Sex Workers, Empowerment and Poverty Alleviation in Ethiopia

Authors: 
Overs, C.
Publisher: 
Institute of Development Studies (IDS)
Publication date: 
Saturday, 27 June, 2015

This case study explores economic, legal and social issues that affect sex workers, with a particular focus on the role of poverty in sex workers' lives and the potential for poverty alleviation policies and programmes to help lift as many sex workers as possible out of poverty in order to reduce the exploitation, illness and violence associated with their work.

In surveys, sex workers overwhelmingly indicate they would like another occupation, particularly in very poor countries. This has been taken to mean that relieving the poverty of individual sex workers will lead them to stop or reduce sex work. On this analysis, reduced poverty will mean that the number of women entering the sex industry, or staying in it, will be reduced and/or that the harm associated with sex work would be diminished because the numbers of partners or of unprotected sexual contacts would reduce. However, the validity of this logic and the benefits, costs and consequences (intended and unintended) of poverty alleviation in the context of sex work have not been tested or even well documented.

  • Although the criminal law against adult sex work is not enforced, it does exacerbate poverty by depriving sex workers of the civil rights and access to services they need. 
  • To remove structural determinants of poverty the law should be removed to make way for sex workers to claim rights under labour and other administrative legal provisions and to benefit from antidiscrimination and other human rights law. 
  • The inclusion of sex workers in Ethiopia’s Social Protection Policy should be recognised and applauded. 
  • All adult women born in Ethiopia who sell sex so should be able obtain an ID card regardless of their location, background or other status.