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In the age of social distancing and mandatory stay-at-home orders, sex workers worldwide have seen their sources of income dry up and disappear. With strip clubs and brothels closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people who engage in sex work have had to find other avenues to continue gaining revenue and building profit. With the need to stay financially afloat, while also not getting infected, has thrown a slew of workers into dire situations. While most regional governments have provided a roadmap to reopening retail stores and restaurants/bars, few have offered any guidance for sex workers safely engaging in their work in this new era. People are afraid of getting infected when visiting a sex worker, and vice versa.

One worker, Estelle Lucas, worries that people will forget her due to the lack of physical contact. She has moved to an online platform, but emphasizes the struggles and newfound issues with building intimacy over the internet. Another sex worker reveals that while online porn and sex work have definitely been on the rise, it isn’t for everyone and can be very difficult to get your foot in that door. She also emphasizes that while COVID has indeed changed her everyday work, “the perfect storm for sex workers was brewing before the coronavirus began spreading.” There is general dehumanizing behavior targeted towards sex workers and it’s hard to anticipate the future of sex work in a post pandemic world. It is safe to assume that a lot of things are going digital, but important to take into account that many mainstream tech spaces, such as Instagram and Twitter, can be very hostile towards sex workers by taking down their content without notice

Another worker from Chicago reveals that working remotely as a sex worker is a “really rough transition”… “It’s definitely not as profitable. The grind is a lot harder.” It involves putting in 70-hour weeks of taking calls and creating content to make, only to earn about half of what they were earning in an hour doing full-service work. While online platforms have been profitable for some, they have been a fool’s errand for others. Additionally, prostitution or investment in sex work has historically been recession proof, as people often turn to it to weather any storm. Yet this time, where in-person contact with people is dangerous, what are sex workers supposed to do?

One sex worker in San Francisco struggling financially with the sharp decline in clients, turned to the Black Sex Worker Collective for aid. This collective works to “advocate for people impacted by labor issues, social stigma, and criminalization, and condemn any attempts at restricting our autonomy and self-determination.” The head of the Black Sex Workers Collective also expressed that she was observing a regular stream of inquiries for full-service sex work, but is worried about the implications. The fear of infection, coupled with the steep decline in regular and safe clients creates a potential road to abuse and violence. “Sex workers who are still active now might be less selective about clients and less firm about their own boundaries.”

It is also important to note that “sex workers are often from groups that are already marginalized economically and socially, such as undocumented migrants, people of color, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people,” which means they generally have less government and community support to fall back on in a crisis. The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe issued a new report urging European governments to institute a moratorium on raids, arrests and prosecutions for sex workers, and to provide financial support for sex workers during this global emergency. The decriminalization of sex work is one of the first steps in ensuring safe working conditions and emergency aid during this pandemic. No worker should have to weigh exposing themselves to a potentially deadly virus or not due to the government’s lack of recognition for the legitimacy of their work.

Resources

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-52821861
https://www.forbes.com/sites/susannahbreslin/2020/05/14/a-sex-worker-reveals-how-covid-19-has-changed-sex-work/#31066c4c3a81
https://www.chicagotribune.com/coronavirus/ct-sex-workers-covid-coronavirus-chicago-20200521-oohdho3zpze77e4bjwncdykmlq-story.html
https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/24/us/sex-workers-coronavirus-intl/index.html
https://www.blacksexworkercollective.org/our-principles
https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/24/us/sex-workers-coronavirus-intl/index.html
https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/04/sex-workers-struggle-survive-covid-19-pandemic

In a study done, entitled Early Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings from the 2020 Guttmacher Survey of Reproductive Health Experiences, it was found that due to different disruption variables, COVID-19 will have “major consequences for reproductive health goals and behaviors, access to care and far beyond,” including exposure to IPV, particularly acts of sexual violence or reproductive control. While this report only collected data from cisgendered women in the United States, the information is still fruitful. It demonstrates that almost all previous large scale disasters have disproportionately affected women’s reproductive care, and COVID-19 is proving to be no different. The report also pays attention to women from already disadvantaged backgrounds, either economically or due to some sort of racial/ethnic bias. We see that “Black women and Hispanic women were more likely than white women to state that because of the pandemic, they wanted to have children later or wanted fewer children,” and that access to in-person health care regarding birth control was harder among “Black and Hispanic women than among white women, and more common among queer women than among straight women.”

