Sex worker voices during COVID19

The Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and Sisonke, the National Movement of Sex workers understood immediately that COVID-19 will have an impact on sex work and the livelihoods of sex workers. We did not quite anticipate how devastating th impact would be and how, as we got to know more about the virus, long-term the interventions would have to be.

As we try to to assist sex workers, we realised that its important for sex workers to voice the challenges they experiences and we started collecting starting stories from sex workers all over the country. We asked sex workers to send stories via voice notes or messages or to send a ‘Please Call Me’ and we phoned back. It is an important to document experiences of a often forgotten marginalised population during one of the most difficult periods, both in South Africa as well as globally.

Cape Town

Listen: Zaza, 30, lives in Makhaza in Khayalitsha with her partner. Originally from the Eastern Cape, Zaza talks not only about the impact of COVID on herself, but also how it is affecting the livelihoods of her young daugher and family in the Eastern Cape she is supporting.


Listen: Lily, 30, Cape Town, talks about her fears – for her mother who just went back to work and her little brother who has not been to school since the lockdown started.

Lily at the commemoration of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, 6 December 2019



Listen: Anonymous mother from Johannesburg talk about her fears.


When we started asking sex workers to tell their stories, many sex workers were not able to send voice notes, but some we talked to over the phone and some sent WhatApp messages. Anonomous (a young expecting mother from Yeoville), sent the following message (we blanked out her name and address):


Listen: Ayanda, mother of two from Durban talks about the lack of support from government and the importance of keeping herself and her two boys safe during the pandemic.


Listen: Anonymous mother from Stanger in Durban talks about how she is currently surviving on food parcels and her biggest fear is how she will be able to provide for her child when it is time to go back to school.


At the start of the lockdown, SWEAT started a backabuddy campaign with a target of R500 000. To date, we have raised R188 000 and about 450 sex workers across the country have been assisted with food vouchers and food parcels. We are thankful to our supporters and allies.

Please continue to support the campaign so that we can continue to support sex workers:

Sex workers in distress can call our Helpline at 0800 606060 or send a ‘Please Call Me’ to 071 357 7632.