Friday, May 16, 2008

TEXT: Poverty And The Social Context Of Sex Workers In Addis Ababa

Source:Forum For Social Studies (FSS)
Author: Bethlehem Tekola

*The following is the Abstract provided by FSS:

This book explores the social context of sex work in the city of Addis Ababa. It focuses on the social ties between sex workers and a variety of other categories of people, from their family members to their relatives, from their roommates to their neighbors, from their coworkers to their clients. It explores which of these social ties are affirmed and reinforced, which come under strain and which are cultivated and built by the women as a result of their engagement in sex work. It argues that these things depend on the women’s background, on the conditions under which they turn to sex work, on the specific types and conditions of sex work that they do and on the places and conditions of their residence. The main thesis of the work is that sex workers share the same social milieu and value system with non-sex workers and that, despite severe constraints put on them by poverty and very difficult working conditions, they struggle on a daily basis to have social life and social relevance. The work critiques the very common castigation of sex workers as social misfits who pose dangers to society and proposes a humane approach towards them and their dependents, an approach that should begin by making a clear distinction between the institution of commercial sex and the women who practice it.

The work employs both qualitative and quantitative methodology. It combines detailed one-to-one interviewing with focus group discussions and personal observation to bring out the perspectives of the women themselves. The quantitative data is composed of responses to a structured questionnaire by 100 sex workers.

The book begins with a critical review of existing literature on commercial sex work. The review establishes that in the West, in Africa, as well as in Ethiopia, sex workers have often been conflated with sex work itself; that they have been described either as sick and immoral people or as victims of male domination and abuse; and that they are described as such in categorical terms, without any attempt at internally differentiating among them.

The book then suggests a scheme for a classification of the sex workers of Addis Ababa. The scheme is based on those variables that determine the terms and conditions of social interaction between the women and wider society. They include the women’s backgrounds, the circumstances of their entry into sex work, the terms and conditions of work, the terms and conditions of residence and the degree and forms of dependent relationships in which they are involved. The analysis of sex work in Addis Ababa on the basis of these variables suggests significant shifts in the social background of the women who engage in it as well as in the organization of the work. The fourth chapter of the book employs this scheme and works out a classification of the sex worker population in the city. Seven distinct types of sex work are identified. The organization of work and residence in each of the types is discussed, followed by descriptions of the general profile of the women who operate in each type. Finally, the implication of this classification for the social behavior of the women is discussed.

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