Sex Workers’ Savings Help Make a Better Life

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Prostitution is called the world’s oldest profession, and can be found in one form or another in every country and society. And where poverty is rife and women have few economic choices, it flourishes. But it also flourishes in societies and economies undergoing rapid change, and where people move around more and more, as in the South’s fast-growing cities.

The money to be made trafficking people for the sex trade is huge. Sex trafficking is organized crime’s fastest growing business, with up to two million people worldwide – mostly women and children – trafficked into the sex trade every year (UN). Approximately 80 percent of today’s trafficked people around the world are female, and up to 50 percent are under the age of 18 (The New Global Slave Trade by Ethan B. Kapstein).

It is difficult to gauge the total number of prostitutes in the South: often, many women drift in and out of the profession for economic reasons. In Cambodia for example, Oxfam (http://www.oxfam.org.uk/) has put the number as high as 300,000 to 500,000, with one third of the sex workers below the age of 18. In India, there are more than 7 million prostitutes (UNICEF). It’s thought more than a third are forced into the sex trade, and most are under the age of 18. Many are between 12 and 15 years old.

In India, Mumbai’s Kamathipura (http://www.netphotograph.com/viewset.php?id=23) area is called Asia’s biggest home to brothels: over 150,000 prostitutes work there. The women can make as little as 10 rupees (US 23 cents) per customer, and many have been sold by sex traffickers. But prostitutes in Kamathipura are being helped to get out of the poverty trap that leads them into sex work. Population Services International (www.psi.org) has set up bank accounts for the women working as prostitutes in the area so they can start saving to be able to buy their way to a better life. By saving as little as 10 rupees with each deposit, the women are able to set aside money and keep it safe from theft and from the pimps and madams who run the brothels.

“It has helped a lot,” Reena, who moved to the area from Calcutta, told the Independent newspaper. “Now no one can steal the money.”

“I was tricked here. I was in love with a man and came here with him. But when I got here he sold me,” said Simla, 42, from Nepal. Simla has two children outside the red light district and the money she saved was for school fees. Simla wants her children to avoid her fate: “I was fooled into this. I will not allow my children to do it,” she said.

The bank accounts work like this: one of the women walks around the area with an envelope and a notebook. She gathers money from the sex workers, which is then deposited into a single bank account under the Sangini co-operative. When one of the women wants to get some money, it is returned by the cooperative. To date, over 2,500 women have deposited more than US $157,477.

How does this money-saving help the women? Apart from slowly building up some wealth, it also gives them power; the power to say “no” to a customer who refuses to use a condom or who is abusive. It takes away a bit of the daily desperation that forces so many women to do things they don’t want to just to survive another day.

And it is important their savings grow if they are to have a better future: competition is getting fiercer as the crisis in India’s rural areas drives more women to the cities. And more turn to prostitution to survive. This has its own market dynamics: younger women become the desired commodity and older prostitutes see their incomes go down – a young woman can charge 100 rupees (US $2.31) for sex, while older women only get 30 rupees (US 69 cents).

Resources

  • Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific: international network of feminist groups, organizations and individuals fighting the sexual exploitation of women globally. Website: http://www.catw-ap.org/
  • UN.GIFT: Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking: this website is packed with resources, including an anti-trafficking toolkit. Website: http://www.ungift.org/
  • Anti-Trafficking Alliance: A charity founded in 2005 to prevent, tackle and eliminate forced abduction and trafficking into sexual slavery and to empower survivors. Website: http://www.atalliance.org.uk/
  • Trading Women: a documentary about sex trafficking of women in the Thai sex trade narrated by Angelina Jolie. Website: http://www.un.org/Pubs/chronicle/2003/issue2/0203p37.html

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.