Press Release

IACHR calls on States to guarantee the human rights of women engaged in sex work in the context of the pandemic

November 13, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), within the framework of its Coordination and Timely Integrated Crisis Response Room for the COVID-19 Pandemic (SACROI COVID-19), expresses its concern about the impact of the pandemic on the human rights situation of CIS and trans women engaged in sex work in the Americas. Therefore, it reiterates its call to States to strengthen guarantees of their economic, social, cultural and environmental rights (ESCR), particularly during the containment and mitigation measures of the pandemic, and to eradicate the stigma and discrimination to which they are exposed.

The IACHR has received information from civil society organizations indicating that, in the current context, cis and transgender women sex workers in different States of the region have suffered differentiated impacts on their human rights situation during the pandemic. Specifically, they have seen the situation of violence, discrimination, poverty, lack of housing and access to health and social assistance programs worsen. This has resulted in an increase in the situation of social exclusion that had afflicted them even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this regard, the Commission is aware that cis and transgender women sex workers have been affected by the lack of income prior to the impossibility of carrying out their work during the confinement and social distancing measures imposed in several countries of the region, which has resulted in an increase in the poverty they faced prior to the pandemic. As a result, unable to cover the costs of essential services such as electricity, water or even rent, these workers have been evicted from their homes or the hotels and apartments where they live,

In addition, the IACHR highlights the exclusion of CIS and transgender women sex workers from subsidies and other economic measures adopted by States to deal with the consequences of the pandemic, which leaves them in a particularly vulnerable situation. The Commission notes that the lack of recognition of the work of sex workers, and sometimes their criminalization, often leads to such exclusion from formal State registration systems, placing obstacles in their access to medical and social services, a situation that has been aggravated by COVID-19.

In addition, the Commission highlights the situation of transgender women sex workers who often do not have identification documents in accordance with their gender identity/expression and are exposed to the dual denial of various essential services, including health. In this regard, the IACHR calls on States to guarantee the right to health through prevention and care policies that are respectful of the gender identity/expression of trans women, particularly those who engage in sex work.

Finally, the IACHR highlights the situation of particular vulnerability of cis and transsexual women workers to violence, both from citizens and from agents of the public security forces. Therefore, it urges States to take measures to prevent violence and to raise awareness with a gender perspective among all State officials, including the police forces, in order to build confidence in women's interactions with State representatives. These awareness-raising measures should also be included in training programs for State personnel responsible for medical and social care, so that women who engage in sex work can access their economic and social rights, as well as report acts of violence and situations of labor exploitation, slavery, or trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 272/20