SWIT training in Dhaka, Bangladesh

The Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) in collaboration with the HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC) organised a 3-day training from the 4-6 September 2016 the on Sex Workers Implementation Tool (SWIT). A total of 25 sex workers from various cities across Bangladesh participated in the training. Kay Thi Win, the Regional Coordinator of APNSW started the training via Skype from Bangkok. Habib Rahman, a Bangkok-based APNSW consultant facilitated the training.

According to participants, this training was different from other trainings they had previously attended. The SWIT training programme focused on community empowerment, human rights, violence against sex workers, and community-led services, rather than only HIV prevention.

indoor photo of participants at SWIT training in Dhaka
SWIT Training in Dhaka, Sep 2016

Many participants mentioned that traditional prevention, care and support services are not working in Bangladesh, and they recognise that there is a need to change the focus on sex worker issues. Participants also mentioned that sex workers in Bangladesh are facing stigma and discrimination and many sex workers do not use health services because of experiencing stigma and discrimination from service providers. All the participants highlighted that violence against sex workers is common and needs to be addressed. During the training, many sex workers mentioned they face violence every day. The morning starts with violence, and the day ends with violence, but programmes do not talk about these issues in Bangladesh.

One sex worker stated that they have no rights and the sex worker community faces stigma and discrimination when going to the health clinic for services. As a result, many sex workers do not seek treatment.

One sex worker from Tangail brothel spoke about the evictions that happened in 2014. For more information about the Tangail brothel evictions, read NSWP’s news article here. The brothel evictions are ongoing in Bangladesh. For example, recently Fultola brothel was raided. Sex workers stated, “we cannot do many things because we don’t have basic human rights.” One sex worker from Rajshahi mentioned that many sex workers are in jail without access to justice and every day a minimum of 10 sex workers are sent to jail.

Many participants also mentioned that sex workers-led organisations in Bangladesh have no funding, and as a result, most of the sex worker-led organisations are inactive. All the money for sex workers is given to organisations that do not respect sex workers. The involvement of sex workers within these organizations is limited, and sex workers are only hired as outreach workers. Sex workers say it is essential to involve sex workers in the development of sex work programmes.

On the final day of the training all the participants prepared a country action plan to implement the SWIT in Bangladesh. All participants agreed to respond to violence and wanted HARC to launch a hotline to offer legal services to sex workers. A comprehensive project responsive to violence against sex workers will also be launched by HARC. A lawyer will be on standby to provide sex workers with legal support.  Also all the organisations involved agreed to promote and protect the human rights of sex workers.

The APNSW Regional Coordinator ended the training via Skype. Local newspapers also positively reported the needs of sex workers as a result of this training.