Those concerned about justice for sex workers focus on the law. If you’re interested in culture, however, you find that the sex industry looks and acts quite similar no matter which prostitution law is in place: the scene – the milieux – tend to be similar everywhere, with stylistic local differences. The health problems, the economics, the labour issues also are remarkably alike across cultures and borders, so that what workers experience in Ghana resembles what they experience in Thailand or France, and so on. Not so long ago I published a vague but suggestive story about the diversification of the sex industry in Pakistan, Now here’s another story from there about how that old favourite ‘street prostitution’ has changed with the times, so that mobile phones play a big role. The reporter’s tone is pleasantly neutral, and note that he ends with my point about the law: ‘In a country where commercial sex is officially prohibited, it is usually available just a few minutes’ drive away.’ Note: 100 pkr = 0.89 euro
Amar Guriro, 16 April 2010, Daily Times
Karachi, Pakistan: In the simmering heat of the afternoon, two ladies, one in her early 20s wearing shalwar kameez and other in a burqa, stood on the pavement under the shadow of a tree. Several cars and motorcycles queued up beside them. A young man on a motorcycle talked to the ladies, the one in shalwar kameez shook her head in refusal and the man left.
Then a man in a car came by, rolled down the window, and spoke to the women. However, he left as well. Then another motorcyclist spoke to them for a while and the girl in the shalwar kameez went with him on his bike. The lady in the burqa stayed back. The queue was over and all of them went their way. This was a typical scene out of the many that take place daily outside the nation’s founder Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s mausoleum, where dozens of street prostitutes stand and wait for customers. Many of them have their own places where they can take their customers to provide their services.
Gone are the days when the famous Napier Road in the downtown area of the city was supposed to be the centre of commercial sex. One can find street prostitutes waiting for customers at different spots while driving around the Mazar-e-Quaid, near the Do Talwar roundabout, on Shahrah-e-Faisal, MA Jinnah Road, Tipu Sultan Road, Main Korangi Road, etc. Their presence also becomes a nuisance for the other ladies taking a walk or waiting for buses, since the people ‘on a hunt’ often mistake them for sex workers and bug them. In recent years, Karachi has become a major market for prostitutes and attracts sex workers from other provinces since they can fetch higher rates for their services in the city.
One can find sex workers of different ages and ethnicity in Karachi. From a 15-year-old girl to a woman as old as 50, they could be of any ethnicity or even foreigners such as Russians and Burmese. The rates start from around Rs 400 and could go up 10 times this amount depending on the time, service, age and features of the sex worker. According to a sex worker, more than 150 street prostitutes roam inside the premises of Mazar-e-Quaid during the day. They usually sit on a bench in the lawn of the mausoleum so their customers can single them out easily.
Usually, they have regular customers, who know which spot they prefer and the sex worker then takes her customer to her home. “It is a risk to go with just anyone, so usually we rent a home and when we find a customer, we take him to our place. We charge extra amount for this service,” a sex worker told this scribe. She said the employees of the mausoleum know about their presence. “Sometimes we find two or three customers in a day, while on some days there are none.”
Convincing a street prostitute to let this scribe visit her house and speak about her business was not an easy job. However, when one finally agreed to it with the help of a politician who is her customer, this scribe drove towards the place thinking that the place would be something out of the movies, situated in a narrow lane, have a long row of rooms and sex workers turning up in odd make-ups, etc. But surprisingly, it was nothing like that and in fact, it was situated in a double-storied building in the Lighthouse area, where a young lady, who only told this scribe her nickname ‘Bindia’, lives with two of her colleagues. Bindia said cell phones had made their business much easier and the role of the ‘middlemen’ was almost finished now. She said that usually they manage to evade police, but if caught, they are asked for bhatta, which is provided in the form of a free-of-cost service. “most of the girls in this business are unaware about sexual diseases,” she said.
In a country where commercial sex is officially prohibited, it is usually available just a few minutes’ drive away.
– Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist