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Gordon College

Publication Date

Spring 2016

Program Name

India: Sustainable Development and Social Change


Sex work is an ancient profession that throughout history has been both socially stigmatized and socially sanctioned. Presently, there is conflicting discourse within the feminist movement about whether to support or combat the sex work industry. This study analyzes the current perceptions of sex work in Kolkata, India which is home to South Asia’s largest red-light district Sonagachi. It aims to answer the questions: Is sex work a respectable profession or forced labor? Are women sex workers as a result of choice or force? And are the answers to these questions determined by the sex workers themselves or by NGO ideology? The opposing feminist view points on this topic are called into question. The two main contrasting views are lived out through those working to rescue women from prostitution verses those working for the rights of sex workers. Through a critical analysis derived from the perspectives of NGO representatives and sex workers, this study explores the duality of these approaches. A series of interviews and a focus group has been conducted with the sex workers and feminist experts on the subject through the facilitation of the Kolkata based NGO Durbar that partners with sex workers. This study works to present a thoughtful examination of the effects feminist views of empowerment and agency have on women in the sex work industry and the NGOs working with them. By listening to the experiences and opinions of sex workers with a focus on answering the above questions, this study affirms the need for dialogue and informed advocacy for the true needs of sex workers in India.


Asian Studies | Community-Based Research | Family, Life Course, and Society | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Gender and Sexuality | International and Area Studies | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Sociology of Culture | Women's Studies | Work, Economy and Organizations


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