Lisa Caviglia, University of Heidelberg
A feminist geography of sex work in Nepal: bridging spaces, transnational movement and the body as capital and investment
The term “feminist geography” has been used to describe a theoretical framework employing feminist theory and methodology in order to analyse the interplay between society and geographical space. In Nepal gender ideology finds its expression in the extensive control wielded on women’s movements in the public arena and women may choose to either adapt to or challenge the considerable collective surveillance characterising the household and the larger community. They may do so by setting the routine of their daily lives in what are deemed as suitable or deviant paths and networks respectively. Individuals that find themselves in the second trajectory become especially vulnerable to the consequences ensuing from their clash with social directives concerning morality and suitable public behaviour. A clear case of what a woman’s position in space may socially imply vis-à-vis public opinion, may be found among those entering areas of Kathmandu associated with sex entertainment, transgression and consumption. Here I present the way in which such spaces in the Nepalese capital are discursively produced, e.g. through gossip, media and derogatory statements, with sex work being relegated to certain “hot spots” and danger zones. Paradoxically the very people involved also reiterate such discrimination and “confinement”, mostly casting negativity to other locations rather than the very ones in which they are drawn in. The paper further details how discourse localised and peculiar to the Nepalese urban space, actually finds significant resonance with current discussions relative to global processes. Millions of people migrate from Nepal every year, turning export of manpower and the resulting remittances into one of the country’s major sources of income. Women are active participants in these international circuits and many among those working in the local sex entertainment sector go to great lengths in order to find similar employment abroad, in the hope of gaining significantly increased retribution. Although in numerous cases they are seeking out these opportunities themselves, social discourse reinserts them into a common rhetoric that constructs them as agent-less victims drawn into a process rather than actively engaging with it. I focus on the latter aspect, as it arose through my field work research and hence on the way in which these women capitalise on their bodies and social networks in order to have a share of global wealth. I will reflect on the way in which, although complying with the gendered and sexualised nature of their work, they are perceptive to the existent networks of power. This allows them to channel repressive influences into routes for opportunity. The present account thereby illustrates how the movement of women involved in the local sex entertainment industry operates along global circuits, highlighting how macroscopic reality and individual reflections allow for different interpretations of the transfer of bodies in space.