Member of Parliament Aroma Dutta said she would talk with the prime minster soon to give NIDs (National Identification Cards) to all the sex workers and provide more special care and support for them during the Covid-19 crisis.
She said we could not do many things for the sex workers, and there is so much work to be done for them.
"We must apologise to the sex workers because of our injustice, negligence, and discrimination towards them," said Aroma Dutta, who was the chief guest at a meeting organised by nongovernment development organisation HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC) on Sunday.
The HARC organised the meeting to identify the challenges of sex workers in Bangladesh and decide how to overcome those challenges specifically in line with the recommendations of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Labour leader Abul Hossaen, special guest at the programme, mentioned the sex workers' contribution during our Liberation War in 1971 and how they came forward to give their life for the country and how we are falling short in protecting them now so that they can live a full life.
Niger Sultana, the coordinator of HARC, pointed out that in Bangladesh there are over 140,000 active female sex workers, working primarily in the streets or out of homes and hotels. Sex work is not criminalised in Bangladesh, but the activities related to sex work are punishable offenses. Sex workers therefore face potential police charges.
They are at a greater risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections and HIV. Limited availability and access to targeted health services makes the situation worse for them.
Many other prominent women leaders and human rights activists took part in the discussion, said a press release from the HARC.
In the meeting, the participants said stigma, discrimination and violence against sex workers are very high in Bangladesh, which results in lower coverage of services. Therefore, different programmes cannot reach satisfactory numbers of sex workers.
Consequently, sex workers are reluctant to receive health services from the clinics and they often self-medicate themselves saying that stigma and discrimination are more harmful than the risk of taking wrong medication.
Because of the prevalent strong stigma, discrimination and violence, the movement for the sex workers' rights, mobilisation of sex workers and collective action against violation of sex workers' human rights have become difficult. When stigma and discrimination is strong, the involvement of sex workers with the relevant programmes becomes less effective.
The meeting concluded with all participants agreeing to work together to end stigma, discrimination, and violence towards sex workers. They also agreed to work to ensure sex worker-friendly health centres and ensure the rights of sex workers.
Aroma Dutto asked the HARC to complete all three activities in the next three years and report to her about the progress.
The HARC is implementing a project in Bangladesh called "Amplifying the voice of Asian Sex Workers." The project is also being implemented in Indonesia, Laos and Myanmar and is being managed by the Asia Pacific Network of Sex workers based in Bangkok, Thailand.