Tag Archive for sex workers rights India

Sex workers express solidarity with JNU students, demand Azadi from `Goddess’ Durga

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Veshya Anyay Mutki Parishad writes to Jawaharlal Nehru University students expressing solidarity with their fight against right-wing orchestrated violence and intimidation

Dear Students of JNU,
Salute! Jai Bhim! Laal salam! We will win this war against sedition! March 3rd, International Sex workers Rights Day, Zindabad!

We write from the sex worker’s rights movement to hail your struggle and to add to the discourse you have sparked. We would like to discuss why using the term sex worker in the alleged pamphlet in JNU on Mahishasura Martydom Day is a concept fraught with the Whore Stigma. The use of the politically correct sex worker instead of the commonly used `prostitute’ does not take away from the fact that it is used to depict an insalubrious deed. The use of this term has only led to more misunderstandings of the term itself.

Sex worker is the term used by the sex worker’s rights movement in order to claim dignity to the work adults do consensually by providing sexual services for money. The sex workers use this term to give dignity to those that exchange sexual services for money but the use here is to supposedly strip the `goddess’ in this instance, of any dignity. The term since then has taken a life of its own. From a politically correct term it is now being used to describe anti-nationals, anti-goddesses even anti- patriarchy! But the thinly veiled contempt for the sex worker is huge in every utterance, from the Hindu Goddess Durga to the `anti-national’ women students in JNU.

It was brought to the nation on Februrary 24, 2016 when an alleged pamphlet issued in JNU to mark Mahishasura Martydom Day, October 2014 was produced in Parliament by Minister for Education Ms. Smriti Irani stating that it contained offensive material regarding the “Durga Puja”— “where a fair skinned beautiful goddess Durga is depicted brutally killing a dark-skinned native called “Mahishasura, a brave self-respecting leader, tricked into marriage by Aryans. They hired a sex worker called Durga, who enticed Mahishasura into marriage and killed him after nine nights of honeymooning, during sleep.” The pamphlet was issued on “Mahishasura Martyrdom Day” observed by scheduled tribe, scheduled caste, other backward caste and minority students of JNU.

The minister asked for forgiveness from her god to even utter the words as printed in the pamphlet. The use of the politically correct term sex worker and the use of the words like enticed and honeymoon to depict sexual exchange are the reason for the chocked anger of Ms. Irani. Would it have been better for the pamphlet not to have used the term sex worker? Because I cannot see what else the minister could have to ask forgiveness for, a fair skinned woman enticing Mahishasur and killing him is a well-accepted concept among the tribals, whether the woman was Durga is unclear.

Earlier on February 13th Jawahar Yadav, former Officer on Special Duty to the Chief Minister of Haryana In his tweet, Yadav wrote “For the girls who are protesting in JNU, I only have one thing to say that prostitutes who sell their body are better than them because they atleast don’t sell their country”.

Almost after two hours, Yadav wrote a clarification and deleted his previous tweet. In the clarification he said: “No girl has been compared to any prostitute in my previous tweet. Instead I meant that the girls who are forced to enter prostitution are rather better than the girls who were protesting in JNU and raising anti-India slogans, Pakistan Zindabad slogans. The daughters and sisters who are forced to sell their body are better than the girls who were demanding the freedom of Kashmir and Kerala and shouting that their fight will continue till India is destroyed.”

To continue this saga, on 27th February Devdutt Patnaik has written a piece on `How patriarchy makes ‘sex worker’ a term of abuse’ where he explains that, The Goddess as a free woman discomforts many, who cannot bear to see any female, divine or otherwise, in positions of power. His analysis however is very far away from this misleading headline in the Daily O. Devdutt’s simplistic analysis cannot move away from its moral frame of the single woman who has to satisfy `the unsavoury yearnings of men’. Mr. Patnaik also falls into the same trap of having a very interesting analysis but not addressing why the term sex work cannot be used interchangeably with the stigmatising concept of the `prostitute’.

