Housewives in sex Trade — a Desperate Strategy to save Their Household: A Study of Housewives of Industrial Workers

Abstract: The present paper examines the household economy of industrial workers (male) after retrenchment from their work due to lock out and lay off industries suddenly. They were victims of union unrest and false sense of security for compensation. After long time struggle their wives had been taken desperate strategy to save their household from selling of their sex. These women were operating sex trade from a brothel of Kolkata as floating sex workers. They had hidden their profession and it was restricted only for day time. From this they were managing their household happily while their husbands were till unemployed and they were involved to commit indulgences. So, in the era of women’s empowerment the women had no such alternative for earning and they did not bother their future. They had restored their prime responsibility to save the family and its future. The relationship between women and household management has been given a new shape further.

Keywords: Wives of Industrial workers, household economy after retrenchment, Sex Trade, Floating sex workers, alternative earning


Women play an important role in their house hold economy. The impact of a money economy and capitalist system of economy has affected very much the household economy and in many ways has increased the task considered to be within the expected role and obligations of women. In absence of the male partners’ contribution or due to the insufficiency of whatever the males contributed to the household economy is the ensue to supplement. Generally Women’s work remains unrecognised and formally unorganised despite the fact that women’s contributions to the family are vital; in many cases women are the breadwinners and work longer hours than men (UNDP 13-23). This underestimation reflects women’s lower status in the family and locality; they have very little or no say in household decision-making. Disparities in responsibilities and income share received ample attention in the Human Development Report 1995: ‘‘Men received the lion’s share of income and recognition for their economic contribution while most women’s work remains unpaid, unrecognised and undervalued’’ (UNDP 7). This is the result of a faulty concept of participation in the labor force that does not include household or domestic work as economic activity, mainly because of the focus on use value rather than exchange value (Donahoe 543-76). This indicates a reason for the neglect of women’s economic contributions to the household in particular and to society in general (Ironmonger 24). Gender bias in intra-household allocation of resources, participation in decision- making, and time spent within and outside the house need to be studied further (Buvinic 567-74). The most striking characteristic of household labor is that, whether employed or not, women continue to do most of the housework around the globe (Krishnaraj 4440-43). ‘‘All women spend more time on housework, have more responsibility for child rearing, have less access to many social and material resources, and have less access to public spaces and public power’’(M Krishnaraj 4440-43). Basically the work performed by women falls under nonmarket economic activities (Choudhary and Parthasarathy 523-31). The activities performed by women are often not counted as economic activities or are undervalued, and are typically excluded from analysis (M Krishnaraj 4440-43).

However when their male counterpart fails to contribute the woman takes drastic decision to manage their survival. Here the study examines the household economy of sick/closed male industrial workers and the role of their wives in household management. The industrial workers generally suffer when they faced problem of sudden lock out and layoff of their work place due to several reasons of both owners and workers which is added with trade unionism. The unrest labour relations remind that the Factories Acts did not end capitalism, but they changed the relations of the workers to their own lives (Rich 12-34). They have to face a tremendous situation where their survival becomes a question. Of because the industrial culture breaks their network with their natal place and their life style does not cope with this sudden situation. It is evident that the capitalist economic system works in such a way that it forces people to consume what they do not produce and produce what they do not consume.

Ultimate the women come forward to manage their survival. For this they even have to enter into the sex industry for earning for their household. But, prostitution, world’s oldest profession (Varela 1567-77) is present in some forms or other in all stratified societies. It is a complex form of social relationship in morality, ethics, the pattern of economic inequality, gender relationship, etc in interwoven farther to form a multidimensional, multi-layered institution (Waltman 133). In most of all cases the women, especially from lower social strata for their own survival and to assist their immediate family members are being driven off into the stigmatised profession due to extreme poverty (McGregor n page ). There are about 25 types of sex work identified according to work site, principle mode of soliciting clients or sexual practices directly or indirectly (Harcourt & Donovan 223-224). In present study the female sex workers, wives of industrial workers were considered as floating sex workers who were operating their sex trade at day time from a brothel.

The aim of this paper is to investigate the situation of women of industrial workers who were earning for their household as floating sex workers and its impact.


There were about 1200 brothel based female sex workers in Bowbazar red-light area. It is a century long brothel located at Central Kolkata (only Metro city of Eastern India) under jurisdiction of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation ward no.-48 and under the jurisdiction of Muchipara Police Station. About 44 houses of Premchand Boral Street and Nabin Chand Boral Street had been occupied for the sex trade. The Female Sex Workers were generally used to this for dual purposes of sex trade and household management. Apart from this about 1050 women of 24-40 years of age (identified by a census survey) were operating the trade as floating sex workers because they were not permanent residents and they used to operate the trade only for a particular time(i.e. 10:00 am to 5:00 pm) of a day. They were housewives and college girls. Of them 100(about 10% of 1050) floating sex workers was randomly selected who were basically wives of industrial workers of North 24 Paraganas industrial belt (an adjacent district of Kolkata) located within 20 km of Kolkata. Their husband were the victims of lock out, lay off of their industries where they were employed for a long period. The unstructured open ended interview schedules were used to collect information regarding their demographic profile, cause of selection of the profession, their husband situation, income and household management and so forth. The interview session was lusted for 30-45 minutes and overall time for this was 6 months.

