Feature Women’s Health

Bangladesh’s ignored female sex workers

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h3470 (Published 29 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3470
  1. Jocalyn Clark, freelance writer, Dhaka
  1. j.clark{at}utoronto.ca

Jocalyn Clark asks why the plight of girls and women forced or sold into sex work is disregarded and reports on an initiative that helps women out of the sex trade with training and employment

A young woman smiles, her eye bruised from her husband’s beating, as she describes the hope and freedom a new job will give her. The job, stitching old saris into “kantha” quilts to be sold internationally, will be provided by Basha, a Bangladeshi textile business founded by a US missionary that offers rehabilitation, training, and employment to women fleeing the sex trade.

The young woman, Farzana, grew up in the slums of Mazar, a neighbourhood of Dhaka that is one of the country’s largest hubs for sex work and trafficking, and was married at 15. She told The BMJ of a childhood of roaming and begging, regular sexual abuse, and being forced into the sex trade to make money. After she became pregnant her husband abandoned her for a time. With no one caring for her, the Children’s Uplift Programme offered her help. This local non-governmental organisation works with Basha. Farzana is now caring for her daughter and learning to stitch—and to heal. But her husband is back and his abuse continues.

Although they can quietly help many women with their immediate needs, such community based initiatives struggle to influence broader change to ensure women’s rights, and little progress has been made in challenging the conditions that force many women into the sex trade and subject them to violence.

Acceptability of sex work in Bangladesh

This officially secular but deeply religious country has received widespread praise for recent gains in women and children’s health—it is one of the few countries in the world to reach the millennium development goals to reduce maternal and child mortality—but its disregard for female sex workers …

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