Future research and practice
Women who exchange sex in Mongolia function in an economic, social and political environment in rapid transition. Despite facing critical challenges which require innovative and comprehensive solutions, women demonstrate enormous resilience, independence and responsibility. Future research, policies and interventions aimed at harm reduction and empowerment for these women should fully consider their strengths demonstrated in the face of numerous obstacles. Many of the challenges discussed in this chapter are exacerbated by external and internalised stigma against sex work, related to the ‘conservative nationalist’ discourse on gender. Given the complexities of women’s lives, multifaceted programmes and policies are recommended to meet their needs and facilitate their full potential. However, to best develop and deliver any strategy, a critical understanding of how national gender rhetoric and expectations impact women’s risks must be fully considered. For example, as demonstrated elsewhere, raising critical consciousness of structural factors and oppression has contributed to effective HIV prevention strategies (Hatcher et al. 2011). Although the ‘civic nationalist’ rhetoric around the independent and responsible Mongolian woman likely does not intentionally include female sex workers, women with whom we have worked have demonstrated many of these characteristics. Giving women tools and networks to better their economic lives, health and safety also has served to decrease, at least somewhat, their isolation and internalised stigma. However, the more that the larger population can recognise the strength and resilience of these women, the less they will suffer from stigma which exacerbates their risks.
Many questions remain about the future lives of women who exchange sex. What will be the impact of the changing political and economic landscape on the poorest groups of the population? What is the implication of an increasing foreign population due to mining interests? As gender ideologies evolve, what will be the changing impact of stigma on women in sex work? Given that much of our work has focused on HIV prevention, we also must question the impact of potential withdrawal of HIV funding in terms of services for sex workers (Gonzalez 2012). Other remaining areas of investigation include better understanding the lives, challenges and strengths of those involved in trans and homosexual sex work and non-street-based sex work, as well as the perspectives of sex work clients.
In continued awareness of our outsider status, we also recommend additional qualitative and participatory research with persons who exchange sex for money or goods in Mongolia. The perspectives of people engaged in sex work as experts on their own lives has not been sufficiently valued or explored in social science literature (Wahab 2003), and is critical in the continued development of appropriate and effective interventions and policies aimed at improving women’s health, safety, economic security and empowerment. Participatory approaches to research and practice which draw upon women’s resiliencies and expertise will contribute to the reduction in stigma, as well as our understanding of their position in the production and manifestation of gender and sexuality in Mongolia.