Demanding Rights: Practices in Community Organizations of Women in Sex Work

Friday, 20 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Mangala SUBRAMANIAM, Purdue University, USA
Zachary D. PALMER, Purdue University, USA
Several attempts have been made to define, identify, and categorize structural factors, such as organizational and community aspects, in HIV epidemics. Community organizations as interventions can address structural factors and facilitate HIV prevention (‘community’ refers to community of women in sex work). Community organizing, not merely mobilizing, in the context of an HIV/AIDS program, aims for collective action to influence safe sex behavior and address structural barriers to prevention services. This involves initiating and building localized groups of women in sex work (henceforth sex workers) and building their capacity to assume ownership of the community organization. Distinguishing between mobilizing and organizing, we argue that participating in an organized group serves as a means for both making demands and seeking rights. Such participation can facilitate a change in individual behavior, build capabilities, and develop critical consciousness for empowering sex workers while simultaneously creating an enabling environment for accessing prevention services. At the same time, the complex layers of power within the community organization (CO) may limit the processes of empowerment. In this paper, we analyze the ways in which member participants of community organizations articulate their rights and whether and how they rely on the CO. Using qualitative data from seven COs and 20 interviews which often included the President, one or two Board members, Secretary or key members, and employees (as a group), we show how ‘vocabularies of structure and leadership’ are used for articulating rights and simultaneously for asserting informal power. Despite developing authority structure and rules through a deliberative process, internal practices have implications for defining and maintaining solidarity.