Below is a brief description of our current projects and initiatives. Each of these will have a profound impact on mothers who are trafficked or in sex work and their children.
Our Mother’s House
In Portland, Oregon, we have operated Our Mother’s House since 2007, a program for women who have been trafficked, who are in sex work and are pregnant, or who are mothers and their children. We help women to secure prenatal care, health services for their children, food, and clothing. Our objective is to uplift women and their children in the Portland metro area, and to help create similar programs in other cities.
COVID-19 Vaccine Advocacy
Many female sex workers (FSW) experience barriers to health care and discrimination from health care workers. These barriers and discrimination may also result in barriers to COVID-19 vaccines for FSW, undermining the efforts to ensure vaccine equity, their health, and their human rights. In addition, the majority of FSW are mothers and, like their mothers, many children of FSW experience discrimination when seeking medical care. Many children of FSW also experience discrimination when seeking the COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccine equity must include access to COVID-19 vaccines for children of FSW when these vaccines have been approved for children. Access to COVID-19 vaccines for FSW is critical as many have serious co-morbidities, including HIV, which may increase their risk of serious illness and death if they become ill with COVID-19. The deaths of FSW would leave many of their children orphaned. One consequence of the death of FSW who are mothers is that their eldest daughters often start selling sex, beginning at age 12, to support her younger siblings. The purpose of this project is to advocate for access to the COVID-19 for FSW and their children among UN organizations, governments, and donors. The project collaborates with partner sex worker organizations and NGOs that provide services to FSW.
COVID-19 Food Insecurity Research and Response
The objective of this prospective cohort study is to identify the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food security status of female sex workers (FSW) in Kenya, Nigeria, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The root causes of food insecurity are complex and linked to poverty, low access to basic social services, and inadequacy of public policies and safety nets. To date, over 820 million people face hunger daily and more than 2 billion lack adequate micronutrients, which thereby affects health and life expectancy.
There is limited information on how the pandemic, and associated lockdown policies, is affecting FSW. Economic effects of such a pandemic disproportionately impact members of society, particularly FSW whom are highly vulnerable to food and income shocks. To date, no published data exists documenting the impact of COVID-19 on food security among female sex workers (FSW). This study aims to assess the implications for food insecurity of FSW as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A prospective cohort study consisting of survey responses of a convenience sample of women who engage in sex work. The Demographic Health Survey (USAID) will be administered to gather demographic information about the respondents. The Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) is an experience-based measure of the access pillar of food security, and it has been validated for cross-cultural use. Using the individually-referenced version of the FIES survey module, which consists of eight short questions with dichotomous (yes/no) responses, respondents will be asked about their experience of varying degrees of food insecurity before COVID-19 and during the COVID-19 period. Questions are related to anxiety and uncertainty about food supply, compromise on food variety and quality, insufficient food intake, and experiencing hunger. Surveys will be conducted in person at sites identified by local partners with translation conducted by local, in-country partners.
Early Development Center – School in Kampala, Uganda
In Kampala, Uganda, we are working to develop a childcare center for female sex workers. Many female sex workers in Kampala do not have families to watch their children at night and cannot pay for childcare, often resorting to leaving their children alone or taking their children with them to the streets. Through collaboration with our partner, Rhythm of Life, we are working to open the first-ever childcare center exclusively for children whose mothers are in sex work. The center will be open overnight and throughout the day, providing children with nutritious meals, assistance with school work, and daily check-ups, particularly for those who are malnourished and need medications. During the day, the center will provide job training for mothers who want alternative sources of income. This childcare center will be a model to be replicated in other cities and countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Providing basic information about prenatal care, safe delivery, postpartum care, and postpartum depression is of the utmost importance for pregnant mothers. There are many materials to educate women in sex work about HIV, but no resources to specifically provide them with critical pregnancy-related information. Our research has demonstrated that pregnant sex workers experience barriers to prenatal care that other women do not face. Thus, pregnant sex workers face higher incidence rates of pregnancy-related morbidity and mortality. Similarly, many new mothers do not know how to care for their newborns and older children. Since it is not feasible for us to reach out to all pregnant sex workers and mothers, we are developing the first-ever educational materials specifically for sex workers and their children.