Community Empowerment Project: An effective strategy to end violence against sex workers


Asia Pacific Network of sex workers (APNSW) has been actively working to end violence against sex workers and protecting their human rights during various strategies. A regional comprehensive violence response intervention, the Community Empowerment Project, funded by the Women Fund Asia (WFA), is one of the strategies implemented in 4 countries, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar and Nepal.


Community empowerment is the key to ending violence and HIV/AIDS.

--Oussama Tawil, UNAIDS Myanmar


As part of this Regional Community Empowerment Project to end violence against sex workers, APNSW organized a project design workshop, from 30th August to 1st September 2019 in Yangon, Myanmar to set and detail objectives and activities under this intervention. The workshop which consisted of formal presentations, group work, brain storming, and open discussion sessions, was formally inaugurated by Mr. Oussama Tawil the Country Representative of UNAIDS Myanmar, and brought in 16 participants from all 4 countries. The participants analyzed the situation on violence against sex workers, including the factors associated with increased violence, and collectively identified and outlined the objectives for the project, as well as activities and action plans that will be implemented in their respective countries:



  1. Sex Workers in (Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar and Nepal) have increased knowledge of their rights and are empowered to take collective action to prevent and respond to violence against sex workers in the community.

  2. Sex Workers have demonstrated understanding of their rights and how to document human rights violations.

  3. Local and national police and law enforcement are better informed about sex workers’ rights, have access to quality data on violence against sex workers, and are held accountable for their actions.

  4. Peer learning mechanisms are established between local and regional stakeholders to build collective mobilization to protect the human rights of sex workers.

  5. Perspective of regional/national stakeholders on the usefulness of tools and lessons learnt from 4 countries and the potential for replication in other countries are improved.


Activities & Action Plan

Safe Spaces

Safe spaces will be special rooms in every project office, open on work days, where sex workers can rest and receive special services and trainings.

Legal Services & Training

Legal literacy training: Community Empowerment will start with “know-your-rights trainings” where legal education services will be held to offer basic legal knowledge and paralegal training will be provided to sex workers.

Intensive legal counseling: Sex workers trained as paralegals will be able to offer legal counseling in the safe spaces. Paralegal members will proceed with representation in court or pursuing legal action on behalf of the sex worker(s) involved and arrange representation by an attorney when necessary. Community Empowerment will ensure that an attorney is always on stand-by to provide legal advice and pro-bono representation when sex workers go to court.

Lawyer Meetings: Once a month, a lawyer will meet sex workers at the safe space to explain court procedures, legal terminologies, the rights of a person who has been arrested, and how sex workers should respond if they face police harassment or arrests.

Focus Group Discussions

Monthly focus group discussions (FGD) will be held in the safe spaces. Every month sex workers will meet to discuss various issues including the current situation on violence against sex workers (VASW) and changes on the ground. The information shared determines the future strategies adopted and any programmatic changes based on what works well and what does not work in the field. The discussions will function as a community-led project monitoring system.

Documentation of Human Rights violations

Sex worker community experts developed a reporting form to document violence; this form will be used by the paralegals to document human rights violations against sex workers.

Prior to the community empowerment project, data on violence was not well recorded. The information from the documentation of violence will be used for evidence-based advocacy. Additionally, each country partner will present their information on human rights violations during advocacy meetings with police to discuss how police can provide support to end human rights violations against sex workers.


Community Outreach

Paralegal outreach is the backbone of Community Empowerment project. Outreach will be undertaken at various sex work venues to tell sex workers about the services that can be provided to sex workers and to build trust within the community.


Each of the four countries will establish a central hotline, and all paralegals will also carry their own phones. Sex workers can call the hotline or the individual paralegal members when they experience violence or witness violence against another sex worker. The paralegals will respond to hotline calls and will go to police stations and court when sex workers are arrested.

Advocacy with Police

Advocacy and sensitization meetings will be conducted in police stations by paralegals and project officers.This aim of these advocacy sessions with police is to reduce the number of sex workers being arrested by sensitizing police to the marginalization and stigmatization faced by sex workers and ways in which police harassment and criminalization furtherpromote sex workers’ marginalization. Additional advocacy meetings will take place with high-level commanding officers to try to create an opportunity for open dialogue between law enforcement and sex workers and allow sex workers to discuss their issues with the police department.