Prostitution in Bangladesh has been legal since 2000, although discouraged. Child prostitution is widespread. Bangladesh is predominantly Islamic, but despite strict restrictions, severe poverty has forced many women into sex work.
Female sex workers are often abused. Now, however, they have begun to organize. One group, the Prostitute Association of Faridpur, was founded in Faridpur district, near the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka. These associations were formed to establish a “union” among sex workers and protect themselves from abuse.
Meanwhile, Islamic conservatives openly condemn the women. In 2010, radicals burned a brothel to the ground, injuring two women and leaving all of the tenants destitute.
One sex worker called Hasina remembers the day. “We lost everything and had to jump into the river,” she recalls. “We even didn’t have clothes to wear and we were forced to live for a month and a half out in the streets.” No arrests have been made.
The associations, together with countless protest actions demanding equal rights, are beginning to make their presence felt. At least now, sex workers are finally allowed a proper burial in a cemetery, albeit in a separate lot.
Still, progress is slow. Thirty-seven-year-old Ahya Begum, president of the Prostitute Association of Faridpur, laments, “Society uses us to fulfill their human needs, but treats us like animals.”
Zigor Aldama is the Far East correspondent for Vocento, the largest media group in Spain, and a contributor to El País newspaper, and is based in Shanghai. Miguel Candela is an award-winning Spanish photographer based in Hong Kong. Follow him on Twitter @miguelcandela_.