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dc.contributor.authorParmanand, Sharmila
dc.description.abstractThis research critiques the Philippine anti-trafficking sector’s conflation of sex work with victimhood and shows that this conflation is inconsistent with the lived realities of many sex workers. It examines the politics of knowledge production in the anti-trafficking sector and posits that the exclusion of sex workers from policymaking conversations is a form of epistemic injustice. Using a framework that foregrounds sex workers’ speech practices, self-representations, and reflections on their own work, it demonstrates that there was a mixture of choice and coercion in my interviewees’ engagement with sex work, but that they were not victims in need of ‘rescuing’ through the criminal justice system. Sex work was better than their realistic alternatives and allowed them to contest their displacement in the labour market and resist gendered low-paid and labour-intensive jobs such as sewing and domestic work. Social stigma undermined their esteem, self-worth, and ability to exercise agency, but they also reworked social scripts by distinguishing their work as clean and honest, in contrast to the hypocrisy of ‘moral entrepreneurs’. Partially as a reactive form of self-construction, many saw their engagement in sex work as a moral project, through which they demonstrated virtue as mothers and daughters. Some saw themselves as entrepreneurial, capitalising on their attractiveness and the male demand for sex. Some, indeed, saw themselves as victims. However, close attention to their rendering of the word ‘victim’ reveals that they saw themselves as victims of poverty, stigma, and policies and practices that removed their control over their working conditions and exposed them to extortion and abuse. Instead of raids and rehabilitation, they wanted political agency and recognition. Based on these findings, I propose approaching sex work from a labour rights and social justice lens rather than full or partial criminalisation. This research also engages with broader conversations on methodological issues in feminist social research, especially around ethical ways of establishing trust with stigmatised populations, treating sex workers as partners in knowledge production while still preserving a critical distance for academic reflection, and negotiating research decisions with gatekeepers.
dc.description.sponsorshipGates Scholarship
dc.rightsAll Rights Reserved
dc.subjectsex work
dc.subjectepistemic injustice
dc.subjectcarceral feminism
dc.subjecthuman rights
dc.titleSaving our Sisters: Critical inquiry into sex trafficking discourses and interventions in the Philippines
dc.type.qualificationnameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
dc.publisher.institutionUniversity of Cambridge
dc.type.qualificationtitlePhD in Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies
cam.supervisorLarsson, Tomas

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