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Apne Aap: Taking The First Step Towards Eradicating Sex Trafficking

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We are living in a world that has embraced the absolute power of man over another. In the 21st century, the unjustified trade and enslavement of human beings constitute a degenerate state of affairs, which only confirms that human trafficking is the biggest ethical problem facing the globe today. Human trafficking includes the use of human deception by forcefully stripping off one’s dignity and self-worth to manipulate the vulnerable. As trafficked victims are forced to sell their innate rights and are subject to coercive subjugation, human trafficking portrays a contrasting image of injustice between equals, with regard to the right of every person over their life. Sex trafficking is a modern type of slavery, and the majority of its victims are women and children. Sex trafficking victims are subjected to coercion and fraud, all in order to make them perform commercial sex. 

Sex trafficking is a broader term that may include prostitution, but also pornography, exotic dancing, stripping, live sex shows, mail-order brides, military prostitution, and sex tourism. It is a transnational industry that produces billions of dollars by trafficking women. Although men, women, and children are all victims of sex trafficking, it is a crime that affects women and girls predominantly. This affects approximately 80% of those trafficked transnationally, most of whom are trafficked for commercial sex. Degradation of human and women’s rights, poor public health, disrupted societies, and reduced social development are among the many costs that society has to pay. There are detrimental physical and psychological health problems and social disadvantages for victims of sex trafficking.

Ruchira Gupta, the founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide.
Ruchira Gupta, the founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide. Image Credit: Apne Aap.

It becomes very difficult for them to flee once women and girls become involved in the sex trafficking industry. Victims can face legal barriers, where traffickers confiscate or sequester all types of documentation relating to immigration and citizenship. Other obstacles that women and girls may face to prevent them from escaping the sex trafficking ring are language barriers, fear, limited awareness, and lack of resources. 

Legacy prostitution, or the forced enslavement of future generations of girls in the sex trafficking business, is an expected social practice in many parts of the world. Sex trafficking is also a vital health problem with wider social consequences, that needs both medical and legal attention. Healthcare professionals should work in a clinical environment to enhance the monitoring, detection, and assistance of victims of sex trafficking, and to help them access legal and social services.

It’s high time we need to look into this emerging issue. By being cautious in our locality and reporting suspicious activities to authorities on hotline numbers, each person may contribute to this cause. Only when we began investigating did we realize the absolute seriousness of this issue. Knowledge among students needs to be generated through seminars and workshops. In order to improve society, there are several organizations working towards this cause in our country. ‘Apne Aap’ is one of them. 

Apne Aap is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that aims to support victims of human trafficking. Marginalized women and girls are provided with a forum for each issue, allowing them to share their stories and raise their voices against the cycles of abuse and prejudice they face every day. They are learning that their stories are the most important force in the fight to end sex trafficking, with the help of Apne Aap.

A sex worker sitting on the bed with her daughter, who is smiling. Representational Image.
Legacy prostitution, or the forced enslavement of future generations of girls in the sex trafficking business, is an expected social practice in many parts of the world. Image Credits: Apne Aap Women Worldwide, Photo by Bernard Henin.

Apne Aap Women Worldwide is an Indian activist group that empowers oppressed girls and women to resist and end sex trafficking. They organize disadvantaged girls and women into small groups for self-empowerment, working together to gain access to legal, social, economic, and political rights. In brothels, red-light districts, slums, and villages, they have set up 150 Self-Empowerment Groups (SEGs) since 2002. 

In order to end sex trafficking, these individuals are at the forefront of our community-centred approach. They have also turned the most oppressed women in the process into champions who are willing to alter their own destiny and those of their peers. Apne Aap stands for a ‘Third Way’ to deal with prostitution and sex trafficking. They conclude that the law does not punish women for being in prostitution or having to perform related ancillary practices, such as soliciting. Thus, they are trying to decriminalise girls and women stuck in prostitution. It also calls for anyone who pays for sex to be prosecuted.

In our daily lives, we should now feel responsible to take appropriate action in order to prevent human trafficking. There is no doubt that we live in a world which, every day, specializes in creating broken people. We have reached a point where the eradication of human trafficking is no longer limited to a few people or organizations willing to do so. Anyone will assist in mitigating this condemnable situation in any way. It only comes down to whether we are willing to take the first steps.

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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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