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Topic: Experiencing Sex Work: A study of adult migrant female sex workers in Goa

MPhil. Proposal Presentation


By Barkha Sharda Development Studies 12 April 2013

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. Introduction Women and Work Informal sector and migration The illegality of work Prostitution and Sex work The issue of trafficking Trafficking, Prostitution and Sex work Rationale and Scope Objectives Proposed Methodology and Data source References

Introduction The act of selling sexual services relies upon not only patriarchal socially constructed notions of gender and sexuality, but also heteronormativity. Sex work is plagued with questionable notions of morality and a gendered double standard of sexual labour. In arguing rehabilitation we often overlook the role of sex work as legitimate labour requiring the universal monetary acknowledgment of work time and energy. With the focus on rehabilitation one misses out on the voices of the victims of trafficking. One needs to trace the voices and narrate the stories of these women before they get silenced.

Women and work According to The Report of the Committee on Unorganised Sector Statistics, National Statistical Commission, GOI, and February 2012 in India, almost 94% of total women workers are engaged in informal sector, of which about 20% work in the urban centres. Majority of women workers in informal sector come from those sections of the society which need income at any cost. Nearly 50 per cent of these women workers are sole supporters of their families. Some of them are construction workers, some are domestic servants, and some are involved in sexual labour and others are garment workers while few are petty traders in miscellany of goods. But there is little or no variation in terms of job like wage discrimination, job insecurity, leave / holidays and other benefits.

The informal sector and migration Informal activities are typically characterized by ease of entry, reliance on indigenous resources, family ownership of enterprises, small scale of operations of labour intensive and adaptive technology, skills acquired outside formal schooling system, and unregulated and competitive markets. Sassen talks about the globalised economy creating a strong pull on migrants from poorer countries to fill jobs in the lower rungs of the Western economies. A pull felt particularly by women whose gendered labour is required in care work, domestic work and sex work. Moreover, this pull will only increase as the population of the West ages, with Europe needing perhaps 68 million migrant workers by 2050.

The illegality of work The illegality of certain types of work is related to the perception of what is legal. Therefore, for example, children and women who are trafficked into the flesh trade are often termed as illegal migrants and do not have any security. There are a huge number of women who sell sex in the country today. Not all of them can be traced. They include a population we believe is invisible. The law punishes those who along with others solicit customers, the law does not look into why?

Prostitution and Sex work Women, within the gendered organization of sex work and prostitution, are situated as passive under the reign of dominant sexuality. Prostitutes and sex workers sell sex to men. The purchase of womens bodies for the purpose/act of sex by men becomes an exercise of male dominance supported by patriarchal notions of unlimited access to female bodies. In fact, sex workers groups all over are emphasising on the importance of this journey and reality of life that is unique to these women and cannot be constructed through imagination and societal stereotypes.

The issue of trafficking Trafficking in human beings is a violation of several rights guaranteed to the citizens of this country. Owing to the very discreet and subtle nature of the occurrence of human trafficking and the stigma and pain that comes with it there is very little literature available. The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report has shown India in the Tier Two Watch List for seven years in a row (from 2004 to 2010). In 2011 India ratified an international legal instrument targeting trafficking, namely, the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which supplemented the 2000 UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. It has now been promoted to Tier Two in the 2011 report.

However, the 2012 USAID Counter-trafficking in Persons Policy is a direct response to the fact that trafficking in persons is a massive development problem affecting millions of men, women and children around the globe. Far from being a soft issue, traffickinga modern day form of slaveryconstitutes a violation of human rights in which victims are deprived of their fundamental freedoms. TIP can involve either sex or labor exploitation, or both. At its essence, TIP is about people being bought and sold as chattel.

Trafficking, Prostitution and Sex work Human Trafficking is understood today specifically as the selling and buying of human beings; using them as a mere commodity for the purpose of monetary benefits/sexual exploitation/labour. Feminist abolitionism insists on ending sex trafficking that is motivated by a belief that such trafficking harms women in ways tending to sustain and perpetuate patriarchal structural inequalities. Then there are the non-abolitionists who are fighting for legitimate rights of those in sex work. This discourse is immensely problematic and contradictory. Although, feminist abolitionism was given to the developing world by the West there are those in large numbers who practice this view.

Women choose to stay on in sex work to survive, especially in third world nations like India and the recognition of this choice as a form of labour is essential to securing health and safety standards for women in an industry that otherwise remains unregulated and unprotected. For abolitionists, a sanitized, regulated sex industry begs the moral question of whether regulating mens access to women is better than not regulating it. The strategy also begs the political question of whose interests are best or most served by such an approach.

Rationale and Scope An ethnographic account with women in sex work will help understand the meaning of sexual labour for those directly involved in it and those around it. It might help break stereotypes and bring them closer to a more real situation and existence. It might also allow for discussion on tabooed topics of sexuality and body and womens views on sex as a sellable commodity.

Objectives The study will document the experiences of women in sex work. It will help bring out their lifes realities without imagining or understanding the feeling from popular belief, an aspect mostly ignored. It will bring to the forefront a third world understanding of sex work and problematise gendered notions sexual labour in the informal sector. The narratives will help analyse and assess vulnerability in terms of the push (conditions that push them out of their familiar environment) and pull (conditions exposing their vulnerability towards trafficking) factors.

Proposed Methodology and Data source Feminist ethnography: By virtue of their sex and ideological orientation, male ethnographers have been unable to understand women. The challenge for feminist ethnographers is to use the potential of fieldwork to get closer to womens realities. Ethnography is an important feminist method if it makes womens lives visible, just as interviewing is an important feminist method if it makes womens voices audible. Thus it is not ethnography per se, but ethnography in the hands of feminists that renders it feminist. The study will involve working with adult migrant female sex workers.

Feminist ethnography is consistent with three goals mentioned frequently by feminist researchers: (Reinharz 1992) To document the lives and activities of women-a feminist orientation lifts androcentric blinders, seeing women as full members of their social, economic and political worlds; To understand the experience of women from their own point of view (standpoint)-corrects a major bias of non-feminist participation that trivializes females activities or thoughts and interprets them from the standpoint of men in the society or the male researcher, and To conceptualize womens behavior as an expression of social contexts-interpreting womens behavior as shaped by social context rather than as context free or rooted in anatomy, personality or social class.

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