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A Safe Haven for Ugandans Who Find Themselves in Sex Work

On a muddy alley in a slum in Wabiduku on the eastern edge of Kampala, past vendors hawking bits of fried fish and rubber flip flops, sits a bright, pink shipping container. It is painted with cartoon condoms and banners advertising the importance of HIV/AIDs testing. This unexpectedly colourful place in the Ugandan capital is operated by the Lady Mermaid Empowerment Centre. It is an organisation led by sex workers fighting to decriminalise their profession while documenting violations and providing free contraceptives and counselling. It works with 25,000 women annually, spread across 122 hot spots – street corners, bars, brothels and lodges – in Kampala and two other districts. Her task is a difficult one in a conservative country where prostitution is outlawed under the colonial-era penal code, punishable by up to seven years in prison.