The Sex Workers Network (SWN) plans to celebrate Sex Workers Day today by giving sex workers a platform to raise their voices against the violence, discrimination, exploitation and stigmatisation that have consistently persecuted them for decades.
According to sex workers’ rights organisation PIACT Bangladesh, there are only around 3,200 to 4,000 sex workers based in brothels and the remaining 100,000 are streetwalkers or work out of hotels.
Activists working for the rights of sex workers in Bangladesh say they are the most marginalised community and are not even afforded basic human rights.
“Society's negative impression of sex workers severely humiliates them and makes it impossible for them to even receive medical treatment,” said SWN Secretary Chumki Begum.
“And the worst part is that there is no dedicated person or government official who is responsible for monitoring whether sex workers are accorded their minimum rights,” she added.
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SWN President Hena Akter said most government officials were unwilling to work with sex workers to ensure their rights because of the stigma attached to them by society.
Even the National Human Rights Commission does not have a sub-committee which can monitor the rights situation of sex workers.
Several brothel owners claim that this lack of rights, security and access to justice force sex workers to live in fear of being subjected to violence.
General Secretary of Nari Mukti Sangha Hashi Begum said: “Sometimes brothel sex workers leave the premises with clients. These men, when denied their requests, violently beat the workers. There have also been instances where sex workers have been raped and not paid.
“When the sex workers go to the police for help, they are ridiculed. People cannot seem to fathom how a sex worker can be raped.”
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The lack of rights, security and access to justice forces sex workers to live in fear of being subjected to violence Adil Sakhawat
Chumki also accused local police of intentional negligence, saying that they sometimes harass the sex workers by filing cases against them instead.
“Because they are prostitutes, justice is denied to them by the law,” she said.
The sex workers who live in brothels are safer than streetwalkers who run a higher risk of being killed or tortured.
Durjoy Nari Sangha Executive Director Rahima Begum works with 54,000 streetwalkers in 26 districts. She said most of them are not paid for their services.
“Many streetwalkers are also killed by their so-called husbands with whom they usually share their room and around 200 sex workers died in over the past three years due to violent acts committed against them,” she claimed.
The constitution of Bangladesh preserves the right of each citizen and allows them freedom of choice through Articles 27, 28, 28(4), 32 and 40 and ensures citizens’ equality in the eyes of the law and the freedom to choose any profession.
Not only does it not cover sex workers, but Penal Code Section 133, which states that any trade injurious to the health and physical comfort of society should be prohibited, is often used against them.
“We have been observing the Sex Workers Rights Day for 15 years now and this year our theme will be 'Amend and Stop Abuse of all Sorts of Punitive Laws against Sex Workers',” said Hena Akhter, president of SWN.