Then on February 29th there is the headline, ‘Threatened and termed a sex worker after Mahishashura debate’: Asianet News editor Sindhu to TNM. Now we move from the alleged JNU pamphlet to the discussion on the Mahishasura Martydom day and all hell breaks loose. The anchor is threatened with life and also called a sex worker.

The mobile number of Sindhu Sooryakumar, the Chief Coordinating Editor of Asianet News, was circulated on WhatsApp allegedly by activists of right wing groups offended by a TV programme where members of Congress, BJP and Left parties debated whether celebrating Mahishasura, a common custom among certain tribes in India, is enough to accuse students of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University of “anti-national” activities.

This constant reference to sex work and women in sex work in particular is made to stigmatise and put down the woman it is describing. It is used to depict sleaze, disgust, distaste and revulsion. Mere use of the politically correct term has not taken away the whore stigma attached to the term `prostitute’ if it is used to divide women into the `good and the bad’.

The sex worker rights movement would like to bring to your notice the fact that it is therandi [whore] stigma that pushes sex workers outside the rights framework, effectively cutting them off from privileges and rights supposedly accorded to all citizens irrespective of what they do for a living. Stigmatization, which has its roots in the standards set by patriarchal morality, is experienced as the major factor that prevent sexworkers from accessing their rights. In the real world of sex workers, the lives of women in sex work are particularly held hostage. Stigmatization impacts the lives of women in more ways than one. Some of the rights denied due to discrimination are: freedom from physical and mental abuse; the right to education and information; health care, housing; social security and welfare services to name but a few.

We also demand Azadi!

Azadi from discrimination, azadi from the violence of a judgemental attitude, azadi from the multiplicity of injustice meted out to sex works, Azadi from the loose use of the politically correct but deeply stigmatised use of the term sex worker.Sex workers demand Azadi from `Goddess’ Durga

In solidarity,
Shabana Khazi, Durga Pujari, Kiran Deshmukh, Chanda Vazane, Neelawa Siddereddy, Suvarna Ingalgave, Meenakshi Kamble, Raosaheb More, Sudhir Patil, Aarthi Pai, Meena Saraswathi Seshu.

Veshya Anyay Mutki Parishad

Muskan [ TG and Male sex workers]

SANGRAM.

Why VAMP supports decriminalisation of sex work

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Any argument that seeks to define sex work as violence and exploitation forecloses discussion over the rights of people involved in sex work to pursue it as a livelihood. Law enforcement agencies, health authorities and clients often use punitive action to harass sex workers and violate their human rights. Decriminalisation will help sex workers address abusive or sub-standard or unfair working conditions instituted by state and non-state actors

By Meena Saraswathi Seshu and Aarthi Pai

Amnesty International, on 11 August, 2015, voted to recommend the full decriminalization of sex work and prostitution in order to protect the human rights of sex workers.

In the aftermath of Amnesty International’s vote, there has been a huge outcry from anti-sex work groups who contend that this move will legitimise exploitation within the sex trade industry. The critics do not agree that the intention behind Amnesty International’s resolution is to protect the human rights of sex workers and call on states to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence.

Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad [VAMP] a collective of women in sex work from western India welcomes the decision taken by Amnesty International. We support Amnesty’s assertion that states have an obligation ‘to reform their laws and develop and implement systems and policies that eliminate discrimination against those engaging in sex work’. VAMP works closely with SANGRAM a health and human rights NGO that I helped set up.

As a feminist activist for sex workers’ rights, my (Meena Saraswathi Seshu ) journey began in the movement against violence against women in India in the mid-1980s. I started working with deserted women and cases of dowry deaths in south Maharashtra. Sex workers were always ‘the other’ in every village.

In 1992 the HIV/AIDS epidemic forced Government of Maharashtra to initiate projects to work with ‘prostitutes’. SANGRAM plunged into this work and my world of the well-meaning activist was turned upside down. The involvement with this community of sex workers forced us to address the deep-rooted double standards and biases while dealing with issues related to sexuality and prostitution. It was impossible to ‘preach’ to a group of women who scorned the dominant value systems. The crying victims of the social workers’ imagination were not to be seen or heard.

As the understanding of prostitution as ‘exploitation, victimization, oppression, loose, immoral, illegal’, was broken into, it was not merely ideas and beliefs that had to be questioned but the language too had to be transformed. We had to revise our vocabulary to weed out words that reinforced the stigmatization and marginalization of women in sex work. The need to reclaim the notion of ‘womanhood’ also became necessary since this sanctified moral space refused to acknowledge the fact that the very identity (of being a woman) was obliterated by the “whore, harlot, veshya” image. If women were not “good” then they had no right to be considered women.’ It thus became a matter of claiming citizenship itself.

What caught our imagination was the notion that casual sex could be a physical act stripped of emotion, can be initiated by women, can be used in a commercial context and even be pleasurable. Besides, many adult women seemed to appear in the communities, out of ‘nowhere’ apparently, comfortable with this notion of sex within a commercial context with multiple men. This challenged our initial idea that no woman could and would enter sex work on her own and the notion that all women were forced and trafficked into sex work. It was apparent that many women were not there by force, deception or in debt bondage and were freely walking in and out of the communities.

The argument that decriminalisation will increase exploitation by legalising pimps and brothel owners is made with a very limited understanding of commercial sex

We, therefore, realised that the argument that decriminalisation will increase exploitation by legalising pimps and brothel owners is made with a very limited understanding of commercial sex. Punitive laws that criminalise and punish sex work act as instruments through which sex workers are harassed and regularly have their human rights violated by law enforcement agencies, health authorities and clients. In many countries, sex workers are a primary means by which the police meet arrest quotas, extort money, and extract information.

Police wield power over sex workers in the form of threats of arrest and public humiliation and use condoms as evidence of illegal activity, undoing years of effective public health promotion and campaigning around STIs and HIV. Forced testing for HIV is commonplace, along with breaches of due process and privacy. Sex workers in many jurisdictions are the targets of frequent harassment, physical and sexual abuse, and forced “rehabilitation”. Where sex work is illegal, sex workers often feel there is little they can do to address the violations perpetrated against them and are deterred from accessing health services for fear of further stigma and abuse.

Decriminalisation will help sex workers address abusive or sub-standard or unfair working conditions instituted by state and non-state actors

Branding decriminalisation as an attempt to legalise pimps and brothel keepers does not help sex workers in their struggles for rights, including the rights to health, and justice.

The term “third parties” used by the sex workers rights movement recognizes the diverse third party working relationships that sex workers negotiate. In contrast, the term, “pimp” is a stigmatizing racial stereotype. It posits sex workers as victims rather than as workers, denying their agency. Sex workers can be employees, employers or participate in a range of other work related relationships. Framed as targeting exploitative working relationships of sex workers, third party laws are also used to target the personal relationships of sex workers, as well as workplaces. The criminalisation of sex workers’ personal relationships amounts to the criminalisation of sex workers themselves, while the criminalisation of workplaces mitigates against sex workers ability to protect themselves from HIV and other STIs, and gain labour rights.

In environments where aspects of sex work are criminalised, for instance, soliciting, living off the earnings of a sex worker, managers. sex workers face discrimination and stigma which undermine their human rights, including to liberty, security of the person, equality, and health. Evidence suggests that sex workers’ risk of HIV infection is inextricably related to their marginalized and illegal status, which drives their work underground and increases police abuse and exploitation.

According to UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work, “even where services are theoretically available, sex workers and their clients face substantial obstacles to accessing HIV prevention, treatment care and support, particularly where sex work is criminalized.” In countries where sex work is decriminalized, there is evidence that violence directed at sex workers is reduced, relations between sex workers and the police are improved, and access to health services is increased.

