Sex workers in Bangladesh evicted in gentrification drive; offered 'rehabiliation'

Up to five hundred sex workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, have been left homeless and without work in the last week, as anti-sex worker activists "rampaged" through a two-hundred year old brothel district. Sex worker activists highlighted that these actions are not just those of rogue extremists, but part of a wider pattern of sex worker evictions, where the state permits the land to be bought up for development against the wishes of current residents. The Dhaka Tribune noted that most of the time, law enforcement agencies have remained silent whenever influential locals influential tried to evict the brothels.

Joya Shikder, leader of the Sex Workers Network, said, "We are not doing anything illegal. Evictions take place all the time to grab our land - which either inherently, or by purchasing, belongs to us". She continued, “Due to such eviction acts we are compelled to scatter across the country and run our businesses on the streets, parks or by hiring apartments in different areas. Is this how the government thinks it is bringing welfare and morality to the society?”

Sex workers are often subject to geographical dispersal, either through criminalisation and crackdowns, or through gentrification and urban re-development. These dispersal efforts are widely acknowledged to make sex workers less safe, cutting people off from communities and making outreach services less accessible.

Skikder concluded, “usually after evicting, the government hands over ... a sewing machine to the sex workers, in the name of' rehabilitation'. [They] don't even bother to know whether we can sew or not". Many sex workers, particularly women in the global south, are subject to problematic rehabilitiation efforts such as these, with the result that one of the slogans of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers is "don't talk to me about sewing machines; talk to me about workers' rights".

You can read more about this story in the Dhaka Tribune here.