Targeting health or targeting social change? : the role of Indian sex worker collectives in challenging gender relations


This chapter focuses on a movement of sex workers' collectives in India which actively addresses gender relations in their efforts to achieve empowerment of sex workers and HIV prevention. Female sex workers comprise one of three designated 'high risk groups' targeted by government and non-government sponsored interventions. Historically, interventions with sex workers have relied upon peer education to promote safer sex and attendance at STI/ HIV clinics, often conceptualising their work as being at the individual level, with one-to-one interactions with sex workers intended to encourage sufficient numbers to change their behaviour to alter the course of the epidemic. Recently, realisation of the very limited scope for individual projects to have a significant effect on India's epidemic as a whole have led donors to emphasise 'scaling up' interventions to achieve greater coverage. One of the means of achieving this, for policymakers, is by mobilising communities considered 'high risk' (including sex workers) to form collectives or 'Community-Based Organisations' to deliver HIV prevention. The vulnerability of women in the sex trade to HIV is deeply shaped by structural gender relations which limit women's access to financially sustaining work, and their control over their sexuality and their living and working conditions. Sex workers' collectives actively address some of these gender issues, and themselves embody transformative social processes of empowerment of poor women as leaders and agents of social change. The chapter examines how sex workers' collectives have challenged gender relations as part of their HIV-relatedwork, in the interest of assessing the prospects for the current 'scaling up' of community mobilisation projects to address gender inequalities at a structural level.


Chapter 6, in Boesten, J.; PokuGender, N. K. (2009) HIV/AIDS: Critical Perspectives from the Developing World, Ashgate Publishing Ltd., ISBN: 978-0-7546-7269-2, pp. 121-142

Published 1 January 2009