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Americas: Authorities must protect women who engage in sex work from the impact of COVID-19

    June 02, 2020

    Today, on International Sex Workers’ Day, Amnesty International and the Network of Women Sex Workers from Latin America and the Caribbean (RedTraSex) call on states in the Americas to take immediate measures to guarantee the rights of women who engage in sex work in the context of COVID-19. In particular, they must guarantee access to adequate health services without discrimination, access to social security and protection from human rights violations, such as torture, which in this case is gender-based, committed by the security forces in the context of states of emergency.

    “Cisgender and transgender women who engage in sex work are systematically marginalized, stigmatized and face multiple barriers when exercising their rights. There is concern that the COVID-19 pandemic is aggravating this inequality. States in the Americas have an obligation to protect all women, regardless of their occupation, from the violence and insecurity caused by gender-based discrimination,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

    “No woman should be left behind in the process of building a more equitable region during and after the response to the pandemic.”

    In the Americas, where the response to COVID-19 has required quarantines and curfews, many people who work in the informal economy are fearful about their livelihoods, jobs and wages because they cannot work. As a result, sex workers may find it more difficult to protect themselves from exposure to COVID-19 if they do not have access to preventive health services or health care supplies, such as disinfectants, the loss of work leads to eviction from their homes because of rent or mortagage arrears. 

    “98% of women sex workers in Latin America and the Caribbean are the main wage earners in their homes and during the quarantine, we cannot work. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the deep inequalities that we experience in our society. We mark this day in the midst of a global crisis, which we are facing alone and among ourselves in the face of the silence of governments in the region. Now more than ever the urgency of recognizing sex work is being exposed,” said Elena Reynaga, executive secretary of RedTraSex.

    Amnesty International and RedTraSex reiterate their call on the governments of the region to ensure that this situation prompts efforts to address structural challenges, including expanding access to social security and  protections, and that it does so immediately in order to mitigate the economic impact that the emergency measures have had on thousands of women in the region living hand to mouth, such as sex workers, and who cannot work from home during the quarantine.

    Both the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have highlighted states’ obligation to implement policies that reduce the disproportionate impact that this pandemic may have on women and to address their specific needs, particularly those who work in the informal economic sector and are at high risk of experiencing gender-based violence, such as women who engage in sex work. 

    For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Lucy Scholey, Media Relations, Amnesty International Canada (English branch),

    Read more:

    Americas at a crossroads in response to COVID-19 (Campaigns, 24 March 2020) 

    Republic: Sex Workers Stand Up Against Torture And Ill-Treatment By The Police (Campaigns, March 2019)