Sex workers from 13 States come together to launch a national campaign for their right to dignity

Representatives of sex workers from 13 states affiliated to the All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW), which was founded three years ago, came together in the Capital this past week. The event was a two-day national consultation on the ‘Protection of Dignity and Rights of Sex Workers’ and the simultaneous launch of the first-ever national campaign for their rights and entitlements.

The campaign focuses on “breaking the silence, enabling every sex worker to speak up fearlessly, reach out to all stakeholders from the government, elected representatives and civil society and sensitise them about our concerns and aspirations.”

At the conference, in his video message, Economic Advisor to Prime Minister and former Chair of the Independent Commission on AIDS, C. Rangarajan noted that the “time has come to reduce the social vulnerability of sex workers by developing a systemic and comprehensive action plan that would involve improving their self worth and mainstreaming them into all social activities."

Explaining the significance of the campaign, a spokesperson of AINSW said, “August 21st is a significant day for us because we are launching a national level campaign to take forward the commitments made by the community in the Freedom Charter or Kolkata Declaration, which had emerged at the conclusion of the International AIDS Conference held last year”.

AINSW advisor Dr. Smarajit Jana stated that since they wanted to launch this national campaign with the support and collaboration of the Civil Society Coalition and friends of the community. The two-day consultation will build bridges with all the people who share their concerns.

Having played a decisive role and spearheaded the HIV prevention effort, the sex workers network is now aspiring to achieve the social positioning that they are entitled to.

Therefore the two-day consultation will focus on issues relating to social protection, livelihoods, the reduction of violence, the enhancement of citizenship rights and access to socio-economic development

“We realise that the community will have to do a lot of work to ensure that the rights guaranteed by Articles 14-21 of the Constitution become a reality for every sex worker in the country,” said Dr. Jana.

AINSW president Bharati Dey added that they had come to the Capital with the hope that political leaders from different affiliations will seriously reflect on their concerns.

“Lawmakers must realise that sex work cannot be abolished or done away with through coercive action and punitive laws and recognise that they need to engage with the deeper structural barriers such as poverty, gender discrimination, social inequities and the incessant violence that marginal communities face,” she said.