Sex workers learn business skills in new community-based ILO project
30 May 2012
When San, a sex worker in Bangkok, was given the opportunity to participate in a pilot business skills training scheme, she jumped at the chance. She wanted to put her idea of setting up a bakery into practice.
“I’ve always enjoyed baking and so I was interested in starting a part-time baking business to add to my income from sex work,” she said.
Sitting in the red-light district office of Empower Foundation, a sex worker advocacy group, San chats with Au and Wii, fellow graduates of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Community-based Enterprise Development (C-BED) training. Au is working on a business plan in partnership with another C-BED graduate to start a food delivery service supplying spicy Thai salad to apartment buildings around Bangkok. And Wii intends to open a small store specialising in traditional clothing.
C-BED is a new tool which builds the capacity of current or aspiring entrepreneurs through self-facilitated business skills modules which rely on activity-based, participant-run, social learning principles.
Sex workers face a range of challenges in their daily lives such as long working hours, employment-related violence and a lack of access to health care and social security benefits. They also have an increased vulnerability to HIV: nearly 3% of brothel-based sex workers were living with HIV in 2009 and one 2007 study showed their HIV prevalence as high as 20% in Bangkok and Chiang Rai.
Empower Foundation and other similar groups in Thailand have been calling on the government and development agencies to address the economic vulnerability of sex workers and to create access to additional forms of income generation. The C-BED training addresses this gap through a low cost, innovative methodology emphasising the value of recognising and sharing community knowledge.
Economic empowerment can support sex worker efforts to negotiate for better, safer working conditions free of violence and harassment with improved access to health services, including HIV prevention, care and treatment.
Richard Howard, ILO Senior Specialist for HIV/AIDS in Asia Pacific
“C-BED empowers vulnerable groups, including sex workers and HIV-positive people, to improve their means of income generation,” says Richard Howard, ILO Senior Specialist for HIV/AIDS in Asia Pacific. “Economic empowerment can support sex worker efforts to negotiate for better, safer working conditions free of violence and harassment with improved access to health services, including HIV prevention, treatment and care.”
The recent initial C-BED training took place over three days in Empower’s office, facilitated by a team of staff and volunteers involved with the sex worker community. The 26 female sex worker participants, aged 18-72, had varying levels of literacy so business theory was explained and demonstrated through a series of activities including drama, drawing and discussions. Key entrepreneurial topics included marketing, bookkeeping, productivity, personnel management, costing and quality control, with participants creating action plans.
“I liked that everyone had a chance to introduce their business idea without fear - it was fun and not stressful so everyone was able to learn more,” said one participant. She added, “I now think I can have my own business.”
C-BED is designed for untrained, but literate, participants from the community to facilitate group sessions, so they can share their increased knowledge and expertise. As the facilitator does not require training or expensive materials, C-BED can be implemented at minimal cost in vulnerable or hard-to-reach communities which would traditionally be inaccessible due to social or geographical isolation.
UNAIDS Country Coordinator, Michael Hahn, welcomes the project. “This is a really good example of an activity designed and implemented with the full participation of sex workers. The business skills they gain will help widen their choices about how they best want to shape their lives and their futures.”
ILO plans to roll out C-BED in partnership with sex worker organisations in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka over the next two years, aiming to reach more than 2 000 sex workers by the end of 2013.
Since completing the training, San has started a bakery in Samut Sakhorn and hopes one day she can employ staff to help her expand. “C-BED gave me the confidence to start out on my own,” she says.