HIV Prevention Among Female Sex Workers (Honors Thesis in Brasil)

15 Sep


In response to the number of requests I’ve gotten from current Duke students/study abroad students who are interested in reading about my work in Brazil with female sex workers, I’ve dedicated this post to focusing on the details of my research project.  If you are interested in my motivations for working with HIV prevention and sex workers, you can read more about my experiences in the field in one of my previous postings. And for those who are interested in the socio-cultural backdrop of the project, you can read here about why I selected Salvador (Bahia), Brazil as my site for undergraduate research and why the HIV/AIDS prevention model is so unique in Brazil.

Talking to one of the coordinators about disease prevention among Female Sex Workers

Talking to one of the coordinators about disease prevention among Female Sex Workers

I want to address the issue of culturally-competent community engagement briefly. For anyone who is working with marginalized groups, it is ALWAYS important to bear in mind that you should approach your research in the most non-intrusive way possible. You never want to come off as exploiting the persons with whom you are working for the benefit of your research and publications. Because Female Sex Workers (FSWs) are a marginalized and stigmatized group, many of the women with whom I worked were initially unwilling to participate in my project.  I was American, “over-privileged”, and it didn’t help that I had a rudimentary and “textbook” knowledge of Portuguese at the time of my first visit to the organization where I worked, O Projeto Força Feminina–The Female Force (Empowerment) Project (September 2011).

To overcome any cultural/linguistic barriers and earn the trust of the women at O Projeto Força Feminina, I dedicated the first few weeks of my project to establishing a relationship with the women. I taught basic English classes and engaged the women in belly dance and makeup classes (eyebrow threading), which they loved! It was truly a beautiful exchange of cross-cultural interests: I shared aspects of my Middle-Eastern culture. In exchange, the FSWs taught me some forms of Brazilian dance and helped me with my Portuguese. Ultimately, we established a firm sense of camaraderie that allowed them to trust me and have me interview them about their work and sexual behaviors. I also demonstrated my commitment to working with the group by returning to my project site again last summer (May-August 2012). While I will not be able to return to Salvador until next summer, I still maintain contact with many of the women at the organization.

Below is my finalized research abstract with some pictures from my time at O Projeto Força Feminina. Please email me at rachel.safeek@gmail.com with any questions.

“Who Cares about Us–We are Just Women of the Street”–Combating HIV Transmission and Gender Disempowerment among Female Sex Workers in Salvador, Brazil 
Authors: Rachel Safeek, Sherman James, Ph.D
Duke University 
ABSTRACT

BACKGROUND: While Brazil is lauded for its exemplary HIV prevention model, the majority of HIV prevention programs promote safe sex through education, ignoring the realities of gender disempowerement and inequality, which increase the susceptibility of female sex workers (FSWs) to instances of violence and disease. This paper analyzes factors associated with gender disempowerment and lack of condom use among FSWs in Salvador (Bahia), Brazil who engage in heterosexual interactions with male clients. An understanding of the sources of gender disempowerment is key to developing culturally-appropriate and effective policy interventions.

METHODS: Over a seven-month period, formal interviews were conducted with sixteen female sex workers and focus group discussions were conducted with 35 female sex workers at Projeto Força Feminina. The latter is an organization located in Pelourinho, the Historic District of Salvador, that works with FSWs to promote safe sexual practices and combat gender-based violence. Three life histories were also conducted with three of the sex workers. Additionally, Dr. Edivania Landim, the former head of the HIV/AIDS program of Bahia, was also interviewed.

RESULTS: Interviews and focus groups revealed that economic vulnerability (financial instability), drug use, and instances of gender-based violence (structural violence) and rape/sexual assault from police and clients disempower FSWs, increasing their susceptibility to the transmission of disease. In each case of disempowerment, the factors contributing to women’s decision to engage in intercourse without condoms or other types of risky or unsafe sex were influenced by their inability to defend themselves as women and as FSWs, a social group of women isolated on the bottom rung of Brazil’s social and economic ladder. The respondents were clear that their gender was a definite factor in the many difficulties they faced.

DISCUSSION: Increased emphasis should be placed upon female-specific forms of protection, e.g. female condoms, microbicides. Unionization among sex workers is necessary to gain political acknowledgement of sex worker rights through legalization of the profession.

KEY TERMS: HIV/AIDS, Female Sex Workers (Profissionais Do Sexo), Race, Economic Vulnerability, Disempowerment, Gender-Based Violence, Structural Violence, Health Disparities, Human Rights, Salvador, Brazil

–Rachel Safeek

"Empower women in the situation of prostition"

“Work in solidarity with women in the situation of prostition”

Colorful sitting room

Working on art projects

Working on art projects

Mission Statment

Mission Statment

In focus group discussion

In focus group discussion

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Responses to “HIV Prevention Among Female Sex Workers (Honors Thesis in Brasil)”

  1. andiradi September 15, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    Reblogged this on AntiRadiation.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Voluntary Female Sex Work vs. Sex Trafficking of Women | blue devil banter - October 13, 2013

    […] I’ve been meaning to address for a long time. Oftentimes, when I mention that I work with HIV prevention among Female Sex Workers (FSWs), many incorrectly assume that the women with whom I work are all victims of female sex trafficking. […]

  2. Human Rights Activism: End of the Year Reflection | blue devil banter - December 25, 2013

    […] form: The Ruling of Canada’s Supreme Court to Strike Down Anti-Prostitution Laws. Having worked with female sex worker populations in the past, the issue of decriminalization and regulation of sex work is one that I am […]

  3. Voluntary Female Sex Work vs. Sex Trafficking of Women | - January 14, 2014

    […] that I’ve been meaning to address for a long time. Oftentimes, when I mention that I work with HIV prevention among Female Sex Workers (FSWs), many incorrectly assume that the women with whom I work are all victims of female sex trafficking. […]

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