Vulnerability mapping to help sex workers in Bangladesh and Myanmar
l Warm smiles greet Lily as she approaches her first stop of the day—one of the 11 brothels scattered across the country that Lily, the President of the Bangladesh Sex Worker Network, visits quarterly to check in with the women and see what assistance they need. Though her visits have been limited in recent months due to movement restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19, Lily knows well enough that those smiles are a brave front for the troubling times that her peers have experienced.
l “I see the sex workers as my sisters—I feel their happiness and pain and I try my best to solve any issue they face,” Lily said. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Lily and the 29 community-based organizations serving sex workers in the country have struggled to respond to the increased calls for support. In March, government countrywide movement restrictions meant that sex workers could no longer have clients, leaving most of them without a source of income and unable to provide for themselves or their families.
l Some sex workers report that they have become homeless because the brothels have been closed, or in some cases the residents were evicted because rent could not be paid. Many sex workers cite stigma and discrimination as a barrier for other forms of employment. Health outreach services that once provided brothels with sexual and reproductive health services, including HIV testing and prevention, have been suspended due to travel restrictions.
l It has become clear that focused support for sex workers must be prioritized. Recognizing that more needs to be known about the gaps in social protection for sex workers, UNAIDS in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund and the World Food Programme are exploring the possibility of conducting a needs assessment and vulnerability mapping initiative of female sex workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the community-led mapping initiative will be used to inform programming for livelihood support, food security, improved access to antiretroviral therapy, sexual and reproductive health services and gender-based violence prevention and response services.
l “While a few sex workers had savings, most could not provide for themselves,” said Rahat Ara Nur, Technical Officer for the United Nations Population Fund in Bangladesh. “Through the United Nations Population Fund, we provided sex workers with COVID-19 prevention commodities, such as masks and handwashing materials, and we also developed public service announcements which were aired on community radio to ensure we raised awareness about COVID-19 precautionary measures among the community.”
l For those working closely with community-led organizations it has been inspiring to see that although sex worker networks and the sex workers they represent have seen challenges all around them, they have done their best to support their peers. There is hope that the data gathered in a vulnerability mapping exercise would not only generate the evidence needed to advocate for expanding the reach of social protection and humanitarian response services to be inclusive of sex workers, but could also inform the scale-up of community-led programming.
Some significant parts have been highlighted from original article. To read the full article please visit https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/featurestories/2021/january/20210112_sex-work-bangladesh-myanmar?fbclid=IwAR3_Uv4zh-jU2tQJVEiYbZhg-cDBZtXVSFqA7hdRY-LU63auT1qfXQaug3A