Result and Discussion:

Demographic profile of the floating sex workers

The women of the study were from different religious background with varied age group and they had a level of education. From the table- 1 it reveals that 74% of them were of Hindu religious background and rest of them was from Muslim community. The scenario tells that the industrial workers were dominated by Hindu. Among them the women of 31-35 years were highest in percentage (56) in the trade and even the age group 36-40 years was second largest. Unfortunately 48% of them were an educational background higher secondary and above chosen this profession without any alternative for their survival.

Table 1: Floating Sex Workers – their religion, age and educational background

Family Status – Husband, Children and Economy during in service:

The employment of their husband had settled themselves in their work place. Basically they occupied the shelter provided by their employers as a service benefit. They usually developed their own set up in that place. They enjoyed a life with all facilities. The employment made them separate from their natal kins. They husbands were the semiskilled or skilled workers. They had an education background of Secondary or above. The household managed by their income only. There was no any other source of income. They were not getting the benefit as scheduled to be paid.

The children status shows that the age group of 25-30 years had only child and other groups had 2 children. They were admitted in English Medium private school which was partly owned by their employers or the employers used to provide the benefit of children’s education. Overall their family status was good as they desired in their service life.

After retrenchment from employment:

Due to several factors they faced the problem of lay off and lock out. And gradually they lost their benefit what they used to avail. Various movement and promises were failed to reopen the industries or there was no initiative taken for any compensation. By that time they had lost their capability to maintain their basic needs. There was sudden fallen down in ladder of their life. Gradually for management of their household including children’s education they had to incur their savings. Thereafter they were lending money with high interest and last of all they sold their ornaments and others domestic uses.

Searching for alternative earning:

Initially the husbands were engaged in trade union movement. But the impact was worst. So, they began to search for alternative income as daily labour where they failed to continue it because of low paying hard labour. Thereafter, they engaged in door to door selling of domestic products. The women (wives) were also trying to search various jobs in their locality. Even they chose the jobs of maidservant. But the earning was low that was not sufficient to manage their two squares of meals. Further their children education was in great suffer because the school fees and other education support were not bearable to them.

Why sex trade preferred and how?

These females had connection with city and they visited several places including offices for a job. But due to absence of references they did not reach the scope. So, the rejection was a common result of frustration. The depression was the cause to come close to some unknown females within the city. They were pushed them into the trade. About 60% of them were more than 5 years and rest of them was less than 5 years in the trade.

Earning and management of household from sex trade:

The floating female sex workers were hiding their affiliation to the sex trade to their family and relatives as well as community. They had declared that they got jobs in Nursing Homes and other places at the city of Kolkata and their work schedule was between 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. So, they had to manage their household.

From their work place they joined in the work with an oral agreement with space provider where they used to solicit their customers and operate the trade that they should share their income at a ratio of 50:50. So, at the end of the day they usually earn Rs. 1000-1500 per day. From their earning they used to maintain a life what they bore previously.

They now used to bear properly for children education. A saving of their earning was promoted. At present their household was in happy.

Their husband’s status:

They were workless and used to join in trade union. They were addicted by alcohol and other indulgences. Usually they were abused by the political leaders. Till they were hopeful to rejoin in their work or a lump sum compensation would get. They had no contribution to their household beside some domestic chores.


Women are not only a child bearer and housekeeper in their families. The economy and household management were dependent on the women. The males in the family are the key financial contributor in general and it is our tradition that the males are instrumental leaders in their family. On the other side women are the expressive leader whose quality of care and attention bring family happiness and restore the future generation in a positive direction. However there is a relationship between women and household economy and its management. They are crises manager in their families. In the age of high tech global world women have occupied a significant role in terms of their employment and economic self-dependent. But it has also some limitations.

In the present study women had chosen desperate strategy to sell their sex for their earning. Despite a stigma was attached to them. The faulty industrial disputes and sudden retrenchment of their husband from their employment had brought darkness in their survival. Initially they had tried to manage it from their own assets. Thereafter alternative earning of both self and their husband was evidently deprived of because their general living was not being managed. Basically their off springs were drained without proper facilities.

The social and economic situation led to choose the stigmatised profession of sex workers and it was managed by them with hide and seeks methods. But the earning from this trade was brought happiness in their household. They did not bother to think their own health and other in their larger society.

So, one hand the women can bring happiness in any terms to save their family. On the other hand the males and wrong industrial policy are the spectators. So, it reminds us the struggle for ending of women’s entry into sex trade is wrong step when women’s’ equity and justice is not properly protected.


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HARASANKAR ADHIKARI. Is a Social Worker and Independent Scholar, Kolkata.

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s a Social Worker and Independent Scholar, Kolkata.

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