Sex Work in Myanmar 
Ten months since the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic, discussions of the numerous economic harms that the lockdown proposed are practically rote. Still, this familiarity does not detract from the importance of addressing these harms, particularly the more vicious and damaging among them. These descriptors apply to the lives of predominantly female former garment workers in Myanmar. Unemployed and facing poverty, many of these workers feel that they have had to enter sex work due to their new circumstances, despite sex work in Myanmar now being riskier and less profitable than it was before the pandemic.

The Situation

At the start of 2020, many considered Myanmar a growing hotspot for apparel manufacturing. The country’s cheap labor, numerous seaports and zero duty benefit on goods exported to the European Union have allowed its industry to follow in the footsteps of garment exporters like China, Vietnam and Bangladesh – garment exports have grown by almost $1 billion annually since 2015, totaling $4.37 billion in the first 11 months of FY 2018-19.

In the following months of lockdown, however, hundreds of thousands of garment workers experienced layoffs as 223 factories closed down. Reports from September 2020 claimed that the year’s garment orders fell by 75%-80% compared to those received in 2019, in line with widespread cancellations filed early on in the pandemic. The result has been a sharp spike in the number of jobless women in Myanmar.

Amid this precarity, many have turned to sex work as a way of sustaining themselves. One interviewee reported to the Guardian that “Especially the girls who worked for factories that have closed during the pandemic… They have to pay their rent and debts and feed their families. They have no option.”

About Sex Work in Myanmar

Besides being illegal, sex work in Myanmar has become more dangerous during the pandemic. Public spaces where workers previously found clients or conducted their business, like bars, massage parlors and hotels, are now largely closed under Myanmar’s social distancing protocols. As a result, workers must place themselves in more compromising scenarios to find clients.

One sex worker, which the Myanmar Times interviewed in June 2020, reportedly “found herself with alcoholics and drug addicts,” lacking the protection of her former “boss.” “At times she thought she’d be abused… assaulted or even killed.” Further, sex work brings workers into direct contact with people who may have COVID-19.

Sex work is also less profitable now. Where typical rates in Yangon rested between K15,000 and K30,000 before the pandemic, “many sex workers have reduced their prices to K5,000 during the COVID-19 outbreak.” This is because of the large influx of workers, but also because of a drop in clients.

Shamed in mainstream society, sex workers in Myanmar lack access to local support networks that are typically present in other countries. Many commonly view prostitution as a form of punishment inflicted for wrongs committed in past lives. International NGOs and medical organizations are providing the brunt of public resources out there.


In spite of these hardships, many of Myanmar’s new sex workers feel that the precariousness of their former jobs forced them into their situation. Garment factory strikes in April and May 2020 met with government arrests and anti-union labor laws. Leaders of these protests spent months in prison, missing out on earning time that their families needed to make it through the lockdown.

As an issue with upstream causes, many former garment workers who are now carrying out sex work are facing domestic violence, police stings and jail time, social stigma, STIs and COVID-19. Food Not Bombs (Myanmar), a local branch of the global NGO which has operated since 2013, has made public commitments toward aiding sex workers. Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, Food Not Bombs (Myanmar) has distributed foods, such as rice, oil and eggs, to people whose livelihoods have been interrupted due to lockdowns, targeting sex workers, trishaw drivers, food vendors and the elderly in particular. It donates food every other Sunday at community events that occur at the Mandalay Community Center in Mandalay, Myanmar.

Food Not Bombs (Myanmar) has also partnered with Yangon urban redevelopment NGO Doh Eain to provide cash transfers for street workers who can no longer earn a living under lockdown. The hope with these initiatives is that consistent donations of food and money will help out-of-work women sustain themselves through the lockdown. Stable, alternative means of sustenance will help reduce sex work in Myanmar by offering women a third option besides going hungry and putting themselves in danger.

– Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr

Fighting World Hunger
Vegans are often the butt of every joke in pop culture, from comments on their hair and hygiene to their fondness for eating “rabbit food.” Yet, vegans are more than their food choices; veganism is a form of activism. This article will explore five vegan groups fighting world hunger.

Veganism and Global Hunger

Plants produce 9.46 quadrillion calories each year, enough to feed every human 2,700 calories a day for a year, with 2 quadrillion calories leftover. If this is the case, why do people go hungry? Unfortunately, humans only consume a little over half of these calories, with 36% going to animal feed and 9% to industry. This leaves humans with only 5.6 trillion calories — well below the amount necessary to solve world hunger. When consuming animals, a staggering 89% of calories of these plant calories disappear when humans consume animals secondarily.

Moreover, animal-based diets require 1,000% more crop growth than plant-based diets. Moving to a plant-based diet creates 70% more room to grow crops, and, even accounting for population growth, could bring an end to global hunger.

Fortunately, many activism groups are working to fight global hunger and poverty while serving healthy vegan meals. Here are five vegan groups fighting world hunger.