It is important to note, additionally, that the recession that has been caused due to the global pandemic has disproportionately affected women, as females account for the 55 percent of the nearly 20.5 million jobs lost in April, being the first time since 1948 that the female unemployment rate has reached double digits. This time though, the people particularly affected are nonwhite, noncis, individuals. The biggest reason for this being “that the industries hardest hit by the pandemic — leisure, hospitality, education and even some parts of health care — are ” typically more nonwhite and female than others.

All of these factors have contributed to women across the country believing that access to contraceptives are more essential now than ever, this opinion being most popularly held by middle aged women and Black women — around 68 percent. Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic has increasingly highlighted the severe healthcare inequalities present, as Black women are disproportionately finding it harder and harder to obtain contraceptives during this time. Women are both wanting birth control at higher rates than ever, while also having lower incomes and more significant financial burdens than ever, and the racial disparities existing in the childbearing sphere are glaringly present.

Additionally, in a recent Supreme Court decision Trump v. Pennsylvania, they ruled that “regulations allowing employers and universities to opt out of covering birth control in their insurance plans if they cite a religious or moral objection are legal” leaving women to shoulder the full cost of their birth control without any insurance coverage. This devastating opinion will just further disenfranchise women of color and nonbinary and/or gender nonconforming individuals, making it harder for them to get the healthcare they desire within a reasonable budget.

Another form of healthcare disparity that has become obvious during this pandemic is the exclusion of women from clinical trials and the subsequent lack of information about diseases that predominantly affect women. In order to provide equitable and accessible healthcare for everyone it is necessary to build a research agenda that includes women, and women of color. This information is highly important, as it can lead to revealing information, such as the disturbing trends that indicate that women of color are more likely to contract the virus than say, white women. This also has an impact on maternal health, as studies have shown that “Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black women were disproportionately likely to be affected by COVID-19 during pregnancy” and that “even before this pandemic, Black women were three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications and at increased risk of severe maternal morbidity.” All of this indicates a serious and underlying problem that needs addressing.

The disparities in maternal mortality and morbidity in women of color versus white women are stark and disturbing. While the pandemic may have highlighted it, the public health crisis affecting women of color in the U.S. has existed long before the pandemic, “specifically, the maternal health crisis that has led to Black and Indigenous women dying at three to four times the rate of white women.” Now, in the age of COVID, women are less and less able to achieve the healthcare they desire, yet the demand has continued to rise as women are looking to put off having children.

 

Resources:

https://www.guttmacher.org/report/early-impacts-covid-19-pandemic-findings-2020-guttmacher-survey-reproductive-health#
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/09/us/unemployment-coronavirus-women.html
https://www.nationalfamilyplanning.org/new-poll-a-majority-of-us-women-support-access-to-birth-control-during–covid-19-pandemic-nfprha-poll-finds
https://powertodecide.org/about-usnewsroom/power-decide-statement-supreme-court-decision-allowing-employers-deny
https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2020/07/15/487429/toward-equitable-treatments-womens-health-coronavirus-beyond/
https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2020/07/15/487429/toward-equitable-treatments-womens-health-coronavirus-beyond/
https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2020/04/23/483828/coronavirus-crisis-confirms-u-s-health-care-system-fails-women/

Recently, accessing economic profit has been difficult for the Black community, especially Black owned businesses. In a NPR podcast addressing the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black Americans, it was found that “overall, about 38% of small business owners who applied for government aid reported receiving it, only 12% of Black and Latino owned businesses reported getting the aid they asked for.”

While the COVID-19 Pandemic has largely affected Black communities and subsequently Black businesses, the conversation has also taken a slight shift in recent weeks following the national outcry against systemic racism and violence against Black Communities. Some Black female entrepreneurs have conflicting thoughts on the matter though. Christina Blacken — founder and creator of The New Quo — reflected on this shift, emphasising that while positive, “‘Supporting us means seeing us as equals and experts and not assuming our skills, services, and creations are less than, which has been the common narrative when discussing supporting Black ideas, creativity, and business.’”

It’s not about helping just to help, it’s about listening to Black stories and “doing the work it takes to establish this value as a given, so that Black business owners can have equal access to resources and networks that help their companies to flourish.” Some Black female entrepreneurs have shared their story and insight, and offer advice about how to potentially change the game. Alexandria Carroll, founder and CEO of License to Drift, and professional travel agency, discusses childhood experiences that have shaped her entrepreneurial mindset. Her experience with ignorant Americans and elsewhere highlighted the need she saw in cross cultural exchange and experience, leading to the development of License to Drift.

