Sex workers all over the world have been suffering in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown. Aside from the obvious dangers of trafficking, health risks, and the fact that many countries do not decriminalize prostitution, the loss of customers due to the lockdown has brought many vulnerable people close to famine.
CNN published an article on the women who work in a brothel in Daulatdia and how they're being forced to the edge of starvation by the lockdown. It's part of their #AsEquals series spotlighting the challenges women face around the world.
Prostitution has been legal in Bangladesh since 2000. The coronavirus has hit the country hard, with 36,000 listed infections and 520 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The article paints a grim picture of life for the women working in the Daulatdia brothel complex in eastern Bangladesh. It tells the story of women like Nodi, who was trafficked to the brothel at fifteen and was abandoned by her family out of shame.
"Because of this coronavirus pandemic, we are now in trouble," said Nodi. "We have no work."
The brothel hosts 1,500 women and girls live in the 12-acre site, which resembles an overcrowded slum, with densely packed alleyways lined with corrugated iron shacks, small shops and open sewers.
"Our brothel has been locked down," said Morjina Begum, executive director of Bangladeshi charity Mukti Mohila Samity ('Free Woman Union' in English). "We do not allow any outside customers. Now sex workers do not have any income."
"We are not getting any (food)," Nodi said. "If it continues, children will die from starvation. We pray that the virus will go away."
There are many children in the brothel, who grow up around their mothers and her co-workers. Since the coronavirus has spread, many of the children have been sent away. Nodi says she has no contact with her son, now 11, who is growing up with her former in-laws in Dhaka. It's better that way, she says.
"We want our children to be away from us so that they can become good human beings," Nodi said.
The women who work in the brothel are visited by around 3,000 men, mostly truck drivers or day laborers many coming in from a nearby train station and a ferry terminal on the Padma River. After negotiation, the men pay anywhere from $2 to $20. The women pay a daily rent to the brothel madam, as well as any broker fee that are owed. This means many of the women are trapped in an endless cycle of poverty.
"Earlier I could have earned ($60) per day. Some days it could be ($20) and some days I would earn nothing," Nodi said. "Now, everything is dependent on God."
The women are now struggling to feed themselves. Police officers keep people from entering their brothel and the women queue up for rice and hand sanitizers provided by the government. They're also given payments via money transfer services. Despite this aid, there's little relief in sight.
"I am facing a financial crisis which threatens our survival," a woman Shurovi said.
"If I do not have any income, I cannot support my child. I cannot manage to feed myself as well as my family."
Shurovi says she can no longer afford diapers or baby milk, which is more than $7 for a carton.
"The support we are getting from the government is not enough," she said. "They are not providing anything for children or any cash for our family."