Sex work is an industry that employs millions across the globe. However, it is rarely recognised a legitimate form of work - specifically within South Asia.
Many sex workers (particularly those who are women, transgender, or part of other marginalised communities) are discriminated and stigmatised by society, They are also more likely to experience violence, poverty, and other forms of oppression.
This Women’s Day we decided to speak with Manju, Bavana and Ava - three vibrant, out-spoken women from Nepal who engage in Sex Work. We wanted to understand their challenges, needs, and how we can go about #EmbracingEquity with them.
Here’s what they had to say.
Where do you see in-equity when it comes to your work ?
"Unlike other forms of work, sex work is is not legally recognised as work here,” says Manju.
Because of this we face many issues ranging from sexual assault by clients, to improper pay and gender-based violence. We are unable to report any forms of violence to the authorities as there is no legal framework that recognises what we do. There are no governmental protections for those in our field of work. It is somewhat risky.
“We face a lot of stigma from our society,” says Bavana who sports fashionable glasses and loves the colour pink.
Our work is heavily stigmatised in our culture. We receive many negative remarks and comments. Not being accepted by the society we live in gravely affects any opportunity for equal access that we may already have.
“Our field of work comes with many health risks that aren't given enough prominence,” says Ava, clad in yellow.
Engaging in Sex Work is highly risky in comparison to other forms of work. However this fact isn’t considered when it comes to the medication and health services available. The medications needed can be quite expensive. We do receive checkups and other services courtesy of the Family Planning Association of Nepal, but affording our medicine is a struggle for daily wage workers such as ourselves!
What equitable action is needed to reduce these challenges?
“Sex work needs to be decriminalized”, says Ava.
If there is a law that passes which decriminalizes sex work, then most of our troubles will be better. The authorities will recognize our work. We will be able to report any violence or injustice at the workplace. The levels of harassment will go away, and with time so will stigma.
“Yes, I agree!”, says Bavana.
The stigma is based on the idea that what we do is criminal. It isn’t. We are engaged in a profession to support ourselves. It is an industry that benefits the local economy.
We also need better health-care that caters to our challenges and needs. Apart from Sexual Health Services, we would also benefit from Mental Health Services (an area that is always overlooked). The women in our profession undergo a lot of mental stress. Having ways to cope with it will be the best way to help us navigate our work-lives!
“Yes, better attention to health services is important,” chimes in Manju, “I also think we require more leadership skills.”
Think about it - if we are able to learn more skills, we can rebuild and empower ourselves in more ways than one! We can start our own income generating activities that will help us lead a better standard of living in the long run.
Much like the three ladies stated, there are many things needed to fully #EmbraceEquity in Sex Work. Manju, Ava, and Bavana are hopeful of their future, and are working tirelessly towards the day they are all provided equal opportunity in their community, and Sex Work is finally legitimised.