Exploring the politics of anti-trafficking and sex work in the Philippines
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November 9, 2022 @ 12:00 pm - 1:15 pm GMT

Exploring the politics of anti-trafficking and sex work in the Philippines

“SEAC hosts Dr Sharmila Parmanand (Gender and Human Rights Teaching Fellow, LSE) who will present Saving our Sisters: Exploring the politics of anti-trafficking and sex work in the Philippines. The talk is chaired by Prof. Hyun Bang Shin (Professor Geography and Urban Environment; Director LSE SEAC).

The Philippines is a global pioneer in institutionalising anti-trafficking measures to protect its citizens, which makes it a crucial case study for understanding the impact of anti-trafficking policies on vulnerable populations. This talk repositions anti-trafficking as an ambivalent practice rather than an uncomplicated human rights victory. It provides a multi-scalar account of the politics of anti-trafficking with a focus on how a carceral and securitised approach emerged as the dominant paradigm in the Philippines. Drawing on collaborative ethnographic research with Filipino sex workers, it also shows how anti-trafficking interventions targeted at “helping” sex workers, such as police raids, rescue operations, and rehabilitation, heightened their precarity instead by entrenching the police’s power over them, reducing their control over working conditions, and rendering state assistance conditional on their cooperation in prosecuting third parties and exiting sex work. Finally, it challenges dominant representations of sex workers as passive victims by providing an alternative reading of agency in sex work grounded in vernacular concepts such as diskarte (which roughly means making do with what one has, usually in challenging or oppressive contexts) and sex workers’ professed resistance to gendered low-paid and labour-intensive jobs such as sewing and domestic work. This talk highlights the risks of a donor-driven approach to social policies and sheds light on the epistemic silencing of sex workers in public and policy conversations, which has important implications for thinking through feminist entanglements with the state on issues of sexual violence and precarious labour.

Speaker and Chair Biographies:

Dr Sharmila Parmanand is a Gender and Human Rights Teaching Fellow in the Department of Gender Studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She has a PhD in Gender Studies from the University of Cambridge on a Gates Scholarship.

Prof. Hyun Bang Shin (@urbancommune) is Professor of Geography and Urban Studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science and directs the LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre. His research centres on the critical analysis of the political economy of speculative urbanisation, gentrification and displacement, urban spectacles, and urbanism with particular attention to Asian cities. His books include Planetary Gentrification (Polity, 2016), Neoliberal Urbanism, Contested Cities and Housing in Asia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), Exporting Urban Korea? Reconsidering the Korean Urban Development Experience (Routledge, 2021), and The Political Economy of Mega Projects in Asia: Globalization and Urban Transformation (Routledge, forthcoming). He is Editor of the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, and is also a trustee of the Urban Studies Foundation.”


November 9, 2022 @ 12:00 pm - 1:15 pm GMT



LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre