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Participatory research with female sex workers to inform programme design

Options conducted a study using PEER for CARE Myanmar to provide insights on the lives and working conditions of sex workers in Myanmar to inform CARE’s Socially Marginalised Populations programme to empower the country’s poorest women and girls. CARE has operated in Myanmar since 1995 to fight poverty by empowering the country’s poorest women and girls. In 2012 it developed a new programme to respond to the increasing poverty and marginalisation in urban areas: the Socially Marginalised Populations programme. The Socially Marginalised Populations programme seeks to address underlying causes of poverty and focuses on empowering vulnerable populations that are often clustered in peri-urban areas of major cities.

The objectives of the study were to improve understanding of sex workers’ level of agency, especially in regards to control over their income, working conditions, and career choice; provide insight into the context in which sex workers live and work; assess the level of risk of abuse and exploitation of sex workers and their coping mechanisms and explore sex workers’ experiences of accessing formal support services (including health, legal, police and psychosocial services) and how to improve the responsiveness of duty bearers.

This research highlighted the complex ways in which female sex workers are controlled, exploited, and in turn, assert their agency over their lives, relationships and work. The research generated robust evidence to inform the development of CARE Myanmar’s policy and advocacy strategy to support women and female sex workers' rights, including improving access to health and support services, addressing structural factors which marginalise women and female sex workers and strengthening restitution for abuse. Options led an interactive interpretation workshop to immerse CARE colleagues in the data and to generate recommendations for progamme design.

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