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The Covid-19 Pandemic Has Resulted In Starvation And Deprivation For Sex Workers

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Sex workers do not execute their works in a sedative and secret way. No sex worker accomplishes the work alone. So why do we tag them as “whore” and “vulgar”? In the current pandemic, they have been completely left out and omitted from the reliefs of government, protection, and health services.

sex professionals
Representative Image.

Thousands of sex workers, who are jobless as of now because of the lockdown, can’t nourish and look after their kids in this current predicament. According to a survey, 1.2 lakh sex workers in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamilnadu, Telangana had lost their livelihood. Approximately 1,15,374 sex workers have lost their source of earnings. Also, 33% of them do not have enough to fulfil three meals per day.

Due to continuous starvation and deprivation, many have returned to their home states. Over 60% of the sex workers in Delhi had gone back to their home states. Due to the Covid-19 outbreaks and imposed lockdown, sex workers are now struggling for food and basic needs. They are facing the hardships of lack of food, medicine, and most importantly, customers. The social distancing has forced them to remain at bay from their customers.

Surprisingly, the virtual world has been a blessing and become a temporary reassurance for them. Some are engaging themselves in one-on-one sessions with clients on WhatsApp and Telegram. Even video conferencing apps like Zoom, Skype and Google Meet serve one type of additional aid to their monetary fiasco.

Some redlight area’s sex workers are back to their job with thermal guns, gloves, sanitisers and masks. Shunned, neglected, deprived and despised by the so-called sophisticated society, sex workers are now oppressed and fallen prey to human trafficking.

Because of a lack of technological knowledge, sometimes they are prone to extortion and deception for the shared photos or recordings. Their privacy and livelihoods are at stake now. That’s why the Supreme Court in September 2020 told the Centre and states to urgently consider their plight and render them dry rations, monetary assistance, masks and sanitisers. 

There are some social organisations that reach them with helping hands. Even some NGOs are acquainting them to the smart use of the digital world like e-wallets. ICRSWE notes that sex workers have fallen as victims of the dark web of the pandemic. Sex workers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender have been thrown out of their family and are grappling with hopelessness and uncertainty. They are being forced to lead and manage their further days on debts from pimps or brothel owners.

sex workers
Representative Image.

According to the National Aids Control organisations, of the total 7,76,237 sex workers in India, over 1,29,000 are from Maharashtra, Delhi, and West Bengal. So in these tough times, they are relying on loans with no means to repay shortly. Covid-19 has left sex workers shattered and broken. 

The criminalisation of sex work in different countries ravages and destabilises their hopes to remain equal with the mainstream of the population. They experience a lot of adversity and harassment due to the criminalisation of sex work. It has exposed the inequality of social support systems worldwide.

They put their health and safety at risk to earn. Sex workers deliberately face sexual oppression, xenophobia, racism and language barriers. By examining the current plight, the NSWP and UNAIDS have issued a joint statement to call for immediate and critical action to ensure their rights. They are in continuous threat of lack of national protection, financial support and the trauma of neverending raids.

By supporting this noble cause, SWAN in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia has released a statement to urge all governments to prompt with necessary actions to counter and meet with this catastrophic failure.

Last but not least, no sex worker does the work alone. They need their companions. They need partners. Why do we appreciate them to the utmost importance and keep them in our home? Why do biased and judgemental ideas reign over our minds? They are always perceived as vulgar creatures with hatred in our eyes.

At this point of crisis, they need our support and monetary assistance. They need national security and stability. They need assistance at the time of their need. How can we neglect a big chunk of the population who for their livelihood earn with dignity without choosing any deceitful activities?

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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