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This paper explores the relationship between sex worker activism and HIV-related discourse in Bangladesh, relating recent developments in activism to the influence of feminist thought. Following their eviction in from brothels from red light areas, Bangladeshi sex workers started a social movement, at just about the same time that programmes started to work with sex workers to reduce the transmission of HIV.
This paper argues that both sex worker activism and HIV-prevention initiatives find impetus in feminist pro-sex-work perspectives, which place emphasis on individual and collective agency. It was only during the s that sex workers 1 in Bangladesh became visible in public discourse. This was largely the result of sex worker activism, which was a response to their eviction from brothels in , and their identification as a key population at heightened risk in HIV discourse.
Through activism, sex workers demanded greater recognition of their identity as workers and called for the realisation of rights equal to those of other citizens. Such a perspective is also reflected in HIV programmes in Bangladesh, which often focus on the empowerment of sex workers so that they can exert agency and play a role in HIV prevention. The already prevailing identity of sex workers as socially dangerous is reflected by HIV discourses that portray sex workers as vectors of disease to the general population.
Anti-sex-work perspectives regard sex work as a manifestation of violence against women, because it validates men's mastery over women MacKinnon , as cited in Anderson , According to the perspectives advocated by some radical feminists, sex work is the manifestation of ultimate inequality Anderson in which male sexual desire is satisfied at the expense of turning women into sex objects. The availability of the female body in the sex market and the presence of willing customers highlights this inequality.
Pro-sex-work perspectives, on the other hand, tend to see sex work as an occupation or profession. Nussbaum , as cited in Kotiswaran , 30 argues that sex work is similar to other kinds of labour such as domestic work, entertainment or university teaching. Pro-sex work feminists demand for sex workers all the job-related rights, such as protection against violence, that people in other occupations enjoy, and call for better working conditions Kempadoo and Doezema , as cited in Lozano , Deriving ideological support from liberal feminism, this view argues that the oppression of women in sex work is not unique to the sex industry; rather, oppression is also present in other occupations Overall , , as cited in Scott , Sex work advocates also argue that the commodification of emotion is not necessarily destructive; sex workers separate their core selves from the labour that they perform Kempadoo , as cited in Kotiswaran , This argument has been criticised by anti-sex-work feminists on the grounds that sex work involves the sale of embodied sexual services.