Lessons for Karachi sex workers

By Arman Sabir

Zeba Raman is a 28-year-old Pakistani sex worker. Born into the profession in Karachi’s red light district of Napier Road, she plies her trade all over the city.

I did not know that precautionary measures should be taken during sex
Nadia, sex worker

She is celebrating the launch of an initiative to promote health awareness among sex workers.

“We are now revealed to society,” says Ms Raman.

But prostitution remains illegal and anathema to many in Muslim-majority Pakistan. It is an ever-present fact of life, but never really acknowledged.

The last two decades, given the increasing Islamisation of Pakistani society, have further reinforced stereotypes about such women.

But the profession has only grown.

Karachi alone has at least 100,000 female sex workers, according to data gathered by local welfare organisations.

Lahore has 75,000 sex workers while the military garrison town of Rawalpindi has at least 25,000.

‘Spirit of openness’

Pakistan’s first workshop on health awareness among sex workers has contributed to a new spirit of openness in the profession.

“Earlier we were doing our jobs secretly, but now we can raise our voice for our rights,” Ms Raman says.

ghulam murtaza
It was very difficult to gather sex workers under one roof. Many were simply afraid of being arrested
Dr Ghulam Murtaza

The three-day event was recently held in Karachi by Gender & Reproductive Health Forum (GRHF) – a local social welfare organisation – in collaboration with the United Nations Fund for Population (UNFPA).

“I am very happy that a number of sex workers attended the workshop,” says Ms Raman.

“This has provided us an opportunity to gather and exchange views and experiences.”

She is not the only one to have benefited.

“I became a sex worker five years back,” says Nadia, 26.

Nadia said that she learned about safe sex measures at the workshop.

“I had heard about HIV/Aids, but I thought that it could only be transmitted through blood transfusions.

“I did not know that precautionary measures should be taken during sex as well,” she said.

Before the workshop, most sex workers who attended did not know about measures for safe sex, Nadia added.

Dr Ghulam Murtaza, the head of the GRHF and the man behind the workshop, said the organisation was working to create awareness of safe sex among female sex workers.

Ziba Raman
Ms Raman said she drew a lot of confidence from the workshop

“It was very difficult to gather sex workers under one roof. Many were simply afraid of being arrested,” he said.

“We offered several incentives and assurances and paid them 1,000 rupees ($20) per day for their attendance,” he said.

“Finally, we succeeded in gathering almost 100 sex workers at the workshop held at a local hotel.”

Most of the sex workers who attended avoided the cameramen there, saying they were afraid of being exposed to their families.

Many said their husbands or family members did not know they were sex workers. They told their families that they worked for private firms.

Despite these barriers, Dr Murtaza said the workshop had been successful.

“We have trained some female sex workers. They will now go to their community to create awareness among their co-workers.”


The international participants at the workshop were of the view that Pakistan was still relatively safe as far as HIV/Aids was concerned.


I can now continue with my profession with more confidence
Zeba Raman

The UNFPA representative, Dr Safdar Kamal Pasha, said at least 100 HIV-positive sex workers had been found in central Punjab. But the number of HIV-positive women was not high among female sex workers in Pakistan.

“It can be controlled by creating awareness about the disease among sex workers and about usage of precautionary measures,” he said.

The workshop was widely considered to be a success and Dr Pasha said they were considering organising a national convention for sex workers next year.

The sex workers themselves were moved by the workshop.

“Having attended the workshop, I feel reinvigorated,” Zeba Raman declares.

“I can now continue with my profession with more confidence.”

From BBC News.


Filed under Pakistan

12 responses to “Lessons for Karachi sex workers

  1. C hussain

    I may point out that prostitution is also illegal in western countries and not only in muslim majority countries. In Ireland where I live prostitution is forbidden and in fact the police and law enforcing agencies are showing zero tolerance towards it because there is exploitation of women and women groups are totally against this trade. What however is legal and allowed is escort system but in that it is assumed that there would be no fee for sex and that and the escort would never receive any payment in cash by hand.

    If we want to rehabilitate these sex workers in pakistan we should re-trian them in different trades like cottage industry, IT and teaching and then give an option to them to leave this trade. Once we have given them an option and opportunity and still if they continue to work as sex workers then heavy penalities should be imposed on them but more than on the people who use them for sex trade.

  2. Rambler

    Couldnt agree more with Chussain. I do not understand why couldnt this NGO use its resources to create awareness among sex workers that they can make money by other means and try to provide them with jobs. This is like telling them to “steal with care”. unbelievable.

  3. C hussain

    Not only that these sex workers may need counselling also due to the nature of the trade it causes a lot of guilt and hence depression and they may not be able to deal with that. There should be counsellors who can look after their mental health needs and its important that a liaison should develop between them and mental health services. We should not condemn them because they may have had to adopt this profession because they were forced to and because now society recognises them as sex workers therefore they would find it hard to be accepted back in mainstream society.

  4. yasserlatifhamdani


    What world do you live in. The world’s oldest profession is always going to be there… it is not ideal but unfortunately this is how it is.

    What I find ironic is your attitude… you want to ignore the ground realities on the basis of some higher principle that will never come to fruition.

  5. yasserlatifhamdani

    “that they can make money by other means and try to provide them with jobs.”

    In other words they should conform to your standards of piety… and make money slaving away as someone’s housekeeper or cleaning lady earning in the process 1/100th of what they would earn otherwise.

    I am not saying prostitution should be encouraged… or even legalized… but I don’t see how people can impose their views in such a fashion on others.

  6. i am join you pls sent me mail with all detail ok

  7. Women are more pretty than to be sex workers.Please maintain your diginity and donot be prostiute for sake of money.You are mothers, sisters,doughters and wives.History respect scientists, scholors, teachers, reformers,and the social workers.Millionares, billionares earning through unhealthy measures are never respected.

  8. baber

    prostitution is a sin n those who get themselves involve into it will suffer the consequences not only this world but also hereafter.

  9. MIA Chouhan

    This is just a slape on our faces that this much amount of our sisters and daughters is invovled in this evil occu. If the prostitution is there, surely the clients are there as well.

    They can give money to these girls after having sex with them but can not marry them, can not give them money without having sex……………….

    There is only solution for all this now and the day is not far from us………………………………

  10. tahazaidi


    The international participants at the workshop were of the view that Pakistan was still relatively safe as far as HIV/Aids was concerned. … “”

    cz we aint — monkeys here in Pakistan, like you Red Cross and UNFPA— buffoons!! (Edited for language, more use of language like this and your comment will not published, Editor)

  11. Umar

    Till the customers are there………. Sex workers will remain in us… We have to change ourself for not getting any girl in this occupation.

  12. All sex workers is bunk