Sex workers, at a recent programme, have discussed strategies to prevent human rights violations – including violence, stigma and discrimination against them – and called for community empowerment.
The non-governmental organisation HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC) organised a two-day long (13-14 November) "Human Rights and Community Empowerment" workshop with sex workers in Dhaka city, read a press release.
Forty sex workers from different sex workers' groups attended the workshop and mentioned the main reason for violence stems from the fact that perpetrators are not held accountable. Even murders of sex workers frequently go uninvestigated and, in some cases, unreported.
Lack of access to justice sends a message to human rights violators that they will face no consequences and may even be praised for violent acts targeting sex workers.
The sex workers themselves identified how human rights violations, stigma and discrimination affect the current health programmes for sex workers. They mentioned that fear of violence, stigma and discrimination drive sex workers underground, making it harder to negotiate safe working conditions and consistent use of condoms.
Further, human rights violations make it harder for the programme's participants to identify where sex workers meet because they often remain hidden, fearing arrest. When sex workers feel they can tolerate human rights violations, stigma and discrimination they do not seek the help of health programmes – in order to avoid further stigma and discrimination – and as a result, the utilisation of those services seems unsuccessful.
When clients are the perpetrators of sexual violence, those clients usually do not use condoms. This places the sex worker at great risk of contracting HIV or sexually-transmitted diseases – or having an unwanted pregnancy.
Furthermore, sex workers discussed empowerment with information about their rights.
Human rights knowledge, legal literacy, capacity-building, and collective action are necessary initiatives to empower sex workers and community-based groups to prevent and respond to human rights violations, stigma and discrimination against sex workers.