Examining the relationship between income, empowermwnt and resilience of women working in Nepal's informal entertainment and sex industry
Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis
This research explored whether earning an income by working in sex and informal entertainment industry can be an empowering experience for women, and if it enables them to build resilience to violence. One of the main aims of the study was to generate evidence to inform a DFID funded South Asia study on Women, Work and Violence, which sought to understand if approaches to women’s economic empowerment (WEE) can simultaneously tackle violence. The thesis is based qualitative research using in-depth interviews with twenty-one women and two focus groups comprised of seven and eight women. The research contextualised theories of empowerment and power in relation to the participants and their experiences, and it examined how the participants make critical choices for survival, how they use income to gain decision making power in their domestic sphere, and how they challenge various expressions of patriarchy and the social norms that disempower women. The research went on to unpack how the women concerned build resilience to past traumas resulting from factors such as conflict, displacement, child marriage and intimate partner violence (IPV). It provided insights into the critical role that peer networks play in devising coping strategies to tackle incidents of regular violence that underpin their profession. The research proposed a framework that shows that in peer networks, women build their own communities, which then act as a protective shield; resilience is a manifestation of the interactions between them combined with their own inner strength. The study found that income has a positive impact as it engenders a sense of freedom, voice and agency otherwise denied by the oppressive patriarchal structures. Violence and exploitation at work remain severe in the absence of any laws to protect them, but the activism of women’s peer networks, led by women who formerly worked in this sector and identified as ‘positive deviants’ in this research), has generated momentum in addressing some of the issues faced by this group. Local women’s networks remain critically important in the context of violence against women and girls working in the sex and informal entertainment sector in Nepal. As such, these organisations offer unique entry points for policy design, implementation and evaluation of programmes aimed at bringing transformation.
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