Table 1

FSW characteristics and community collectivisation strategy by typology of sex work under the Aastha project in Mumbai and Thane, India

TypologyCharacteristics of FSWsCommunity collectivisation strategyChallengesActivities undertaken by Aastha
Brothel-based FSWsTotal coverage =3035 FSWs; geographic coverage =7 km2 (across 3 major and other minor sites); mainly from the states of Karnataka and West Bengal as well as Nepal and Bangladesh. Controlled by brothel managers and pimps.Initial collectivisation focused on increasing legal literacy so as to reduce police abuse and wrongful arrest. Another key concern was reduction of violence by clients, either due to insistence on sex without condoms or free sex or money (regular partners only).FSWs are largely controlled by brothel managers and pimps. These stakeholders also keep FSWs separated so as to have greater control over them. As a result, it is difficult to have regular access to FSWs. FSWs have a high transaction frequency and work during odd hours, leaving limited time to access and collectivise them.Sensitisation meetings with brothel keepers and pimps are conducted on the benefits of improved health. Legal literacy sessions and exposure visits to service providers and the local police station are conducted to strengthen community-level linkages and reduce discrimination.
Bar-based FSWsTotal coverage =7946; geographic coverage of 70 km2; majorly from the states of West Bengal and Rajasthan and Bangladesh; controlled by bar managers.FSWs are forced by bar managers to drink alcohol with their clients in order to increase the bills. As a result, most FSWs become intoxicated regularly, increasing their vulnerability to unprotected sex. The collectivisation strategy used here was to bring the FSWs together to sensitise the bar managers to their increased risk. Different strategies were created in collaboration with the manager and waiters to reduce the alcohol intake of the FSWs, for example, drinks without alcohol or with minimal alcohol served to the FSWs.Bar managers exercise strict control over access to the FSWs; bar girls work in shifts and rarely meet each other, therefore finding a convenient time for collectivisation is challenging.Networking meetings are regularly conducted between self-help group leaders, Bar Association members, bar managers and bar owners to sensitise them to FSWs' issues and needs.
Home-based FSWsTotal coverage =4564 FSWs; geographic coverage =70 km2; mainly from the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, controlled by pimps.FSWs' transactions are fixed on the phone and therefore sometimes the FSWs do not know their new clients. When the FSW arrives at the designated location, multiple people are present who take advantage of her situation and on occasion do not pay. The collectivisation strategy used initially was to build support groups to prevent or resist violence of this nature.FSWs work through the pimp network, largely through the use of mobile phones. As they are a hidden population, they try to protect their identity and so rarely are willing to identify themselves as FSWs or willing to associate with other FSWs for fear of being exposed.The peer educator plays a crucial role as she provides project services and conducts group activities and events; thereby starting the process of unity without revealing their profession. This process takes a long time. The crisis response system and especially having a group that instantly provides support in times with violence, with regard to family members as well as clients has been the collectivisation strategy. Regular AG meetings are held re-enforcing the need to use the crisis support system.
Street-based FSWsTotal coverage =5061 FSWs; geographic coverage = 70 km2; mainly from the state of Maharashtra, controlled by pimps and local goons.FSWs are at the mercy of the local goons who regularly take money for protection. These are among the lowest earning FSWs and regular payments to the goons leave them with very little for themselves. Also additionally, the FSWs are dependent on local lodges and hotels to take their clients for sex. Managers change their tariff, sometimes doubling it, leading to much reduced earnings for the FSWs. The strategy used was to build support groups to regularly sensitise lodge owners to reduce exploitation and prevent violence by goons.FSWs consider each other to be rivals; they rarely communicate, leave alone come together to support one another.Regular monthly meetings of those in close geographical proximity are held focusing on sensitisation programmes with local goons (who take regular protection money) as well as legal literacy.
  • FSW, female sex worker.