NWO Sex Work Research on Economic Empowerment

NWO Sex Work Research on Economic Empowerment


This research addresses the specific context of sex work(ers) in Kenya and Ethiopia. It is a three phased project: the first component maps strategic actors´ practices and policies, including tensions and collaboration with sex workers. The second focuses on economic empowerment and its potential to contribute to financial stability, increase resilience, and prevent HIV/AIDS. These two components converge in the third action-oriented phase aimed at sharing knowledge to generate change. In their totality, these components contribute to identifying the conditions needed for sex workers to be economically empowered and to increase resilience. The VU University is conducting the research jointly with the in International Centre for reproductive health, the University of Addis Abba and two local sex worker led groups.

Program details

Time frame
01 September 2014 - 31 March 2017
€ 643,389
Active in
Ethiopia, Kenya


If this research is completed then it allows us to use these results to lobby at local, national and international level about the importance of inclusive development as well as to strengthen existing local programmes targeted at sex workers, but also to strengthen sex workers economic empowerment by using participatory research methods. The research can also lead to possible behavioral change of local actors such as health workers that are interviewed, who are regularly incontact with sex workers.

Community groups

Approximately 500 male, female and transgender sex workers in Kenya and Ethiopia are interviewed. Next to this sex workers are trained as research assistants.


Sex workers are stigmatized globally and Ethiopia and Kenya are no exceptions to this. Stigma is not only felt individually or projected onto particular groups, it is also institutionalized in the social structures of a society through, for example, legislation. One of the results of this is that sex workers carry a disproportionate burden of the HIV pandemic. Since the 1980’s sex work organizations, researchers and activists have joined forces worldwide to fight against stigma and to secures sex workers rights from a human rights perspective. On a national level, sex work led organizations constitute local and regional networks to also fight against stigma and for the rights of sex workers. Nonetheless, individual sex workers and sex work communities are vulnerable, at risk and excluded from social, economic and political participation.


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