Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Non-therapeutic use of drugs and sex-outside marriage are criminalised in Pakistan. NGOs often portray drug users and sex workers as quasi-legal persons who see themselves in a kind of policeman-criminal relationship with the state, and therefore need NGOs to mediate this relationship. I argue in this paper that by advancing such portrayals, NGOs in the HIV prevention were able to capitalise upon the presumed ‘cultural difference’ (Elyachar 2010) of the so-called ‘risk groups’ of HIV. Rather than challenging oppressive legal apparatus and societal norms, the role of ‘cultural brokers’ for these NGOs worked for their own accumulation, even if, for this brokerage to work for them, they had to accentuate the cultural difference thus furthering stigma and ‘othering’. Portrayals of self-incriminating drug users and sex workers do not take into account a fuller range of identity politics and novel dynamics stigma in an unstable donor-dominated landscape. Set in the context of HIV/AIDS response in Pakistan, the ethnography captures some of the fluidity with which NGOs and individuals embodied often stigmatising stereotypes as strategies to get access to funds, power and influence with donors and with the government.