In Zambia, it would normally be considered ‘taboo’ for women to make a public appeal for a marriage partner. But this mentality is changing thanks to a popular reality TV show which aims to give reformed sex-workers a fresh start in life.
By Emmanuel Chawe in Lusaka
A privately-owned television channel called Muvi TV in Lusaka has recruited 18 former sex-workers from different parts of Zambia to take part in a reality TV show called ‘Ready 4 Marriage Extraordinary.’
The idea is that the women introduce themselves live on television and explain what they are looking for in a marriage partner. After the marriage pitches, the audience has the opportunity to vote for their favourite contestant. The winning bride to be receives a cash prize of $9,000 (6,530 euros) as well as financial assistance to cover their wedding costs. The eliminated contestants also receive consolation prizes of $1,000- 1,500 (725 - 1,088 euros).
According to Muvi TV producers, the aim of the programme is to give all the contestants a 'fresh start' in life: “We want to bring change to the 18 women that Muvi TV has taken on. We're trying to change and the social aspect of it despite the compromising situation they have put themselves in,” spokesperson Corrina Paolini said. “We're also training them in various skills including counselling.”
Some contestants explained to RNW that they resorted to prostitution because life was hard and they had families to look after. “When my husband died and left me with five children and all his assets his family was not happy about the situation. I could still be living in the house we built together but in the end I was forced to sell it,” said 33-year-old contestant, Flaviour Wakunguma.
“My father died and my mother got sick and I needed to help her. So I started prostitution out of desperation,” said Jacqueline Kachingwe, another contestant. “Even if I come on TV and people know that I was in prostitution I don't mind because this is the only way I can show that I really want to reform,” explained the 23-year-old.
The reality show has received its fair share of criticism and praise among viewers.
“What's wrong with asking for marriage?” asks Beatrice Banda, a mother of one. “It is good that they are willing to look for a better life in this era of HIV/AIDS.” Alick Musonda, another follower of the show agrees: “Muvi TV deserves some praise… What's important is that they have shown willingness to reform.”
But Christine Lishebo disagrees with the concept. “Why should you have to parade yourself on television in order to ask for marriage? To me that amounts to dangerous desperation,” Lishebo said. “And those people don't really change as they claim, so whoever marries them should be prepared.”
Negative moral impact
Since the reality show made its debut five years ago, it has been heavily criticised by the church, who claims the programme has a negative moral impact on society.
Aside from scoring excellent audience ratings – particularly with young people and Zambian women, the television producers reiterate that they aim to help all of the contestants find full-time jobs so that they do not return to a life of prostitution.