They are not in positions to negotiate rates.
Pakistan is currently under lockdown which is tough for some citizens but for sex workers, it leaves them facing a difficult choice.
Lahore’s Heera Mandi is Pakistan’s oldest red-light district but over the years, sex work has moved from the alleys to private mansions, farmhouses and rented apartments across the country.
It was a large part of the elite entertainment industry in Pakistan despite the stigma attached to it.
However, the Coronavirus pandemic has changed that. It has created inequality between clients and sex workers.
Self-isolation is something that most sex workers cannot afford.
Given that business is already so dull, reduced clients do not just mean less work, it means less safe work.
When an opportunity arises, women are put into situations where they are forced to compromise boundaries, grabbing anything that comes their way.
They are not in positions to negotiate rates. Being able to survive is more important than the fear of contracting the virus.
Sex workers are not part of the formal economy in Pakistan, eliminating them from COVID-19 relief agendas. During times of crisis, the taboo only worsens their invisibility.
Few have savings to afford healthcare or testing.
Even though sex workers are used to either feast or famine, the uncertainty of how long the lockdown will last heightens their anxieties.
Some women may turn to online services but digital access in Pakistan is widespread, limiting their economic options.
Clients are unlikely to settle for virtual interaction as a substitute for an in-person exchange.
COVID-19 is destroying the sex industry while also picking apart economically fragile countries like Pakistan.
In the case of a complete lockdown, families who depend on sex workers will struggle for survival without money for essentials. This could lead to protests.
However, relaxed measures are more likely to spread the disease.
It is a difficult dilemma but government efforts are underway.
An Ehsaas Emergency Cash Programme, which is the largest social protection effort in the country’s history, was launched last week to pay close to $1 billion to those hardest hit by the financial slowdown.
Underneath the top layer of this crisis, citizens remain stuck in their own political dramas.
Taking aim at the government for failing to offer sufficient intervention and a definitive COVID-19 timetable take up a lot of television and social media airtime.
Instead of collective action, people are filled with more despair.
A less superficial approach may help as making efforts to protect daily wage earners from the looming threat to their incomes. This includes sex workers.
If citizens continue to waste time by poking at differences within, a catastrophe could occur.
Sex work in Pakistan is already deteriorating due to COVID-19 and it may become non-existent without citizens even realising.