Sex work and economic empowerment programmes in Ethiopia

Overs, C.
Institute of Development Studies (IDS)
Publication date: 
Friday, 27 June, 2014



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.

  • Prostitution is not explicitly criminalised and sex work is wide-spread and conducted with relative openness.
  • The vast majority of sex workers are 'undocumented' which means they do not have access to basic services like healthcare and education, land rights and water, and the right to vote, open a bank account, or register a marriage or birth.
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