Men in the Movement: Habib Rahman

Kay Thi Win | Hazera Bagum | Melissa Ditmore, Guest Contributors

Habib Rahman is a man who promotes women's ability to speak out for themselves. He advocates for not just any women, but some of the most stigmatized and discriminated against women in Bangladeshi society.

In 1986 when HIV was not an issue in Bangladesh, Habib was involved with research on the health of sex workers in several brothels in the country. Habib was selected by one of his university professors to be an interviewer on this project for which he visited many brothels and spoke with sex workers about their socioeconomic situation and their health. Habib found that many health problems exist among sex workers, and he was one of the first researchers in Bangladesh to talk with them about the issues in their lives beyond their profession. The sex workers respected him, and he become more committed to help them.

In the past 15 years, Habib has worked to encourage sex workers to speak out and run programs that focus on their needs. Many projects target sex workers, but few of them include sex workers in decision-making and leadership positions. Habib has promoted the inclusion of sex workers of all genders – including women, men and transgender women – in decision-making and promoted the hiring of sex workers as paid staff. Habib has been instrumental in promoting training and capacity building for sex workers in order for them to take on more responsibility and develop useful skills, such as diagnosing sexually transmitted infections using cultures, slides and microscopes.

After working with Durjoy Nari Shangho, an NGO in Bangladesh that advocates for sex worker rights, Rahman moved to Burma to work with a new organization for sex workers and men who have sex with men (MSM). He promoted community members’ ownership of PSI Myanmar's Targeted Outreach Program (TOP) and worked to ensure that as many staff as possible came from the MSM and sex worker communities in order to promote community sense of ownership and reduce stigma within TOP’s clinics. Sustained capacity building lead to sex workers as senior managers and laboratory assistants in TOP’s locations around the country.

Habib Rahman has demonstrated exceptional commitment to women’s health in resource poor settings who face high levels of stigma and discrimination. He is a role model for all men who are concerned with improving women’s health and rights.

Kay Thi Win is a Program Manager with TOP in Burma. Hazera Bagum works with the children of sex workers in Bangladesh. Melissa Ditmore is a researcher and writer.

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