This narrative was written by Saath-Saath Project, based on a conversation with Laxmi KC. Her name has been changed to protect her privacy.
I am a native of Kaski District, near the Annapurna mountain range in Nepal. I grew up in a large family with my parents and six siblings. I got married at the early age of 14 when I was still studying in grade five. I had four happy years with my husband until he began drinking heavily. His drunken rages were accompanied by physical abuse. I tried to withstand the abuse, hoping it would subside. Unfortunately, it did not. As the abuse increased, I left him and moved back in with my parents.
My family was not well-off. Adding another mouth to feed was a burden for them. Because I was young and could take care of myself, I moved to the lakeside city of Pokhara, where I started working as a dishwasher for a local restaurant. After some time, I noticed that co-workers with the same pay as me had significantly better lifestyles. They wore expensive clothes and had extra money to spend, while I was barely making ends meet. When I asked them how they were able to live so well, they said they were all involved in sex work. Enticed by the glamour of extra money, I soon got involved in sex work too.
A few months later, my husband returned, wanting to mend our relationship and start fresh. He said he had given up his old ways, and I accepted his request. We moved in together and started working as daily wage laborers. I stopped the sex work.
Within a year, I was pregnant. The cycle of heavy drinking and physical abuse began again. Worse still, my husband started sleeping with other women. Money became scarce; my husband spent most of it on alcohol and women. I had no choice but to leave him again and return to sex work.
Around this time, I met Sushma Poudel, who is with the Child and Women Empowerment Society Nepal. Sushma and I met frequently and I confided my entire story. We discussed everything from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV to dual protection methods to protect against infections and unwanted pregnancies. Much of this information was new to me. Sushma referred me to a clinic managed by Naulo Ghumti, where I got tested for STIs and HIV.*
Luckily, the tests were negative. However, to protect my unborn child and myself, I stopped having multiple partners and took extra care of my health. Sushma visited me often to check in and to remind me to get tested regularly. Eventually, I was blessed with a baby girl. A few months later, I returned to sex work.
These days, I live in a restaurant in Pokhara. I continue to meet with staff from the Child and Women Empowerment Society Nepal, who encourage me to practice safe behaviors. In addition, we continue to talk about family planning and the importance of dual methods (condoms and a family planning method) to protect against STIs, HIV and unwanted pregnancy. I still get tested regularly for STIs and HIV, and I currently use an injectable contraceptive along with condoms.
My past is a scary reminder of everything I have done. I am lucky that my daughter and I never contracted HIV. Family planning has given women more options to be safe and plan their futures. The dual protection option is crucial for sex workers. As a peer educator with Saath-Saath Project, I am now doing my part by helping sex workers adopt dual protection methods so they, too, can lead safe and healthy lives.
Sushma Poudel is a community mobilizer at Child and Women Empowerment Society Nepal, which is a local nongovernmental organization (NGO) partner of Saath-Saath Project providing HIV and STI prevention and family planning promotion for female sex workers and their clients in Kaski District of Nepal. Saath-Saath Project is implemented by FHI 360 and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Naulo Ghumti, another Saath-Saath Project local NGO partner, manages a clinic that provides HIV counseling and testing services, STIs diagnosis and treatment services and family planning services for female sex workers and their clients and people living with HIV in Kaski District.