Scholar speaks at sex workers’ rights event

  • July 1, 2019
Scholar speaks at sex workers’ rights event

Sharmila Parmanand speaks at trafficking event on the sex workers rights movement in the Philippines.

Gates Cambridge Scholar Sharmila Parmanand spoke about the struggles of the sex worker rights movement in the Philippines at a Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) in Bangkok last week.

Sharmila [2016], who is doing a PhD in Multidisciplinary Gender Studies, was one of three speakers at the Rights, Rescue and Resistance: Gains and challenges in the global sex worker rights movement event on 27th June.

The event shared recent research on some of the current challenges – and successes – of the sex worker rights movement across the world and was linked to the latest issue of the journal Anti-Trafficking Review.

The organisers of the event say sex work has become conflated with human trafficking in the past two decades and that this has increased the marginalisation and stigmatisation of sex workers and led to violent intrusions by state and non-state actors in their lives. However, they say the movement for the decriminalisation of sex workers is growing, as is the sex worker rights movement.  

Sharmila spoke about her research on sex workers, saying it is the first project in the Philippines where sex workers have been asked for their views specifically about how anti-trafficking interventions have affected them. She said the exclusion of sex workers from conversations about policies that affect them has allowed the conflation of sex working with trafficking, increased the stigmatisation and precarity of sex workers and fed criminalisation policies. 

Sharmila described how the Philippine Sex Workers Collective were partners in her research and helped to shape her research questions.

She added that sex workers are disproportionately affected by the war on drugs because of the link in the public imagination between sex workers and drugs, which makes them easy targets for exploitation. Some of the sex workers she interviewed said that members of the police threatened to plant drugs on them if they refused to pay bribes or resisted arrest.

Nevertheless, Sharmila said there were some positive steps being taken to give sex workers more of a voice, including increasing links with student organisations and a project to bring out a book of sex workers' stories to counter the narrative that is often forced on them.

Watch the event here.

*Picture credit: Wikimedia commons. View of the city from across Manila Bay by Vanessa David from Makati, Philippines.

Sharmila Parmanand

Sharmila Parmanand

  • Scholar
  • Philippines
  • 2016 PhD Multi-disciplin Gender Studies
  • Homerton College

Having lived in the Philippines, I am interested in how state policies and other interventions targeted at poor women interact with their lived realities. For my master’s thesis at the University of Melbourne, I conducted interviews with female microcredit borrowers to examine the traditional assumption that access to credit empowers women, especially mothers. After working in the anti-human trafficking sector for over two years, I would like to critically assess anti-trafficking discourses and policies in the Philippines. For my PhD in Gender Studies in Cambridge, I will examine the anti-trafficking ecosystem, and in particular, the policy-making process, the knowledge claims made about victims and women in vulnerable employment situations and how these claims are negotiated and produced, the relationships among international funders, the state, and civil society actors, and the effects on women of measures such as raids and rescue operations and rehabilitation. With my work, I hope to give primacy to the experiences of individuals directly affected by these interventions, explore any possible unintended consequences, and contribute to the ongoing conversation about how best to uphold their agency and human rights. I also work as a debating coach and trainer and I have done so on a voluntary basis in 28 countries.

Previous Education

University of Melbourne
Ateneo de Manila University

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