside my body, oftentimes for a paltry sum which will be divided between me and a pimp or a madam.

It takes and incredible kind of bravery to decide to do this every day. The risks: diseases, beating, rapes, juju and even murder. Many of them take drugs and stay high, so they don’t have to feel. It’s a job that slowly erases your soul, your very essence until nothing is left. But you keep on, because you must survive.

Society has taught us to view these women as objects or lesser humans. We frown at an ashawo, but not her male customer. Because we’ve been conditioned to believe that it’s a man’s place or right to seek sexual release, but the woman who provides it for a fee, is the bad person.

But like or believe it or not, every prostitute has a story. And some of them would make you weep.

“I was 16, just finished SS3. My father had a stroke. We weren’t rich, and the little we had went into medical bills. The landlord threw us out and we moved into an uncompleted building. Debtors were on my mother’s neck. No one helped, not even the church where we’d been faithful members for years. One day I came home and my baby brother was eating a half-eaten akara someone had thrown in the dumpster. It broke me. So I said yes to the richest man on our street, just so my family could eat.

“The first time, I thought I’d die. I was a virgin and it was very painful. I lay there and listened to him breathing heavily above me. I had an out of body experience where I was looking down at us and hating myself. By the time he started giving me out to his other rich friends, I stopped feeling. Not even when they made me do some unthinkable things.

“One time, I thought that I could leave this life. So I asked one of his friends he’d loaned me to. This one was kind and generous. I asked for a loan to start a business, just 50,000 naira which I would pay back in 3 months. He sighed and said nothing. The next time I went to see that rich man, the one who gave me out, he gave me the beating of my life. He said I was selfish and ungrateful. That how can I be begging for money after all that he and his friends had done for me. Abeg, wasn’t I rendering a service? Were they doing me a favour?

“The part that pissed me off the most, is when their wives, mothers and those yeye church people had the guts to call me ashawo. Fuck them! If any one of those men or women had hired me to sweep their houses, wash clothes or given me a loan to start a business when I begged them, I’d be in a better place. But they said we were carrying bad luck, because of the things that happened to us.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying prostitution is necessarily a good thing, but this is one of those situations where unless you’re wearing the shoes, you have absolutely no idea where it pinches. It’s easy to say, “Begging is better…couldn’t she borrow money from someone and start a business…” when you’re not the person begging or borrowing.

Until you find yourself in a situation where every door is closed to you, where you have to stand on the roadside and beg someone for money and watch them give you a contemptuous look before walking away. Or ceremoniously hand you 10 or 20 naira. Even if you collect from 50 people, it’s barely enough to eat, or pay rent in the cheapest place you can afford, let alone start a business.

Someone may say, “Let her go back to the village and farm.” You’re assuming that everyone knows their village, has a piece of land there or knows how to farm; that it’s a guarantee that farming will work.

“Ashawo na work. Many people may not like it, but it’s a job and we have customers just like every business person.

“You know you’ve hit rock bottom in this job when the police arrest you at night for loitering and prostitution, take you to their station, take turns to rape you and then tell you to go and continue with your work. How do you become a human being after that? How do you even make yourself feel like one?”

*sigh*

I know this piece may not sit well with a lot of people. But it is what it is. In my opinion, it takes a brave woman to be a prostitute.

Written by Eketi Ette


About shakespeareanwalter

Walt Shakes(@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter.

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14 comments

  1. I saw this yesterday on Walter’s timeline & read all the comments. Are prostitutes really BRAVE?

    Bravery is not a word I’ll use to describe them; more like making what they deem best out of a bad situation. While some are in it mainly for the hand fate dealt them, others have flimsy excuses. Can the ‘brave’ lady in the story above agree to be rehabilitation? There are stories about reformed prostitutes going back for variety of reasons; from economic benefits (earns more than the reformed job) to inability to fit into ‘respected’ member of the society.

    I once had a similar encounter with a prostitute in Calabar (judge not) who told me a heartbreaking story of how she got into the trade. I gave her substantial money to change her line of work. Lol & behold, she was back at the joint soliciting for customers that same night & my friend in Calabar said she never quit.

    • Why did you say everything before me? Now I just have to scribble a few lines ‘cos I promised.
      Thanks anyways, couldn’t have said it better.

  2. Dark, depressing and harrowing.. I concur with you.

  3. Some say potato some say poraro.. but whatever. I think it’s more about desperation than bravery. Those words have very different connotations that are two far apart.

    • There are variables to what drives a woman into prostitution. I believe Eketi sort of acknowledged that in the beginning. Desperation, yes. But there’s a certain psychology behind taking a decision with negative connotations for good reasons and going through with it. Desperation breeds a kind of perverse courage, which makes all the difference between knowing that this is what you have to do, and going through with it, especially if it violates everything you’re made of.

    • What’s rich, coming from an unpaid prostitute>>> you, yes you!!!! @St

  4. while prostitution is legalized in some European countries, there are no legal bodies regulating its practice (between the prostitute and the customers patronizing her) even in these developed countries, thereby giving room for rape and other forms of abuse of the prostitute by both her customers and her pimps. No matter how justifiable it may seem for a lady to go into prostitution, it’s definitely not out of bravery but more of desperation. This is because there are so many successful women today who passed through her harsher conditions while growing up but never resorted to prostitution. If prostitution was an act of bravery, then every woman who had all doors closed on them while growing up could have gone into prostitution. While I’m not condemning prostitution and those involved in it, I don’t think any mother will encourage their daughter to engage in it when it seems all other doors are shut on them. Besides, a job is one in which there are regulatory protocols guiding the number of hours the worker puts in and the amount of money he or she is paid after a period of time; and in many occasions it comes with benefits and allowances; and if the employer exploits the worker, they stand being litigated; and when the worker retires, he or she is entitled to gratuity or retirement package, and in some cases pension. None of these applies to prostitution,hence, it falls far short of being called a job

    • Harsh conditions or not for women who either clawed their way to acceptable positions on high or who slept their way around society, there are different individual make-ups, circumstances, opportunities if you will, that determine the path most of these women take. Yes, there ware women who became successful by not prostituting, but you should make an allowance for circumstances unique to each of these individuals.

  5. I think they have guts.

    They are the ones I call survivors in the very state of a world that is nasty, Brutish, selfish and extremely condemning.

    My take is, whose business is it?

    Every situation is best rationalised as long as it is done from the by-stander or outsider position, but never as the one whose ox is gored. If we were under similar circumstances I don’t think we would choose death, but that which we tag morally unacceptable. I agree, save for some exceptions.

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