Background: FSWs are empowered to use smart mobile phones to access social networking sites and applications. WhatsApp is one of such application, apart from communication, turning out to be a tool that is empowering them. Two rounds evaluation surveys conducted in 2014 and 2017 of Avahan Phase-III program, focused in high prevalence states in India, generated an evidence of increase in using smart phones among FSWs to communicate with co-FSWs and as well as with program staff of Community Organizations. Exploring this trend, we attempted to document what extent FSWs are using WhatsApp and how it has become an integral part of their lives.
Methods: Post evaluation surveys of AVAHAN Phase III program, qualitative in-depth interviews were carried out with purposively selected FSWs. A total of 30 FSWs who are currently using WhatsApp, identified with the help of CO board members were interviewed face to face. Primary textual data gathered was coded using Atlas-Ti package and analysed using conventional content analysis technique.
Results: Use of WhatsApp among FSWs has influenced not only their individual personal life but also on their professional front. The rise of smartphones and social media (use of WhatsApp) has affected their day to day dealings like; soliciting, negotiation on price and condom use with clients, sharing information about health, child care, parenting and monitoring household activities. Use of WhatsApp has also influenced their engagement in community level activities, events and meetings. Sharing of information about CO, communication with other FSWs program activities were reported. It has been instrumental in building community ownership, collective agency, improving self-efficacy and reducing stigma among FSWs.
Conclusions: WhatsApp is an emerging internet platform to reach hard to reach population, especially female sex workers. Embedding HIV prevention messages through WhatsApp could be a suitable platform to be considered for digital intervention.