Sex Work and Women's Movements
The paper is part of CREA’s programme “Count Me In! Addressing violence against marginalised women in south Asia”. At the heart of the paper is an interrogation of the dichotomous categorisations of ‘forced’ and ‘chosen’ sex, and sex workers as either victims needing rescue, or possessing agency and choice. The author looks at the history of these categorisations in order to help contextualise current policy initiatives around sex work and human trafficking, making fascinating connections between the discourses surrounding early 19th century western feminism, anti-colonialism in the global south, and women’s movements of the 1960s and 70s in different global regions.
The Indian women’s movement is used as a case study, and the differing engagement of the movement with sex work issues is considered in three time periods: the late nineteenth century, the late 1970s and the late 1990s. The movement is now in a fourth, ongoing period, in which a range of new issues, including those related to sexuality, are increasingly recognised as relevant, and these links are highlighting the need for new alliance building between movements.
The paper also considers how discourses around migration and HIV/AIDS converge with those around sex work and gender. It finishes with a section on the growth of a sex workers’ movement, highlighting some interesting differences with the women’s movement around the way the movements view and approach the state, as either a regulator and protector, or a power to question.