The reason why VAMP supports Amnesty International in the decriminalisation demand is because sex workers from VAMP want States to actively seek to empower the most marginalised in society, including through supporting the right to freedom of association of those engaging in sex work, establishing frameworks that ensure access to appropriate, quality health services and safe working conditions and through combating discrimination or abuse based on sex, sexual orientation and/or gender identity or expression. This echoes the voices of sex workers around the world who argue that states are responsible for proactively protecting fundamental rights and call on them to undertake measures that will help protect, respect, and fulfill these rights for all.

Any argument that seeks to define sex work as violence and exploitation forecloses discussion over the rights of people involved in sex work to pursue it as a livelihood. It exacerbates the lack of legal remedies to redress violence and erodes the efforts of sex workers fighting for legal and social recognition of their rights to dignity and livelihood. Sex work is work, and sex workers should not be defined as either criminals or victims, such an analysis harms not only sex workers but all women.

Meena Saraswathi Seshu is the co -founder and general secretary of SANGRAM, an organisation working with marginalised women in rural Maharashtra, India. She was instrumental in collectivising women in sex work to form VAMP (Veshya Anyaya Mukti Parishad)

Aarthi Pai is an activist and lawyer. She is the Director of Centre for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalisation, (CASAM) a unit in SANGRAM that focuses on laws, policies and structures that impact sex workers and sexual minorities

Delhi women’s commission head changes tune on sex work, says she is open to legalization

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By Team FI
A meeting with National Network of Sex Workers and other organisations has resulted in DCW Chair Swati Maliwal accepting that she supports legislation of sex work. Though offering no apology, she said she was open to a consultative process with sex workers and NGOs working with them.

Following a statement submitted to the government by the National Network of Sex Workers (NNSW) and other organisations condemning the DCW’s chairperson Swati Maliwal comment on sex work being akin to ‘rape’, a meeting was arranged with DCW and members of the NNSW and other women’s organisation on August 6, 2015.

As per the NNSW, Swati Maliwal listened to their grievances and gave an explanation as to what prompted her statement. Maliwal stated that during her time spent at GB Road, Delhi, she had met with sex workers and NGO’s working in the area, she had been told by sex workers about their ‘ ‘plight’ as to how they had to sell ‘their bodies’ for rs. 50. She said many young girls aged 12- 13 are in a bad condition. Even older women have mental health issues. Maliwal said the women asked for “help and rehabilitation”.”

NNSW stated that they explained how sex workers who come from various states in India, join the profession “their own volition”. They stated that NNSW “believe sex work is work, that they advocate for safe working conditions for all sex workers and that they were against rehabilitation unless it was voluntary. “ NNSW pointed out the forced evictions in the name of rehabilitation in GB road.

As per the meeting minutes, “The network further clarified that women in sex work do not sell their bodies but only provide sexual services for money. NNSW said that one must visit GB road with a non moralistic perspective if one wants to help the women in sex work there. NNSW told her about the sex workers collectives and how powerful they are in working against trafficking and on decreasing HIV and AIDS in the country. The collectives also work on anti-trafficking and the best to discuss solutions to the problem of trafficking.”

The Chair, DCW stated that there is a need to understand decriminalization vs legalization debate and said that she is open to legalization and hold consultations with the NNSW. “There was a conversation with Sakina from UKMO, an NNSW member from Karnataka – “What if you get 1 lakh in other job do you want to continue with sex work?”. Sakina told her about dignity of earning her own living by her own means and explained how empowered she is and that she believes that like doctors and engineers she is also proud of the work she does,” states the notes from the meeting.

Though there was no apology, Maliwal indicated that she would like to start a pilot project in GB Road, and there would be no forced rehabilitation

The project would provide sex workers with alternative means of livelihood and would provide them with an income equivalent if not more than what they earn now.

NNSW states that they “told her what happens in Delhi impacts other parts of India. So we look forward to things and any negative thing can impact the lives of lakhs of sex workers”.