Globalization, sex industry and sex workers rights: lived experiences of female sex workers and their male intimate partners in mumbai, india

Karandikar, Sharvari (1); Kaloga, Marissa (2); Kagotho, Njeri (1); Maleku, Arati (1) (2018). 'Globalization, Sex industry and Sex Workers Rights: Lived Experiences of Female Sex Workers and Their Male Intimate Partners in Mumbai, India' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.



Rapid economic expansion over the past few decades in India has been lauded as transformational in the lives of millions of Indians, including claims of increased power for women and rising standards of living for the middle class. However, the structural adjustment programs that came with the economic liberalization of the 1990’s had negative consequences on the most vulnerable populations of the country. Many rural communities were devastated by agricultural privatization policies, which led to large migrations of people looking for work in cities such as Mumbai. Mumbai, one of the biggest cities in India with a population of over 20 million, is an attractive location for migrants from all over India who seek labor in the city and attempt to earn a livelihood.

Sex workers are often viewed as an unfortunate consequence of globally oriented development agendas. They are often displaced populations, living in situations of acute poverty with few human rights. Global social and economic policies therefore have a major impact on the sex industry. Kamathipura, the red-light area in Mumbai is home to more than 5000 sex workers. Sex Work is illegal in India, and sex workers in Kamathipura are considered to be on the fringe of society: vulnerable to violence and police brutality, and ineligible for social welfare benefits such as food assistance. Over the decades, Kamathipura has undergone several changes in its physical and social landscape. The most recent attempts have been at building high-rise buildings, shopping malls and restaurants around the area. These changes which have impacted sex workers directly. Consequently, there has been a rapid increase in police raids and displacement from a place they called home for most of their lives.


This research is a case study of sex workers living on the streets of Kamathipura. A case study uses in-depth analysis to examine a bounded system within its real life context.  The purpose of the research was to understand the lives and daily challenges of 15 female sex workers and 10 male intimate partners in Kamathipura in the context of globalization and the changing trends in Kamathipura. Data was collected through in-depth interviews by the first author of this paper. Each interview lasted for about 1.5 hours to 2 hours and was conducted in a local language namely, Hindi. The interviews were later transcribed and translated into English. Thematic analysis was undertaken to identify themes and coding categories. For the purpose of this presentation, we will use a gendered lens to draw comparisons between female and male participants and their social, economic, political, and legal vulnerabilities. We also highlight the realities of our participants in the rapidly changing physical and social landscape of Kamathipura.


The results of this analysis highlight the impacts of globalization, namely forced migration, lack of education, acute poverty, and unemployment. In the broader societal context, both male intimate partners and female sex workers identified as victims of globalization in their own right. However, further analysis of their interpersonal relations from a gendered lens indicated female sex workers felt additional victimization, especially in regards to exposure to violence.

The interviews illustrate how the impacts of globalization on a structural level shape the sets of opportunities and constraints available to individuals living on the margins of mainstream society. Further, the analysis revealed how the participants viewed themselves and their situation, including a high degree of awareness of the structural barriers they face on a daily bases. They identified barriers to success in their lives that have been identified in previous literature as being downstream effects of globalization and its supporting policies.


With the rapid changes occurring in the Indian economy, as well as structural changes in and around the city of Mumbai where the Kamathipura  is located, this research provides insight into marginalization of female sex workers and infringement of their rights as sex workers. The research also provides information for social welfare, policy, and research in the area of globalization and sex work. 

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