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Lavanya Pillay imageBA (University of Stellenbosch), BA Hons (cum laude) (UKZN), MA (Research Psychology) (UKZN)



With extensive experience in both academia and the public health research field, Lavanya holds a Psychology master's degree specialising in research. With this grounding her forte is working on designing and implementing health research studies involving key populations with the aim to contribute to their well-being. She has collaborated with several international donor agencies in the development of global health strategies to provide accessible health technologies and services within the South African context.

Research interests

Social psychology, key populations, sexual reproductive health, public health and human rights, sex work, inequality and social change, and community based participatory research.

PhD topic

Title: Sex workers' experiences during the COVID‑19 pandemic: A comparative analysis between South Africa and New Zealand.

Supervisors: Professor Gillian Abel and Dr Rose Crossin


The COVID‑19 pandemic has exposed the deeply entrenched inequities that impact sex workers globally, imbued in laws, policies and discourses regarding sex work. There is a dearth of information on sex workers in the context of humanitarian crises, and given their polarised legislative environments on sex work, the research focus is on how sex workers are navigating the pandemic in South Africa (SA) and New Zealand (NZ). Sex workers in SA are among the most marginalised of all workers and their stigmatised and criminalised positions in society have worsened during the pandemic, attributable to the criminalisation of sex work. In New Zealand where sex work is decriminalised, most sex workers were buffered during the pandemic by government and other social support mechanisms and were not treated differently from other occupational groups when the lockdown was initiated.


This investigation seeks to explore and describe sex workers' experiences in these countries, examining how the different laws on sex work have supported or disadvantaged sex workers' during the pandemic, and will report on the impact the pandemic has had on the operation and responsiveness of both countries' sex worker organisations. The global milieu provides an opportunity warranting this investigation, which may provide telling evidence about how the legal environments which govern the sex industry influences the health and wellbeing of sex workers in different ways.


  • Beksinska, M., Pillay, L., Milford, C. & Smit, J. The sexual and reproductive health needs of youth in South Africa – history in context. S Afr Med J. 2014 Aug 13; 104(10):676-8.
  • Beksinska, M., Greener, R., Kleinschmidt, I., Pillay, L., Maphumulo, B., & Smit, J. A Randomised Non-Inferiority Crossover Controlled Trial of the Functional Performance and safety of New Female Condoms: an evaluation of the Velvet, Cupid2 and FC2. Contraception, (2015): 92(3). 261-267.
  • Smit, J., Mosery, N., Pillay, L., Beksinska, M., Rambally-Greener, L., Milford, C., Kilbourne-Brook, M., & Coffey, P. S. A Mixed Methods Evaluation of Potential Distribution Channels for the V Condom in South Africa. Int J Women's Health Wellness, 2015. 1 (2): 1-8.
  • Hoffman, S., Levasseur, M., Mantell, J.E., Beksinska, M., Mabude, Z., Ngoloyi, C., Kelvin, E.A., Exner, T., Leu, CS., Pillay, L., & Smit, J.A. Sexual and Reproductive Health Risk Behaviours among South African University Students: Results from a Campus-Wide Survey. African Journal of AIDS Research, 16(1): 1-10.
  • Pillay, L., Beksinska, M., Smit, J., & Morroni, C. Sexual and reproductive health, in Oxford Textbook of Global Health of Women, Newborns, Children, and Adolescents. Eds Devakumar, D., Hall, J., Qureshi, Z., Lawn, J. Oxford University Press. February 2019


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