On women’s day, sex workers come out of the shadows

March 8th, 2008 - 7:26 pm ICT by admin  

Chennai, March 8 (IANS) Throughout the year, they lurk in the shadows of red light districts. Saturday was the day they came out in the open. Hundreds of commercial sex workers from 13 districts of Tamil Nadu gathered here to mark International Women’s Day. “As women, we have the same feelings as anybody else. This day helps us to understand our responsibility in creating awareness among other women in the area of HIV prevention,” said Rajeswari from Madurai, one of the 400-odd sex workers who have gathered here to celebrate womanhood.

The Tamil Nadu AIDS Initiative (TAI), an agency of the Voluntary Health Services (VHS), organised the initiative. The day’s theme was “Demand better health and take responsibility to ensure better future for children”.

TAI and VHS have been working to reduce the violence and harassment that the sex workers face and also to work out ways to augment their income.

“On women’s day these sex workers have taken a vow - ‘We will not involve our children in hazardous sex work’,” TAI project director Lakshmi Bai says.

“Sex workers can be good mothers and they all love their motherhood”, she told IANS.

The project implemented by TAI and VHS with 24 NGOs has been addressing various aspects that influence the life of sex workers and efforts have been focussed on “empowering the vulnerable female sex workers towards a better tomorrow”, Lakshmi Bai said.

In 13 districts of Tamil Nadu that have high concentrations of sex workers, the programme has reached out to 35,000 women with services such as free clinical services for sexually transmitted diseases, psychiatric chare, de-addiction, and basic HIV care.

It also provides crisis counselling, emotional counselling and a friends’ club.

“A key initiative is to encourage sex workers, who are also mothers, to come together and reflect on the challenges they collectively face and committing to uninterrupted and quality education to be assured,” Lakshmi Bai said.

The women are also taught to save a little for children of other women in sex work. Known as “Namkudumbam”, a group documents their day-to-day lives on a family card format.

“A key impact of these empowering initiatives has been their ability to slowly emerge and advocate for their concerns. This has led to management of incidents of violence and stigma,” the TAI director said.

One of the important objectives is to stop trafficking of more women into the sex trade and to strive for a brighter future for the children, she said.

“It increases our self esteem to come together with other women like us. We were able to build our confidence and learn from each other,” Jayarani from Salem told IANS.

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