When thinking about sex workers, disability rarely comes to mind, when in fact many sex workers live with disabilities. Too often, the needs of people and groups are addressed using only one lens, meaning that only part of the problem is addressed. The reality is that all systems of inequality intersect and reinforce each other and must be addressed simultaneously. By understanding this vital truth and applying an intersectional lens to programming, the Ugandan Alliance for Women Advocating for Change (AWAC), with the support of CREA via the CMI! consortium, has succeeded in increasing the visibility of female sex workers with disabilities and influencing other stakeholders to take the same approach. 

In Uganda, sex work is criminalised and viewed by the wider community as morally corrupt. This fuels the sentiment that sex workers are unworthy of the same human dignity as other members of society, leaving them open to cruel, degrading and dangerous interactions in and out of work. At the same time, women and girls with disabilities face systemic discrimination in addition to deeply entrenched stigma and isolation. In the case of sex workers living with disability, taking an intersectional approach to policy and programming means addressing the stigma and discrimination while also advancing sexual and reproductive rights. 

AWAC works with rural-based grassroots sex work-led groups and adolescent girls and young women at high risk. It works to address the root causes of human rights violations, such as gender-based violence, stigma, discrimination and poverty fueled by criminalisation and cultural norms attached to sex work at the individual, community and national levels. Currently, AWAC brings together 25 grassroots female sex worker-led organisations spread over 28 districts.

With the support of CREA, AWAC has created significant visibility for female sex workers with disabilities. For example, in preparation for a visit by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Ethiopia, partner donor, IDI- Infectious Disease Control made space for the inclusion of female sex workers living with disability in their interaction. The sex workers were given a platform to share their experiences and challenges on the adherence of PrEP, a medication that is 99% effective in preventing HIV from sex and at least 74% effective in preventing HIV from injection drug use.1 It is, therefore, crucial for keeping sex workers safe. 

This carefully curated interaction led one Ethiopia CDC delegate to call on AWAC for further collaboration:

“Indeed AWAC is the model DIC, and I like the intersectionality approach and I want some of you to come to Ethiopia to provide capacity building”.

The critical work led by AWAC and supported by CREA, designed to respond to intersectional challenges of structural exclusion, ensured that other donors wanted to support female sex workers with disabilities- a community whose needs are often neglected at a policy level. The result for sex workers with disabilities is increased access to resources, services and power, as well as advancing changes in social norms and practices that harm them. 

1 Center for Disease Control and Prevention: How Can I Help Patients Take PrEP Consistently?

Banner photo: Symbolic photo of two hands holding, showing solidarity and connection.

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