Editor’s Note: The following post from Katarzyna Rybarczyk, a Political Correspondent for Immigration News, details the increased danger for sex workers in India, and provides ways for donors to step in with support.
Despite India being home to some of the most significant populations of sex workers globally, sex workers in India have very few protections and are alienated from the government’s responses. Even before the pandemic, sex workers in India would face unfair treatment, discrimination, and poverty. Now, these problems have intensified to the point where for the majority of sex workers every day is a struggle to survive.
The Pandemic Exacerbated Sex Workers’ Vulnerabilities
Because of the nature of their profession, sex workers rely on physical contact and in-person meetings with clients to earn a living. As red-light districts have been recognised as one of the primary sources of new COVID-19 infections, they have experienced repeated closures and a significant decrease in the number of people using sex workers’ services. Their former clients not only fear contracting the virus, but many have also lost their jobs because of the pandemic and thus can no longer pay for regular meetings.
In turn, thousands of women have been left with no source of income and have no way of paying rent and putting food on the table. Sex workers and their families are living on the edge of starvation and are almost entirely at the mercy of NGOs and charities.
Some have been trying to find employment elsewhere, but their options are limited as most sex workers lack education and professional skills. That is why, desperate for money, women have been turning to virtual sex work. This solution, however, poses significant challenges to sex workers. Firstly, there is a possibility that someone will record them and share the videos or images without their consent. That could harm their reputation and put them at risk of intensified violence and discrimination. Secondly, instances of clients taking advantage of online services and disappearing without payment are very common.
Sex Workers Have Been Denied Support from the Government
In India, sex work itself is not illegal, but activities associated with it, for example, running a brothel, are. It seems, therefore, like sex workers should not be denied the freedoms that other members of society have. Nevertheless, under Indian labour law sex workers are not recognised as labourers, which deprives them of many rights. In addition to that, the stigma around their profession and the fact that most sex workers do not have any form of documentation make them one of the most marginalised groups in the country.
Since the pandemic outbreak in March last year, the government has been giving food supplies and 500 rupees a month to the most vulnerable communities. Nevertheless, only those who have ration cards, a form of identity document, can receive this aid. Most sex workers do not have any form of documentation, and thus they are not eligible for the government’s reliefs schemes.
How to Support Sex Workers in India
The situation of sex workers in India is hugely complex. Hundreds of thousands of women are stuck in the cycle of having to sell their bodies to survive. If they tried to break out of it, many would risk having virtually no means of support. That is why reaching out to sex workers in India and offering them support in these challenging times is extremely important.
Here is how you can help:
- Donate to organisations empowering sex workers, for example, SANGRAM that provides them with sanitary products and offers professional training, Apne Aap Women’s Collective that gives them the tools to create a better life, National Network of Sex Workers that prepare food kits that can last sex workers’ a month, or All India Network of Sex Workers that provide sex workers with assistance in paying rent
- Organise a fundraising campaign to independently collect funds to aid sex workers
- Advocate for better inclusion of sex workers in governmental assistance programmes
- Promote the rights of sex workers and raise awareness about their dire situation.
No matter their occupation, every person has a right to live in dignity, free from discrimination. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, this has not been proving true for sex workers in India. Luckily, however, with the combination of help from donors and activists, their wellbeing can be significantly improved.
About the author:
Katarzyna Rybarczyk is a Political Correspondent for Immigration News, a media platform affiliated with Immigration Advice Service. Through her articles, she aims to raise awareness about security threats worldwide and the challenges facing migrants.
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