Ensuring dignity, recognition and job security for the women and girls working in the entertainment sector appears to be highly challenging owing to the entrenched negative attitude towards the leisure and show business
The entertainment sector is not fully recognised as work by the state, labour authorities or the police. Women as well as men work in dance bars, dohori restaurants, cabin restaurants and massage parlours in urban areas.
Most of the women working in this sector – 96 per cent of them –have migrated from the rural areas to the cities in search of employment.
To pursue their profession and sustain the family, women work as waitresses, dancers, singers, hostesses, cooks, guest relations officers and masseuses.
It's easy to get a job in such work as academic qualification and certificates are not required.
Both women and men working in this sector often face violation of labour and other rights. Only a few women want to leave their jobs because finding another job is difficult. Many join this sector because they do not have good academic qualification, zero work experience and lack citizenship papers. A few join this sector because of their interest in dancing or singing.
These workers are appointed with verbal promises and are not provided contract or appointment letters, hence are not paid even the minimum wages.
The Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security recently prescribed the minimum remuneration/wage of a worker/employee under section 106 of the Labor Act 2074 (2017).
Thus, the minimum monthly salary of a worker, other than in a tea estate, is Rs 13,450, with basic remuneration being Rs 8,455.
The minimum daily wage is Rs 517 and hourly wage Rs 69. Unfortunately, society still does not take such work as decent work and is still not recognised as work by the state. Therefore, women working in this sector risk being denied their right to decent work.
Almost 99.5 per cent of women have been found not given contract or appointment letters detailing work duties and wages.
Owners verbally agree on salaries of Rs. 3,000 – 8,000 per month, far below the minimum Rs 12,000. In practice, most of the women do not receive their monthly salary, and more often not even on time.
Sometimes, they are not paid their salaries for months. These workers are compelled to ask repeatedly for the salary owed to them. Cases have been filed against the owners, which means these working women have started speaking out against the injustice on their own, although there are organisations working for their rights.
Many a time, the employee has had to face violence from the employer for no reason. After facing such abuse, even if the employees decide to leave the job, they are forced to stay or are not paid for the work they have done or the services they have rendered to the workplace. The abusers can be employers and even guests. Sexual assault is also becoming frequent in the massage parlours.
Police violations include arbitrary arrest, physical and sexual assault, discriminatory and abusive language, and harassment.
If a workplace is raided and the owners have fled, police arrest the staff members.
Women are made to post bail on many occasions.
Police often harass or arrest women on their own way home at night, claiming they were involved in illegal work. Even if these women claim that they are going back home after finishing their night shift at the workplace, the police do not trust them. These women also face problems of being followed by the police and teasing. These activities make them insecure.
Landlords often refuse to rent out rooms to women workers or charge exorbitantly high rates.
Women report slander and refusal to open the gates at night. Sometimes, women working in night shifts (especially in Thamel) return home at around 3 in the morning, and end up waiting outside the door of their rented homes for a long time. The social norm has established a 'good' woman as a homemaker. Families and the wider society tend to exclude a woman who disrupts the norm.
Thousands of girls work as waitresses and dancers to eke out a living. It is common knowledge that girls and women from poor families fill the dance bars, massage parlours and restaurants.
Ensuring dignity, recognition and job security for the women and girls working in the entertainment sector appears to be highly challenging owing to the entrenched negative attitude towards the leisure and show business.
Working conditions in the adult entertainment sector (AES) is reported to be exploitative, and those working here are unable to go back to their family or the community. They are also known to be addicted to alcohol, drugs and cigarettes.
They face domestic violence and are at high risk of being trafficked outside the country.
Sometimes, women who face sexual harassment in their everyday life do not even know that it is harassment.
They are compelled to stay quiet for fear of losing their jobs as they do not have any qualifications.
However, the growth of the entertainment industry has been directly related to the development of a modern economy and economic productivity. Entertainment businesses are found throughout the valley, and are mainly located in Thamel, Gongabu Buspark, Kalanki, Koteshwor, Sinamangal, Chabahil, Sundhara and Durbar Marg.
First and foremost, the women should be provided with an education, training and employment opportunities before they find their way into the entertainment industry. The root of the problems lies in their backwardness, ignorance and poverty. Once these issues are sorted out, there will be minimal cases of exploitation of the girls and women that make up more than half the total population.
The government needs to frame stringent laws to address the problems of this sector. It should put strong mechanisms in place to monitor the anomalies taking place in this sector. Women working in this sector should be treated at par with other women working in private or public institutions or companies.
After all, one has the right to work where their interest lies, and, thus, every work should be respected equally with dignity.
It is common knowledge that girls and women from poor families fill the dance bars, massage parlours and restaurants.
A version of this article appears in the print on November 18, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.