Prostitution in Ethiopia: Sex Workers Move From Bars to Massage Parlors

massage parlor in ethiopia

Prostitution in Ethiopia with a New Twist

Ethiopia is a country with a rich history and a proud people. Religion and age old traditions are given the utmost respect.

One can see young children opting to take a trip to church rather than the playground. But despite this rigorous adherence to tradition and conservatism, the world's oldest profession has also taken root and found its place within Ethiopia's society.

In popular culture, the earliest example of the sex trade in Ethiopia can be witnessed in the 1973 film titled "Shaft in Africa".

shaft with ethiopian woman

In the movie, the main character named Shaft; an African American private investigator makes his way to Ethiopia and encounters the attention of a sultry night worker.

Places in Ethiopia, such as Dejach Wube Sefer around Piassa were well known for their active nightlife and sex workers.

The area's popularity induced many visitors to their doorsteps with high ranking officials and foreign dignitaries being among the throngs.

Even during the era of the Derg, in which the communist government had every Ethiopian closely monitored, the ladies of the night still managed to discreetly conduct their affairs, despite the fear of imprisonment hanging over their shoulders.

With the fall of the Derg, a laissez-faire approach was brought forth by the incumbent government and the streets, bars, clubs, and hotels were all fair game.

Areas with an affluent population such as Bole road and Bole Medhanialem Atlas were literally flooded with street walkers hoping to cash in on this new found freedom.

Clubs such as Concord, Piassa's Black Lion, and Sheraton's Gas Light had gained international fame for the beauty of the courtesans on display almost every night.

Foreigners looking to indulge themselves were often led by the inevitable middlemen in the form of taxi drivers and hotel concierges to these places.

On the other end of the spectrum, those hoping to pay less chose to go to places such as Serategna Sefer in Piassa, which was the hotbed of lower classed prostitution in Ethiopia.

Today, we can see a huge shift in the way the sex trade is conducted in Ethiopia. Not entirely gone, but the former bar workers and street walkers are now opting for the comfort of massage parlors and spas.

The literal explosion of these new institutions has one witness thousands sprouting about the city, on the main roads, as well as, quiet residential areas.

Addis Ababa has one in almost every neighborhood and cities across Ethiopia are not immune to this new phenomenon.

Although, seemingly innocent from the posters and store front displays; a newbie to the country could be in for a bit of a shock.

As one enters looking to get a professional massage by the supposed fully trained physiotherapist - 9 times out of 10 a horribly disappointing massage is waiting for the customer.

Professional massage in Ethiopia at Axum Hotel

Professional massage in Ethiopia at Axum Hotel

There is in fact an ulterior motive to the display sign offering a great massage. An obvious clue as one enters and undresses for their massage, is the awkward question: "To be more comfortable, why not remove your undergarments?"

After an unfulfilling massage, which is either too rough and hard or too light and useless, another seemingly innocent question is posed.

This time the question comes with batted eyes: "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

The uninitiated, wondering what else she could do aside from that ghastly massage, might be inclined to question further.

The response is bound to surprise.

Prostitution in recent years has seen a substantial increase in number of people involved. Some estimates claim that about 150,000 girls in Addis Ababa, alone work as prostitutes.

Girls as young as 14 years of age are reportedly selling their bodies for money to support themselves.

Many of these females have heartbreaking stories to tell, yet nowhere to go for help.

All in all, these new places seem to have provided the sex workers with a relatively safe place to work in Ethiopia.

Massage parlours have also become a safe place to meet for an affair. As long as you grease the palm of the massage parlour owner.

Ethiopian sex workers no longer have to deal with the abusive customers alone in a car at night or with the overly drunk bar fly in a cheap motel.

In these "massage parlors and spas" at least the girls facing personal and financial problems in their life, can stay away from the alcohol, drugs, and violent crime associated with life in the streets and seedy bars.

The relatively safe and quiet environment offered by these new places might even help the women find alternate revenue sources.

But this new phenomenon also opens the door for protests from the many conservatives and religious fundamentalists that do not want these places of business in their neighborhoods.

The government and religious leaders have so far continued with the laissez faire approach, probably glad that the prostitutes in Ethiopia have finally found some peace away from the often dangerous streets, bars and clubs.