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Social and Financial Status of female sex-workers in Valley

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The job status in society has been classified into two categories: prestigious and non-prestigious. People all across the world are chasing to maintain social status. Meanwhile, there is a so-called non-prestigious profession that has existed since ancient times but is still not accepted by society, and which is underground and illegal in Nepal and many other nations around the world. However, this activity contributes to earning a living and indirectly contributes to the country’s GDP.

I’m talking about the life of a female sex worker, which is fast gaining popularity around the world. It’s difficult to quantify the number of sex workers all over the world, however, according to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, 2008, estimated 3 million female sex workers across India consisting of those who are providing services voluntarily, those who have been forced or coerced into sex work and children.

We can estimate how many women worked in this field based on this data. It is simple to criticize someone’s character or status, but it is far difficult to comprehend their circumstances and understand what brought them to this field, as well as the hardships and obstacles they face. We can estimate from this data how many females were involved in this field.

We usually hear that women get into this sector because they don’t want to work hard and would rather take the easy way out and spend their money on resting, enjoying, and beautifying themselves. Being a student of Gender Studies, information from these non-authentic sources evoked many questions to my mind, such as why would they wait for customers on the road and sky-bridge if they used that income for relaxation, and how much would they earn from that.

As a result, I chose to conduct a master’s thesis on the topic “Social and Financial Status of Female Sex-Workers in Kathmandu Valley.”

According to the study done among 60 women, the majority (32%) of sex workers were aged between 20-30 years, and there were 5 women aged more than 50. 33% were illiterate, and the majority of them (35%) were educated between primary and secondary. A majority (57%) of them were Hindus, followed by Christian (23%) and Buddhism (20%). Most sex workers were Chettri (38%), followed by Dalit (18%), Brahmin (17%), Tamang (10%), Limbu (8%) and others (9%).

The majority of sex workers were married whose husbands were gone abroad or occasionally come home due to their job as well involved in an extramarital relationship (22%) followed by widows (20%), separated (17%), unmarried (17%), divorced (13%) and missing husband (11%). 59 out of 60 women had a permanent residence outside of the Kathmandu Valley and had migrated to the valley for improved living and earning opportunities but have unfortunately ended up working as sex workers.

Majority of the women charged between 500-1000 Rs. ( 25%), followed by 2000-5000 Rs. ( 25%) and below 500 Rs.( 18%), between 1000-1500 Rs (10%), 5000-10000 Rs. (10%), 1500-2000 Rs. (9%) and more than 10000 Rs. (3%). The women reported that the high charge above 10,000 Rs. was for high-value customers like politicians and businessmen. According to the data, the ratio of average expenditure to income is around 79 % which despite that none of the respondents are spending in average with the earnings rather than some portion of their earnings is saved for future emergencies.

One-third of these women work full-time as sex workers, and 67 % work part-time with their other work as labor, domestic helpers, housewives, street vendors, sewing cloth, waiters, students, etc. 87% said they spent their earnings on various household expenses such as essential necessities, children’s education, expenditure on sick family members, and taking care of family needs, while 13% said they spent largely on luxurious items. This indicates that the majority of the females were active in this profession to fulfill basic needs, just like other jobs, rather than to relax and enjoy themselves. Only 13% of them spent the majority of their money on lavish items, and based on this figure, it would be irrational to conclude that females pursue this career in order to live a luxurious life that involves partying with friends and buying expensive items.

The patriarchal mindset, that has classified women as second-class citizens, has categorized this occupation as an illegitimate and shameful act. Despite the fact women engage as a sex workers for earning to take care of their family and children, no one is sensible to bring it up and try to improve their condition; instead, they prefer to remain silent about their compulsion, perpetuating the problem in society and keeping women in the same situation forever. Because of the patriarchal structure that has existed since ancient times, women’s sexuality has always been used to judge their social status. The reason behind this is men do not want to be exposed for their sexual deeds but to rescue themselves, and they have never been shown as culprits when exposed in a sexual relationship with sex workers.

In Nepal, the male literacy rate is currently 75.1 %, whereas the female literacy rate is only 57.4 % (Volume 01, National report, NPHC 2011). We still live in a society where men are favored, where female feticide is still practiced, and where individuals prefer to provide basic education, opportunities, facilities, fixed property, assets, social values, and ownership to sons rather than daughters. As a result, we can see how women are falling behind in so many areas. The constitution has also demonstrated its unequal gender-based entitlements.

When a male member dies or goes for international labor migration, or takes divorce unofficially, the full responsibilities get transferred to his spouses who have mostly lower education, age, experience, social power relation, etc and in so many things. These spouses are not ready to shoulder the burden with the same frequencies as their husbands did. In their vulnerable single status, they struggle, to obtain a so-called good job, and when they do not get any job, some of them end up with sex work. It is also a nation’s inability to provide employment.