SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Dominican Republic’s sex workers, especially transgender women, must be included in the nation’s coronavirus relief efforts, given the impact on their livelihoods under tourism restrictions, a top lawmaker said on Thursday.
Sex workers on the Caribbean island are uniquely vulnerable to contracting coronavirus as well because their work depends upon close physical interactions with clients, Jacqueline Montero, a congresswoman with the opposition Modern Revolutionary Party told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Adult prostitution is legal in the Dominican Republic, and the country is known as a hot spot for sex tourism.
But in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the government suspended commercial flights and ships, as well as closing schools and entertainment venues, as of Thursday.
The island of palm trees and beaches attracts about 6 million visitors a year that help drive its economy.
“I’m very worried for the (sex worker) population. Most of them are in public places, so they’re more at risk,” Montero said.
Government authorities “need to give them some kind of food aid so that they’ll at least have something to eat,” she told the Foundation following a news conference the previous day with local reporters.
The virus has spread quickly across Latin America and the Caribbean, where records show at least 1,000 cases reported across the region.
At least 21 infections and one death have been reported in the Dominican Republic, where Senate lawmakers on Wednesday approved a 25-day state of emergency to deal with the crisis.
An estimated 100,000 women are sex workers on the island, according to local advocates.
“If today they have to stop working for 25 days, what are they going to live on?” Montero said. “They work today to be able to eat tomorrow.”
An estimated one in five is a transgender women who will have an even more challenging time during the unfolding crisis because they struggle with abuse and discrimination, she said.
“It’s harder for them. Even during the day they are almost not on the streets, in the parks. They are only out at night,” she said.
Up to 12% of female sex workers on the island are also HIV+, making them particularly vulnerable to health complications if infected with the coronavirus, she added.
Reporting by Oscar Lopez; Editing by Katy Migiro and Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org