July 13, 2008

What Do I Really Do Anyway? A 101 on Sex Worker Rights in India (and ITPA)

So I've been emailing a lot about my work lately, and there's some pretty interesting discussion coming out of it. I'm putting it up here for all to read. Feel free to post comments!

Hi guys!

This email is for all those of you who wonder what I actually do (hi mom and dad!):

So most of you know that I do work around HIV/AIDS and a lot of the time, I do stuff around rights of sex workers. But every now and then, you ask me the question, but what is it exactly that you DO? I have a perfect opportunity to fill you in right now, so I'm taking it.

I do a lot of things, but the part that I like best is that I'm a rights activist and community organizer. What this means is I try and raise awareness about how legal rights for sex workers (or the lack thereof) impact the lives of women and men in the sex industry and how the current policies needs to change. Raising awareness can mean a lot of things: writing articles, holding events (like rallies or press conferences), working with NGOs to get them to show their support for a group (by offering services, coming to events, signing a petition, etc.), writing letters to legislators, sensitizing press so that they cover an issue in a responsible and accurate way, teaching others in the community how to do effective organizing, supporting sex workers in networking efforts, etc., etc.

So recently, in India, there have been plans to amend this act called the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act which is the law that governs the Indian sex industry. Generally it is a very problematic law that has been consistently mis-implemented for the past 50 years of its existence. Basically, while the law is meant to penalize those who force individuals into the sex industry, it has mostly been used by law enforcement to harass and violate the rights of those who sell sex (whether because they are forced to or because it is a viable economic option that has been chosen by a particular individual).

The plan for amending it includes a whole bunch of proposals which would most likely drive the industry further underground, making for less safe working conditions for sex workers.
To read more about this check this.

So with this disaster in the works, the community of sex workers in India decided that we needed to raise awareness and protest these amendments. A lot of different organizations did a lot of different things, but in Pune, the sex workers' collective (Saheli) did some street theater to educate residents of Budhwarpeth (a red light district in Pune) about how this would impact their lives. The event was planned for July 1st, which was deemed a national day of protest for this issue.

What did we do to prepare? We did a press release, we notified other NGOs to get involved, we circulated a petition that is now being sent to legislators, we brainstormed ideas to perform for the event, and we contacted the press to come to the event.

So what happened? A great event! We reached an audience of over 1500 people in the area including sex workers, area residents, area visitors (aka the general public), customers, and anyone walking through Budhwarpeth that day. And the best news is that not only did we directly reach these people, but we got great press coverage the next day in 3 newspapers (2 english, 1 marathi - local language) through articles that were accurate and non-sensationalized (thanks to our press release!). So the numbers that we educated on this issue are multiplied greatly.

For those of you who are interested, the press coverage is available online. One article is at the link here (Indian Express)

So, now you know what I do. Questions, comments, and suggestions always welcome. :)

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