These women also acknowledge the economic access they are lacking because they are Black. Wadeeha Jackson, managing Partner at Cowry Crypt Asset Management LLC,  states that a growing problem in recent years is that, “statistically, Black entrepreneurs represent 1% of covered venture-backed capital,” obviously leading to discriminatory lending practices. COVID-19 has only exacerbated this already huge problem.

Economic barriers are a significant challenge for many who already feel that finances are overwhelming, and these barriers in turn can create additional challenges, often related to health. Low-income households, especially people that live and work in areas where there is a lack of employment or educational resources, often experience a lack of access to healthy lifestyle options.

Some solutions to these financial disparities present are: introducing financial education as a model in non-profit organizations towards building investment capital, developing a business and innovative strategy towards achieving the aims and objectives of the organizations, using capacity building as a strategy for growth, and adopting a competitive strategy that involves a mix of uniqueness, value and impact.

Lisa Price the owner of Carol’s Daughter, built her multimillion-dollar hair and skincare product line, out of nothing. She got there in part by refusing to strive for impossible perfection, and instead embracing the good times and bad. “We think we have to be perfect. We think we have to get it all done — but we don’t,” she says.

Amber Williams, founder Punkyflair, launched her branding consultancy with the idea that stories, not sales pitches, are the best way to reach customers. Her strategies have helped other people of color find voices for their brands — and embrace their true selves. She encourages Black women entrepreneurs in particular to authentically include themselves in their businesses’ narratives.

Rita Robert Otu, founder of Beau Haven Farms is helping rural women grow and sell vitamin A-rich cassava. “Our goal is to encourage and support a new generation of entrepreneurial farmers,” she says. By teaching women these skills, she provides a way for them to support themselves and their families.

Lovern Gordon, former pageant winner, launched Love Life Now to unite communities against domestic violence and break down the isolation that survivors like her have experienced. She also raises money to help survivors start their lives anew.

SOURCES:

https://thestoryexchange.org/inspiration-black-women-entrepreneurs-the-story-exchange/
https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/07/how-covid-19-is-impacting-women-owned-small-businesses.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Access_to_finance#:~:text=Access%20to%20finance%20is%20the,the%20unbanked%20or%20underbanked%2C%20respectively
https://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-support-black-owned-businesses-according-to-black-entrepreneurs-2020-6

As we prepare for the holiday season, Ujima, Inc.: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community, is dedicating the month of November to discussing Black Mental Health. In many traditions, the coming days and weeks entail joyous, festive, and celebratory rituals that center gratitude, charity, and community. However, this time of year presents new challenges, pressures, and expectations that can make the holiday season overwhelming and stressful. In our commitment to uplifting our community, we want to prioritize and discuss mental wellness as we immerse ourselves in daylight savings time and the colder winter months.

Although African Americans make up roughly 12% of the U.S. population, they comprise approximately 18.7% of those affected by mental illness. African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general U.S. population. Some scholars have identified racism-specific stress and coping responses to include, but not limited to anger, paranoia, anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness, frustration, resentment, and fear for African Americans. Moreover, symptoms of depression and anxiety show up differently within and across racial/ethnic groups that speak directly to historical trauma from diverse lived experiences. For example, research has shown that Black women in America experience chronic anxiety and more intense symptoms than other races. A new groundbreaking study reveals that the pressure of holding everything down as a “strong Black woman” places immense stress and pressure that can increase the risk of depression among Black woman. This pressure can reach even higher levels during the holiday season.

The American Psychological Association notes that “holiday-related stress and the ‘holiday blues’—feelings of disappointment, sadness, fatigue or frustration—are not unusual” during this time of year. The Holiday Blues are often temporary, but for those suffering from mental illnesses, the holidays can be immensely stressful and emotionally taxing. Whether you are worried about purchasing gifts for family and friends or bracing to celebrate the season without a loved one who recently passed, this time of year can trigger a range of negative and positive emotions. The psychological toll of the holidays can result in adverse health outcomes that impact one’s overall wellness beyond the season.

Despite the clear need for mental health care that addresses the multitude of stressors Black Americans face on a daily basis, racial disparities persist when it comes to access. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health reports that only 8.7% of Non-Hispanic Black adults, compared to 18.6% of Non-Hispanic White adults, received mental health services in 2018. These disparities exist due to several barriers to prevention and intervention such as, social stigma, distrust of the health care system, lack of cultural humility and diversity among providers, and lack of health insurance.

