When the first COVID-19 case was detected in March, Zimbabwe rapidly went into lockdown. The lockdown, followed by a curfew in July, forced traders off the streets, while the closure of Zimbabwe's borders for all non-essential travel cut off a lifeline for 1 million informal cross-border traders, said economist Victor Bhoroma. 6 million Zimbabweans who work in small businesses and informal trade were severely affected. The lockdowns in the tourism and hospitality sector, transport, aviation and leisure services, manufacturing, fast food and retailing and sports have resulted in massive layoffs.
The southern African nation is experiencing its worst economic crisis in a decade, with crippling hyperinflation, unemployment, strikes by public workers and shortages of food, medicine and foreign currency. Zimbabweans say life is difficult, with inflation above 700%, rocketing prices for basic goods, electricity and petrol, and lagging salaries - prompting teachers to refuse to return to work without a pay rise last month.
Sex workers and charities providing them with health care services said the number of women selling sex has increased, particularly young girls facing hunger at home.
"We have a lot of cases coming to us of girls who were now engaged in transactional sex because of the increase in the household poverty," said Beatrice Savadye, director of Roots Africa, a local charity supporting young people.
"Hunger drives us into sex trade," said Hazel Zemura, who has sold sex for a decade and works for Women Against All Forms of Discrimination, which runs health programmes for sex workers. "As our incomes, like the cross border trading - the importation of weaves and makeup kits from China for resale - got eroded during the lockdown, we had to turn to men for survival."
Coronavirus restrictions have made sex work riskier as women have been unable to get free condoms from their usual clinics and illegal brothels in residential areas and downtown nightclubs have closed. The closure of brothels has pushed sex workers into riskier places, like secluded fields and deserted buildings, said Charmaine Dube, programme coordinator for the sex worker rights group Pow Wow in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city.