Providing access to safe abortion and sexual health services for sex workers

  • Pretty Lynn graduated from university in 2013. Due to limited job opportunities she turned to sex work in order to earn a living. "Abortion and unwanted pregnancies are really common because men don’t want to use condoms and female condoms are really rare and they are expensive. An organisation like Lady Mermaid’s Bureau can help young girls and women. They teach us how to protect ourselves, how to defend ourselves, about safe abortion."
    Pretty Lynn graduated from university in 2013. Due to limited job opportunities she turned to sex work in order to earn a living. "Abortion and unwanted pregnancies are really common because men don’t want to use condoms and female condoms are really rare and they are expensive. An organisation like Lady Mermaid’s Bureau can help young girls and women. They teach us how to protect ourselves, how to defend ourselves, about safe abortion."
  • Joanne is a mother of two. She has been a sex worker for two years. "The problems are very many. Men don’t want to pay. They are rough, they don’t want to use condoms. So they end up infecting you sometimes. There are many women who get pregnant because of this unprotected sex. Some women who need abortions also use local herbs. Sometimes Omo (washing detergent), other times tea leaves. They are so dangerous."
    Joanne is a mother of two. She has been a sex worker for two years. "The problems are very many. Men don’t want to pay. They are rough, they don’t want to use condoms. So they end up infecting you sometimes. There are many women who get pregnant because of this unprotected sex. Some women who need abortions also use local herbs. Sometimes Omo (washing detergent), other times tea leaves. They are so dangerous."
  • Ali has worked as a programme officer and safe abortion counsellor at Lady Mermaid’s Bureau (LMB) for eight years. "Abortion among sex workers is still a very major issue. Many women are very vulnerable to becoming sex workers. They are poor, from slums and a lot of them are students. They face a lot of violence: rape, the police themselves use them and then there are clients who rape the women. So there are a lot of incidences of violence that turn into unwanted pregnancies."
    Ali has worked as a programme officer and safe abortion counsellor at Lady Mermaid’s Bureau (LMB) for eight years. "Abortion among sex workers is still a very major issue. Many women are very vulnerable to becoming sex workers. They are poor, from slums and a lot of them are students. They face a lot of violence: rape, the police themselves use them and then there are clients who rape the women. So there are a lot of incidences of violence that turn into unwanted pregnancies."
  • 35 year old Joan was a sex worker for five years. "Now with the help of Ali at Lady Mermaid's I have a fridge and I sell fruits and juice. Sex workers go through a lot of difficulties. People don’t like you. The police are not good. They chase us and others force us to have sex with them. Ali gave me counselling and helped me to get off of the streets."
    35 year old Joan was a sex worker for five years. "Now with the help of Ali at Lady Mermaid's I have a fridge and I sell fruits and juice. Sex workers go through a lot of difficulties. People don’t like you. The police are not good. They chase us and others force us to have sex with them. Ali gave me counselling and helped me to get off of the streets."
  • Musa, a police officer involved with the Lady Mermaid's Bureau project.
    Musa, a police officer involved with the Lady Mermaid's Bureau project.
  • Noor is a project officer for Lady Mermaid’s Bureau. "Our work with SAAF is about advocating for safe abortion. And we are dealing with vulnerable groups. That is sex workers."
    Noor is a project officer for Lady Mermaid’s Bureau. "Our work with SAAF is about advocating for safe abortion. And we are dealing with vulnerable groups. That is sex workers."
  • Deborah, a sex worker and beneficiary of the Lady Mermaid’s Bureau project, receives a booklet on safe abortion from LMB project officer Noor in central Kampala.
    Deborah, a sex worker and beneficiary of the Lady Mermaid’s Bureau project, receives a booklet on safe abortion from LMB project officer Noor in central Kampala.
  • One of the booklets on safe abortion produced by Lady Mermaid’s Bureau.
    One of the booklets on safe abortion produced by Lady Mermaid’s Bureau.
  • Masitula is a single mother with two sons. "I got pregnant after a client refused to wear a condom. I attempted to abort using some unsafe abortion practices but I was unsuccessful. I now have a two-month old baby whose father I do not know."
    Masitula is a single mother with two sons. "I got pregnant after a client refused to wear a condom. I attempted to abort using some unsafe abortion practices but I was unsuccessful. I now have a two-month old baby whose father I do not know."
  • Masitula and project officers Noor and Ali at her home in Kampala. "Lady Mermaid's has helped me and other sex workers. When I get some problems, I just go and tell them.  It has changed my life because I now have a friend."
    Masitula and project officers Noor and Ali at her home in Kampala. "Lady Mermaid's has helped me and other sex workers. When I get some problems, I just go and tell them. It has changed my life because I now have a friend."

Many sex workers in Uganda end up having unwanted pregnancies often resorting to unsafe abortions. There are many myths and misconceptions about contraception as well as a lack of access. This issue was one of the reasons why Lady Mermaid's Bureau (LMB), a sex workers rights organisation from Kampala, decided to apply for a grant from the Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF) in 2013. 

Founded in 2002 by a group of former sex workers, the Lady Mermaid's Bureau, the first organization of its kind in the region, works to prevent and reduce unsafe abortions amongst sex workers in Uganda and campaigns to decriminalize abortion and sex work. 

The Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF) which is hosted by IPPF was set up in 2006 in order to support grass-roots organisations to increase access to safe abortion. 

Photography © IPPF/Tommy Trenchard