Let's talk about sex work in humanitarian settings: piloting a rights-based approach to working with refugee women selling sex in Kampala

Reprod Health Matters. 2017 Nov;25(51):95-102. doi: 10.1080/09688080.2017.1405674. Epub 2017 Dec 12.


Although it is well known that refugees engage in sex work as a form of livelihood, stigma and silence around this issue persist within humanitarian circles. As a result, these refugees' sexual and reproductive health and rights, and related vulnerabilities, remain overlooked. Their protection and health needs, which are significant, often go unmet at the field level. In 2016, the Women's Refugee Commission and Reproductive Health Uganda partnered to pilot a peer-education intervention tailored to meet the needs of refugee women engaged in sex work in Kampala. Findings from the pilot project suggest the feasibility of adapting existing rights-based and evidence-informed interventions with sex workers to humanitarian contexts. Findings further demonstrate how taking a community empowerment approach can facilitate these refugees' access to a range of critical information, services and support options - from information on how to use contraceptives, to referrals for friendly HIV testing and treatment, to peer counselling and protective peer networks.

Keywords: HIV; community empowerment; human rights; humanitarian response; key population; peer-education; sex work.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Contraception / methods
  • Family Planning Services / organization & administration
  • Female
  • Health Education / organization & administration*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Peer Group
  • Pilot Projects
  • Refugees / psychology*
  • Relief Work / organization & administration
  • Reproductive Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Reproductive Health Services / supply & distribution
  • Sex Work / psychology*
  • Sex Workers / psychology*
  • Uganda
  • Young Adult