Exposed and unprotected: Sex worker vulnerabilities during the COVID-19 health emergency in Mozambique

Glob Public Health. 2022 Dec;17(12):3568-3582. doi: 10.1080/17441692.2022.2092184. Epub 2022 Jun 24.


Measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 have been shown to disproportionately affect the marginalised groups in our societies. We studied the impacts of national restrictions on young adult sex workers in Mozambique, and actions at individual, governmental and civil society level to mitigate against these impacts. The country case study was part of a multi-country qualitative research, including fifty-four semi-structured interviews with female sex workers (N = 38), outreach workers (N = 10) in Maputo and Quelimane, and informants with key positions in national COVID coordination bodies, the Ministry of Health and civil society organisations (N = 7). While restrictions impacted all sex worker participants, the COVID crisis was found to deepen existing class differences and further incite violence against the most visible and economically vulnerable category of street-based sex workers. Parallel enforcement of morals against this group of 'urban undesirables' resulted in bodily harm and further degradation of the female sex worker under the guise of COVID emergency decrees, while restrictions weakened protection from peers and outreach workers against abuse by the police and other perpetrators. The State needs to act against unlawful police action and include impact mitigation strategies in its public health response to COVID in order to protect the most vulnerable.

Keywords: COVID-19; Mozambique; government response; intersectionality; sex work.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mozambique / epidemiology
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sex Workers*
  • Violence
  • Young Adult