In summer 1998 the General Assembly of the European Women’s Lobby passed a landmark motion, where we affirmed that “prostitution and trafficking in women constitute a fundamental violation of women’s human rights”. Since that time, we have continued to assert that no woman should be faced with such a lack of financial choice that she must risk her safety, wellbeing and long-term health for survival. To mark this 20 years of an abolitionist stance on prostitution, we are highlighting the actions of our movement at international and national levels, including our secretariat, members, and former colleagues who played key roles in our campaigning. Follow #20yrsEndDemand online and join the conversation.
In Bangladesh, prostitution is legal; which appears surprising to me given our socio-religious context. Prostitution as a profession may be legal, but the prostitutes are marginalized by the society. The hatred for prostitutes is so deeply rooted that the Bengali word “Beshsha”, which means a prostitute, is often used as a slang word towards women to question their character. Any word which indicates a woman involved in prostitution are weapons used against women in day-to-day lives for shaming women, for degrading them. Women are coming from economically disadvantaged sections of the society are often forced to become prostitutes to make ends meet. But there are countless instances where women are tricked into sex slavery; for instance, many young girls from villages are tricked with the promises of jobs in the city or in the neighbouring country India. But in reality, they are sold into brothels. Likewise, some women who ran away with their lovers to get married later was sold off in brothels by the men they assumed to be their lovers and future husbands.
Human trafficking is a flourishing business, with women often lured to sex trade in the disguise of jobs offered to them, and once a woman is forced into this trade, there is no other hope for her. Most often, they live inside the brothels until their last breath. The society may not look down upon the customers who seek sexual services inside the brothels, but our society looks down upon women who are in this profession. Thus, the scope for reintegrating into the mainstream society is often not existent or even if they manage to escape from brothels, they have to live under disguise and hide their past identities.
With the influx of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, the human traffickers have found another vulnerable group to target. Due to the limited working scope for the refugees, many Rohingya women are often trafficked or forced into prostitution. Despite funds pouring in and several development projects aiming to contribute towards handling the refugee crisis, the exploitation of the refugee women continues. The refugees do not have the necessary education to be able to get some job that pays enough to make ends meet and the aid received from NGOs is often meager. Thus, the economic and food insecurity is pushing the refugee women towards prostitution and the black market is flourishing by exploiting their vulnerabilities.
Thus, the reality for women in prostitution is a rather gloomy picture, where they are exploited in every way possible, and blamed and shamed in every single way. And there is so much to do to resolve this problem. But we need to begin with changing our mindsets, which is a long-term process.
- Shucheesmita Simonti
Shucheesmita Simonti is currently based in the Netherlands. She is working as editor of Women Chapter’s English site, and policy director at Safety First for Girls Outreach Foundation, a not-for-profit organization based in Zambia. She is also volunteering at the Hague Peace Projects. Her passion also includes inter-faith peacebuilding, refugee rights, women empowerment etc. She is one of the young leaders of Women Deliver Young Deliver 2018 Program. She was a participant of AGORA 2018 the Young Feminist Summer Camp
Photo credit: Sandra Hoyn