Now more than ever, it is crucial that Black Mental Health is central to our efforts to promote wellness for our community. As the holidays approach, there are several things that we can do to help navigate the highs and lows of this season, including seeking professional help and identifying other community resources that cater to our needs. Dr. Joy Harden-Bradford, a Licensed Psychologist, author, media contributor and host of the “Therapy for Black Girls” podcast, is one of several remarkable Black women encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls. She shares the following tips on steadying yourself for the holiday season that we encourage you to consider:

  1. Be realistic about your budget.
    • Don’t feel pressure to overspend on gifts for friends or loved ones this year. Instead, think of gifts that do not have a specific monetary value attached such as babysitting or curating a music playlist.
    • Plan to set aside some money for gifts to avoid financial stress.
  2. Create new traditions and reexamine old ones.
    • If you can’t be with your family this year for Thanksgiving, consider spending time with friends and having a Friendsgiving instead.
  1. Make a game plan for dealing with the loss of a loved one.
    • Reimagine what holiday traditions might look like without your loved one’s physical presence this year.
    • Don’t avoid the holidays after experiencing the loss of a loved one. It may not be as a joyous occasion, but you will be able to tolerate the pain and push through.
    • Plan ahead to avoid panic.
  1. Set and stick to your boundaries.
    • Recognize that you cannot do everything and that it is okay to say “no” sometimes.
  1. Build some downtime into your schedule just for yourself.
    • This could simply entail heading back home a few days earlier before you have to head back to work or school, going on a solo vacation or planning a staycation.
  1. Allow yourself space to feel whatever you feel.
    • Let go of the unrealistic expectation that you have to feel endless happiness and excitement during the holidays. It is okay to feel sad or worried in light of what is happening in your life.

Finally, let’s acknowledge the fact that spending time with family is not so joyous for some people. For those who find family functions difficult to maneuver, just know that you can pick your family. And if spending time with your family is harmful, stressful and traumatic, choose what make you feel safe. If you need help unpacking these feelings, seek assistance.

Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

On June 3, military opened fire on pro-democracy protesters during their sit-in in Khartoum. Protestors called for a civilian-run government to ensure a fair election after Omar Al-Bashir, former president of Sudan, was overthrown. The seven-member Transitional Military Council (TMC), along with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) assumed power. The military agreed on a 3-year transition period but reneged on the agreement when they opened fire and announced that elections would be held within nine months. Civilians reported over 100 people dead. In addition to the attacks, there were reports of rapes of both women and men by the military, and shutdown of Internet access, which led to further protest strikes in the streets. SPA called for “complete civil disobedience and open political strike.” According to an article by the International Crisis Group, The African Union’s Peace and Security Council suspended Sudan’s African Union (AU) membership until authorities put a civilian administration in place. After a month since the attack that took place on June 3, protest leaders decided to halt protest strikes for 72 hours in order to meet with the military to discuss elections. The conflict is over Sudan’s post-revolution government.

 

The new agreement was mediated by the African Union and Ethiopia. Diplomats from the United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were present. During the aftermath of the attack, Saudi and Emirati officials openly supported the actions of the military, while U.S. and British officials openly supported protestors. The New York Times reported that during their meeting they agreed on a power-sharing deal to share the sovereign council for a period of at least three years. The ruling council will have five civilians and five military leaders and an 11th member they both agree on. An army general will run Sudan for the first 21 months of the transition and civilians will run Sudan for the next 18 months that follow. They have also agreed on a civilian-ran government under the leadership of a prime minister. Both sides also agreed to a national independent investigation into the killings of protestors by the military. Details of the deal are still being finalized. Meanwhile, the military has freed rebel fighters who were arrested for opposition.


Last month celebrities and social media influencers used their platforms to raise awareness about the Sudan crisis. #BlueForSudan began trending on all major social media platforms and turned their avatars on social media blue in honor of Mohamed Mattar who was killed by the military during the protest. At the time of his death, Mattar’s profile avatar was the blue image being used in the online movement. In addition to raising awareness on social media, individuals who would like to support the people of Sudan should reach out to their member of Congress or text them (RESIST to 50409) using ResistBot and let them know that you support helping the people of Sudan. Other ways you can help, donating to UNICEF or other organizations whose mission is to support the country and amplify the voice of the people. There are also local Facebook groups and GoFundMe opportunities that are raising funds for food and medical aid.  

CHANGE THEIR WORLD. CHANGE YOURS. THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response

As we learn about COVID-19 resources and services available, we will be sharing them here.