5 Vegan Groups Fighting World Hunger

  1. Food Not Bombs: Anti-nuclear activists founded Food Not Bombs in 1980 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their goal was to spark an anti-violence movement against war, poverty, food waste and global hunger through education, protests and providing individuals with meals from recovered food waste. The organization feeds people in 1,000 cities in 65 countries around the world. Food Not Bombs believes that food is a right, not a privilege.
  2. World Central Kitchen: World Central Kitchen uses food to empower communities and provide relief during difficult times. Jose Andrews and his wife founded the organization to cook meals, including vegan and vegetarian ones, for those suffering from hunger abroad. The organization works by giving women in other countries access to cooking supplies, training chefs in Haiti to cook and providing healthy meals to families in need. WCK does international frontline work during natural disasters, providing over 3.7 million meals to victims of Hurricane Maria in 2o17.
  3. Food Empowerment Project: Lauren Ornelas, a woman of color, founded Food Empowerment Project as a way to educate people about making ethically sustainable food choices. Among fighting for animal rights, Food Empowerment Project also fights for racial equality, poverty reduction and environmental justice. By making ethically sustainable food choices, people can prevent deaths and empower those with fewer resources. Through its website, Food Empowerment Project provides the public with education about veganism, including access to sustainable, vegan recipes.
  4. Food for Life: In 1974, the founder of Srila Prabhupada told his yoga students to begin serving food to the hungry, believing that “No one within ten miles of a temple should go hungry.” From there, his yoga students began creating food kitchens around the world, creating the basis for Food for Life. The organization aims to promote Vedic values of equality by giving vegan meals to those in need and during times of crisis. To date, volunteers have served over 6 million meals since the organization’s start, amounting to nearly 20 tons of vegan food.
  5. Vegans Against World Hunger: Helen Wright and Julian Wilkinson founded Vegans Against World Hunger in 2019 as a way to fight global poverty and hunger through vegan meals in the U.K and abroad. The nonprofit works to create food forests that provide food stability, combat deforestation and establish food banks around the globe. While it is a new organization, Vegans Against World Hunger has a bright future ahead.

These vegan groups fighting world hunger show that vegans around the world are using their plant-based diets to help solve one of the quintessential issues facing the world today: global hunger. While the transition to a completely plant-based diet brings challenges, scientists see that it could be a step forward in fighting global poverty and hunger through ethical and sustainable food choices.

Breanna Bonner
Photo: Pixabay

al otro ladoMore than 4,000 asylum seekers in Tijuana have written their names on a waitlist in hopes of presenting themselves at the U.S. port of entry. It is unclear how the list began since the U.S. government doesn’t claim jurisdiction and neither does Mexico. Regardless, the waitlists are followed and migrants’ names are slowly crossed off as they are brought to state their cases. Most asylum-seekers are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, many of whom are fleeing gang violence, political instability and extreme poverty. Al Otro Lado and other nonprofits are helping the migrant crisis.

The Migrant Crisis

Central Americans from the caravan have been labeled everything from refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants to invaders, aliens and criminals. However, despite widespread disagreement and confusion about the caravan, U.S. immigration and international laws dictate that people have the legal right to seek asylum. Asylum seekers’ have the right to present their cases to an immigration officer, but with so many asylum-seekers to process, thousands of individuals and families are left waiting in limbo.

As Policy Analyst at the American Immigration Council Aaron Reichlin-Melnick explains, “The government would argue that high [asylum] denial rates indicate they’re fraudulent asylum claims… the more likely answer is that people are genuinely afraid for their lives–they may not know the ins and outs of a complex asylum system.” For many nonprofits, the situation is clearly a refugee crisis, and they treat it like one. Since caravans began arriving at the border, humanitarian organizations have been on the ground providing shelter, medical care and legal assistance. This is one way that Al Otro Lado is helping.

Al Otro Lado

Al Otro Lado is a legal services nonprofit based in Los Angeles, San Diego and Tijuana. Over the last four months, Al Otro Lado has helped more than 2,000 migrants in Tijuana while also fighting larger battles to protect the legal rights of asylum seekers. Operating out of an Enclave Caracol, a three-story community center turned migrant shelter, Al Otro Lado provides legal orientation and know-your-rights training to asylum seekers waiting in Tijuana.

Though Al Otro Lado is focused on upholding international and U.S. law, it is not immune to the controversy and violence that has accompanied the migrant caravan. The organization and its staff have received death threats, and co-directors Erika Pineiro and Nora Phillips were detained and forced to leave Mexico in January. Still, Al Otro Lado continues their operations in Tijuana, but now they just unplug their phones between calls to cut down on the death threats.

Other Notable Organizations Helping the Migrant Crisis

  1. In April 2018, Food Not Bombs served food to migrants out of the Enclave Caracol community center. They accepted donations of food, spices and reusable plates among other items.
  2. UNICEF works with the Mexican government to provide safe drinking water and other necessities to asylum seekers. The organization also provides psychosocial services and trains authorities on child protection.
  3. Save the Children provides emergency services, legal representation, case management and works to reunite migrant families.
  4. Amnesty International, like Al Otro Lado, is concerned with upholding immigration law. The organization monitors the actions of Mexican authorities at the border and also documents the situations and conditions that migrants face.

Organizations like Al Otro Lado, Save the Children and Amnesty International see the migrant caravan as a humanitarian issue beyond party politics. They have wasted no time supporting migrants and asylum-seekers who have risked their lives journeying to the border. However, unless governments and organizations address the larger issues that led the people to leave in the first place, they will continue migrating. Faced with violence, persecution and poverty, it’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t do the same.

Kate McIntosh

Photo: Flickr