I’m A Sex Worker And I Wish Someone Was Interested In My Story

By Subhalaxmi Borah, a student of PGP in Development Leadership at ISDM:

I am a sex worker.

Exhausted, I lie on the bed, sore at all the places he touched me. Age has begun to take a toll on my body. I stare at the fat wad of currency notes he flung at me before he walked out of the door. These notes are all that my body is made up of. My body, my soul and my life have become a slave to them. A slave who is the master of her freedom, but still chooses to live in the shackles of a world where she is copulated and made an object…a face that is not meant to be remembered and a name that is not meant to be spoken.

I get up against my will, with my muscles screaming in pain and my brain in an urgent need of numbness. But I have another shift to run before my day ends. One more shift of feigning a pleasure that I have long stopped feeling, and one more of those many shifts during which I no longer own my body.

I put away the bundle of money and draw the curtains open for a little while before the next man comes in. The last few rays of the golden hour fall on my face, and I feel a tinge of happiness that I have not felt in quite some time now. But, I turn away to prepare for my next shift, or perhaps; because I am too afraid to feel the ache that comes with the longing of a life that I have left far behind. It has become hard to recognise myself in the mirror. Dishevelled hair, a pair of hollow eyes and a lifeless face is all I get to see. I line my eyes with kohl, brush my hair into place and paint my lips with the brightest shade of red I have. I stare at the face that now looks inviting and wonder where along the way this face has lost its identity.

The audible sound of footsteps down the hallway is a cue for me to draw back the curtain and put on the sultriest expression that I can manage. He walks in after a few moments and looks around until his eyes rest upon me. His lips curve into a smile that makes me feel the warmth inside. His eyes crinkle at the edges making his young face look much older than his years. He settles himself on the bed and looks around the room as if to remember every aspect of it before he turned his eyes back again at me.

“You know you are very beautiful”
My heart flutters for a bit upon hearing these words. Something that I am sure has never happened to me in this lifetime. And before I could gather myself to formulate a reply, he asks me a question that I had long forgotten to answer. A question that brings back a host of memories of a life that I had to walk away from.
“What is your name?”
My heart skips a beat, and I stutter as I answer him.
“They call me Laila.”
There is a moment of silence before I hear him again.
“What do you call yourself?”

My knees suddenly felt too weak to support the rest of my body. I can feel the blood racing wildly in my veins. For once, I feel vulnerable. The thought of someone looking beyond my body is incomprehensible. I wonder why I am catering to this stranger’s unwanted curiosity, and yet, for the first time in years, I hear myself uttering my name aloud.

“Saira”

It sounds alien to me but his smile grows broader. He looks up at me with eyes that have a hint of admiration in them as opposed to the hunger-filled eyes that look at every part of my body except my face. This brief encounter is evoking feelings that I am reluctant to accept. Nonetheless, I feel my hidden desires bubble to the surface. Amidst all these, a thought keeps beating in my brain and violently pulsating my heart; so before I can stop myself, I ask him the obvious with an unintentional smirk across my face.

“So, you are paying a fat sum of money to have an unusually curious little conversation with me?”

His smile turns into a somewhat sheepish grin. His cheeks turn a faint shade of pink and in that moment, I forget who I am. Who he is…and where we are? With my eyes fixed upon him, my heart is waging a battle against my brain. One that I wish it would win, this one time.

“Actually, I am here to gather some information for my research. So..yes, technically, I am here for a small talk!”

And with that, something invisible snapped inside me for the past few minutes and begins to crumble down. He continues talking without taking much notice of the tumult his words have left me in, and I continue answering without looking into his eyes. I lose track of time as he questions me about my routine and experiences, among other things. And then, all of a sudden, he gets up to leave, and that is when I realise that maybe that was the only conversation I would have of this sort. He utters some words of farewell, leaves a bundle of money on the table and turns to leave with the same smile that he entered with.

A part of me urges to stop him. The other half holds me back. His retreating figure hits me with an unfathomable kind of gloom. As the last bits of shadow disappear down the hallway, I turn back. I stifle a tear. My mind resumes its previous need for numbness, so I fill a glass with the Cognac that has been lying around for quite some time on the shelf and take a sip. The liquid burns its way down my throat.

As my thoughts gradually start losing a sense of coherence, I find myself wishing for the stranger to return. If not tomorrow, some other day…even if it is for research or whatever else that may be. I wish for somebody who would not just see what I choose to show but also know my story…even if it is for a research. I wish to be able to forget for a few moments about what my life has turned out to be…even it is for a research.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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