Session: Examining Diversity within Sex Work in India (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

276 Examining Diversity within Sex Work in India

Sunday, January 20, 2019: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Golden Gate 6, Lobby Level (Hilton San Francisco)
Cluster: International Social Work & Global Issues (ISW&GI)
Sameena Azhar, PhD, Fordham University, Sunny Sinha, PhD, Marywood University, Sharvari Karandikar, PhD, Ohio State University and Satarupa Dasgupta, PhD, Drexel University
Sex work in India occurs in a variety of contexts and is a livelihood option for cisgender women, cisgender men and transgender people. Sex work remains highly stigmatized with potentially severe consequences for sex workers, including violence, sexually transmitted infections, arrest, and exploitation. Social work scholars and practitioners have largely focused on the sexual health needs of sex workers and less on the impact of social, cultural, structural and environmental factors on health, such as stigma, discrimination, criminalization, and the ability to exercise independent control over one's work. This roundtable, comprised of scholars who have spent considerable time practicing in the fields of HIV prevention and gender violence, will initiate a dialogue on the diverse needs of sub-groups of sex workers and the importance of settings for sex work, exploring brothels, non-brothel settings, and phone-based sex work.

The first presenter conducted research and practiced as a social worker with female sex workers who were mothers, residing in the Kamathipura red light area in Mumbai. She will discuss the risk and protective factors of women residing in brothels on maternal and child health. She will also discuss how conflating the issue of sex work with trafficking negatively impacts the sex worker community, thereby increasing their HIV risk.

The second presenter worked as a project manager in an HIV prevention project for non-brothel-based sex workers in Kolkata. She used ethnographic methods with sex workers and will speak to the differences in HIV risks for women residing in brothels versus women operating from non-brothel-based sex work settings. She also discusses how the diversity of sex work settings plays a critical role in their ability to exercise control over their earnings and negotiate safer sex practices with clients.

The third presenter has experience both as a clinical social worker and a researcher with people living with HIV in Hyderabad. She will discuss how a group of gender-nonconforming people in Hyderabad, known as hijra, experience multiple stigmas for being HIV-positive, engaging in sex work, and not adhering to gender norms. These lived experiences of stigma and discrimination have direct impacts in terms of increasing risk for depression and decreasing the likelihood of utilizing medical services.

The fourth presenter draws on her extensive experience with sex workers in a red-light district in Kolkata to discuss the vulnerabilities experienced by male and transgender sex workers and offer suggestions for how stigma and violence may be tackled by HIV prevention programs within India.

Collectively, our roundtable is a step towards demonstrating the diversity across sex workers in India and how sex work cannot be equated with trafficking. Social workers need to take into account the heterogeneity within the sex worker community and the diversity of their lived experiences. In doing so, we will be better positioned to advocate for policies and programs that improve the social and economic conditions of sex workers in India.

See more of: Roundtables