Sheila (not her real name), a 35 year old transgender woman, left Mozambique to find work in South Africa after being told working conditions were better. In South Africa, because of her gender identity she could not find work and turned to sex work to survive: “What was most difficult for me about this work was that sometimes I had to subject myself to having sex without wearing a condom because the clients said they would pay more if I didn’t wear a condom and at that time I had no information on what not wearing a condom was, all I was thinking about was money, I wanted money, I didn’t know the risks I would be running.” One of her clients offered her a place to stay to stop doing sex work, however she found herself trapped in a physically abusive relationship: “I suffered a lot of violence, physical, verbal and psychological because if I said anything he would say ‘don’t forget what I took you away from, don’t forget where you came from you must always remember what I took you away from.’” After one year she returned to Mozambique where she learned she was HIV positive. Now Sheila is a activist educating other transgender women about how to be safe and how to live with HIV. Mozambique. 21 February, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Shiela /

“My name’s Shiela, I’m 35 years old. I live with my father and my two youngest siblings and I am responsible for them at the moment although they all work. In 2005 I had to leave the country for South Africa, in search of better living conditions because it was very difficult to get a job here because of my sexual orientation and my gender identity. It wasn’t easy for me to abandon my family and go to a country without even knowing what was going to happen to me there. When I got there I went to a gay bar where I met a few friends and they told me that in order to live there I had to do sexual work. It was difficult for me at the time but I had to do it to have money to survive and to save up for when I returned to Mozambique. I was there for 6 months doing that job and without being able to choose my clients. Sometimes my clients I had to sleep with them without wearing a condom because they promised to pay more. I regret doing that up until today but I had no other choice, I needed to survive. That’s when I met someone at a discotheque where I used to go all the time to do the sexual work and I met someone who said I had to leave that life because he was going to look after me so I left to live with that person not knowing what was awaiting me there. I stayed there with this man not being able to leave the house, not even to visit friends because he said I would go back to prostituting myself. I suffered physical violence, verbal and psychological abuse for one year. In mid  2006, I returned to Mozambique and restarted by life entering into a reality show where I did a drag show. This was when I started to see my life change slowly. People no longer saw me as a homosexual but as if I were an artist and to this day, in addition to the activism work I do, I have done my shows and I am recognised as a person but everything I went through in South Africa is difficult for me to forget but slowly I am freeing myself of this.”

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