ActionAid Bangladesh’s (AAB) experience in working with anti steroid drug campaign namely Nobojibon (new life) is very mixed and complex as this is a very sensitive issue to deal with. There are so many dynamics that keep fuelling the practice in the brothels. Girls and madams residing over brothels do not admit that they take or impose the drug. Based on the uses, a business has been flourished by the quacks around the brothels. This is actually a chain of power structure where the bonded sex workers become an easy hostage of the process.
The physiology of using the drug does not allow the sex workers to give up easily as it makes them dependent and sick in case of sudden withdrawal. They lack the information of proper usage and consequences of the drug. The withdrawal management is also almost absent in the brothels and sex workers do not have easy access to public hospital as well. The practice also matters their income and livelihood in the long run. Common health seeking behavior and perception of beauty is closely related to the drug practice.
However after conducting the study in 2005 - 2006 AAB initiated the campaign at several brothels across the country in 2007. The brothels include the two named Doulotdia and Madaripur brothels (in Rajbari and Madaripur district respectively) where the study had taken place.
The campaign includes the following activities:
Orientation with sex workers
Orientation with madams
Meeting with quacks
Group discussion with babus (lover of sex workers)
Meeting with brothel based committee
Sharing meeting with local health administration, police, journalists, Health Care Provider (HCP), social activists, lawyers, human rights activists
Drama staged on the use and consequences of steroid drug
In 2007, AAB covered five brothels and in 2008 two more brothels were addressed under the campaign. However, the practice is prevalent almost in every brothel - around 15 across the country. But due to fund constraints, AAB could not run the campaign throughout all the brothels. The programme also suffered from discontinuation due to the same reason. The organisation also had to shelve the campaign in 2009 as well as this year.
At this stage, sex workers and madams at least know that the steroid drug affects their health, its impact on their lives and the gradual process of giving up the practice. Still, there are a lot to work on the issue, i.e. conducting another follow up survey on current status of the practice following the campaign and developing further campaign materials.
AAB lacks of fund to run the campaign, but it has a tiny budget allocation under the thematic community input and the organisation is to arrange a round table discussion with media and drug administration at national level in the coming months.
There is a dire necessity to continue the campaign. AAB needs to work in all brothels on the issue since the organization has received appeal from street based sex workers as well to work it. However, the only concern is the availability of required fund and AAB is very keen to resume the programme if fund could be managed.