The government of Bangladesh has started sending emergency food and aid to the tens of thousands of women working in the country’s commercial sex industry as brothels across the country close.
To try to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus, the authorities have ordered the lockdown of the sex industry, closing the country’s biggest brothel in Goalanda in the Rajbari District of Dhaka until 5 April along with many others across the country.
The closures will leave many of the estimated 100,000 women working in brothels in Bangladesh with no way of supporting themselves or their children.
“We don’t earn much here, I make enough to survive day to day and most of us are in debt,” said one 26-year-old woman who has worked in a brothel in Goalanda for more than seven years. “What will happen if things don’t get better? Yesterday I needed to get some food but all my money is stuck in online banking apps and all the cashpoints are closed. I managed to borrow some from a friend, otherwise I would have been in big trouble.”
Local government official Rubayet Hayat, of the sub-district of Goalanda, said food and financial aid from the disaster management and relief ministry would start to be distributed by the end of this week.
“There are some 1,800 [prostituted women] in the brothels under our jurisdiction. We have asked for 30kgs of rice and 2,000 taka (£20) [for each of these women],” he said. “We have got the initial approval and are hoping the funds will be sanctioned by the end of this week.”
Healthcare workers at a charity hospital near to the brothel in Goalanda said more help would be needed to prevent an outbreak of Covid-19 in brothels and red light districts.
“The brothel area is very dirty and unhygienic. The rooms are inhumanly tiny. The house owners built the rooms strategically for more profit so that they can fit more rooms in a small area,” said Zulfekar Ali, the in-charge doctor at the Gonoshasthaya Kendra charity hospital. “In that same tiny room, the [prostituted women] live, work and often cook. Many share common toilets.”
He added that many women working in the brothels are often reluctant to access healthcare services because they fear being shamed and stigmatised. “We are using loud hailers to spread awareness in the brothels, telling the women who are there to wash their hands properly,” he said.
Prostitution is legal in Bangladesh and the government estimates that around 100,000 women are working in the sex industry. One study reports that less than 10% of those working in prostitution entered the sex trade voluntarily.
So many truths hidden in plain sight (I have ‘edited’ the use of the term ‘sex worker’ to more accurately reflect the reality of the situation), and waiting till the end of the article to mention that over 90% of the women in the sex industry are coerced, and not even bothering to mention that many of these ‘sex workers’ will actually be girls as young as 12! I have sent a complaint email to The Guardian, although they have never once replied, please feel free to copy or adapt the below:
I am writing to complain about the article “Bangladesh sends food aid to sex workers as industry goes into lockdown” (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/apr/06/bangladesh-sends-food-aid-to-sex-workers-as-industry-goes-into-lockdown).
There is something incredibly dishonest about writing an article on ‘sex workers’ in Bangladesh, and only admitting in the final paragraph that over 90% of the women you are writing about are coerced, while the side-bar links to an article that reveals that many of these ‘workers’ will be girls as young as 12.
Under any other circumstances, coerced sex is called rape, but, somehow, if the rapist hands over money afterwards, this rape is relabelled ‘work’. ‘Sex work’ is a partisan, obfuscating term, it turns a sexual abuse issue into a mere labour issue, and disappears the abusers.
The Guardian is still asking for financial support, I will not give you a penny while you are still calling commercially raped women and children ‘workers’.
Amazingy, The Guardian has responded, and changed the article!
Thank you for your email.
We put your points to the relevant editor who replied:
Yes, in this instance I do agree that the headline was not what it should have been and the reader makes a fair point. We have changed the headline and moved the last paragraph up to near the top of the piece.
We take great care to distinguish between the terms prostitution, sex trafficking and sex work, and the only place that the term ‘sex workers’ was used in the body of this piece was in a direct quote from the Bangladeshi politician. At all other times we used “women working in brothels” as we have no way of knowing how many of the women receiving these aid packages are coerced or working in the brothels of their own free will.
Prostitute and sex worker are very politically charged terms and we usually use the words “women working in prostitution” when not referring to sex trafficking.
I hope this goes some way to addressing your concerns.
The current article is here (same url, changed headline):
An archived version of the original article can be found here: