Updated: Apr 8
To celebrate World Health Day, Umbrella Lane wanted to take the opportunity to provide some insight into the Sex Worker community’s experiences in engaging with health services.
The theme for World Health Day this year is “inequalities”, this is a concept we - as Sex Workers - are all too familiar with.
Inequalities are often a reason for people to enter the sex work industry. Lower pay for marginalised and disadvantaged groups, less working flexibility, fewer employment options or no access to social security can lead to an individual choosing sex work as their best or only employment option.
Whether the individual is a migrant worker with no recourse to public funds and no access to other employment opportunities or a single parent that’s looking for a way to pay the bills but still have enough time to spend with their family - sex work is often chosen as a financially viable solution.
However, the inequalities that push people towards becoming Sex Workers are not the only issue that they will face.
Once an individual enters the sex work industry, they become a target for stigma and prejudice.
One of the most common misconceptions about Sex Workers is that they have bad sexual health or that they don’t care about their health at all.
This isn’t the case. In fact, it’s one of the most common topics within our community spaces: sexual health tips and general health advice, and we know from community consultations that health is the priority of many Sex Workers across Scotland.
We find that the issue for most people in the sex work industry is that they fear judgement from health care professionals and so will not tell a health care worker that they do sex work. This means that they are not always given the full range of services that they could be entitled to. For sex working parents or those with insecure residency status, worries about record sharing with authorities also present barriers to accessing health.
These barriers represent very real inequalities in the provision of health services to Sex Workers despite the calls of international organisations, like Human Rights Watch, for action.
In addressing inequality in general, and in a health context, it is accepted that one of the main challenges is ensuring that minority and vulnerable groups are not excluded. This is often challenging on a practical level as these groups may have different needs, and often work in hidden ways to avoid state attention. Across the world, this is largely the case for Sex Workers.
Despite the challenge in addressing the needs of Sex Workers, particularly in countries without decriminalisation, these needs must be addressed if inequalities are truly to be addressed in the provision of health services.
Umbrella Lane was founded with a view to implement global guidelines and recommendations in the Sex Worker Implementation Tool (known as ‘The SWIT’). The SWIT is a set of guidelines for implementing comprehensive HIV/STI programmes with sex workers . It was developed by WHO with other partners including the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) through 'meaningful consultation with sex workers’.
These collaborative guidelines evidence that the pillar of effective health interventions for and with sex workers is community empowerment. Alongside ensuring access to justice for Sex Workers who experience violence, creating community-led services and working in partnership to deliver clinical and support services, Umbrella Lane’s community empowerment efforts have seen our community grow from strength to strength. Sex Workers are often seen as voiceless and left out of healthcare service planning and related Sex Work policies. Our project shows that Sex Workers do have a voice, and when these voices are placed at the heart of services, inequalities and inequity in access to healthcare can be overcome.
If like us, you share our vision of a society where all Sex Workers live fulfilled and embodied lives, free from stigma and discrimination, please reach out to us to hear more about the support we can offer to ensure Sex Worker inclusivity in your service at firstname.lastname@example.org