Challenging the stigma of sex work in India: material context and symbolic change

Authors

  • Flora Cornish

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Nursing, Midwifery & Community Health, Glasgow Caledonian University, Cowcaddens Road, Glasgow G4 0BA, UK
    • School of Nursing, Midwifery & Community Health, Glasgow Caledonian University, Cowcaddens Road, Glasgow G4 0BA, UK.
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Abstract

Stigmatization and discrimination against social groups raise obstacles to the participation of their members in community interventions. Internalized stigma and a lack of empowering experiences promote fatalistic expectations that little can be achieved. This paper discusses how the Sonagachi Project in Kolkata, India, challenges stigma as part of its community development and health promotion efforts with sex workers, drawing on interviews with 19 sex workers involved in the Project and one group discussion among the Project's leaders. The internalized stigma of prostitution is challenged (1) by asserting that sex workers have rights which should be respected, (2) by claiming equivalence to other oppressed but politically successful groups and (3) by providing evidence of sex workers' positive achievements. These arguments are made plausible to sex workers by a material context that provides evidence and experience of the possibility of change. I conclude that interventions designed to problematize stigma and discrimination should back up the conceptual alternatives that they present by producing concrete changes to a community's living conditions. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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