Dirty Workers or Dirty Wh*res?: Examining the Cycle of Dirty Work Stigma and Structural Violence as It Affects Monrovia’s Sex Workers
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This research seeks to examine the stigma against sex work in a post-conflict setting as an issue that lies at the intersection of gender and labor, and how that stigma contributes to the structural violence so many sex workers worldwide suffer. To this end, the case of Monrovia, Liberia was chosen for its rebuilding effort’s significant emphasis on gender equality as well as the prevalence of sex work as a profession among its population. The analytical frame of dirty work was selected to better break down the various components of sex work and public opposition to it, and how those components contribute to the marginalization and violence perpetuated against Monrovia’s sex workers. This frame also allows us to examine the tension between essential and non-essential labor that sex work operates within. Using secondary research and open-source document analysis collected from relevant political institutions, local NGOs, IGOs, religious organizations, Liberian news outlets, and online comments posted by Liberian citizens, this research examines how sex work is portrayed as physically, socially, and morally tainted in the public discourse. Ultimately, this research finds that through physical, social, and moral taint, sex work in Monrovia is portrayed as a threat to Liberia’s rebuilding process and future stability, as it is attributed as a cause of Monrovia’s other social ills and as a physical manifestation of patriarchal violence contradicting UNMIL’s overarching goal of gender equality. As a result, numerous institutions in Monrovia enact barriers that severely decrease the quality of life for sex workers while simultaneously exacerbating the very issues they claim to be solving. This raises questions into sex work’s role in a post-conflict recovery process and how its status as essential labor can be used to ensure the human rights of sex workers.