Staff Reporter

Around 1,600 sex workers from five mandals are part of anti-AIDS campaign in Anantapur

With the help of CFAR and CERA, they have formed a group

The group prevents minors from entering into the trade and counsels new entrants

Anantapur: The group of 1,600 odd sex workers formed by the Centre For Rural Action (CERA) and sponsored by the Centre For Advocacy and Research (CFAR) in five mandals in the district had graduated into an assertive community now, fighting for their rights and tackling HIV/AIDS effectively.

Gone are the days when sex workers operated with a guilt conscience in a fearful environment under threat of police harassment, pressure of physical violence by men, poor health conditions and risk of AIDS virus looming large over their frail lives.

The story of the sex workers before 2004 was one of harassment, rejection, living in seclusion, poor health, insecurity and living as objects of pity but after the CFAR and the CERA stepped into the scene, the sex workers came together as a community, organised themselves into a responsible band of educators by joining the bandwagon of the Anti-AIDS campaign.

Important issues

While leaving moral issues to the individuals who are part of the game, the community got organised under the guidance of the advocacy group to attend to issues of vital importance including health of sex worker, future of their children, educating the police on the real issues of their life and practicing “safe sex” and making it mandatory for men to use condoms.

In 2004 only 15 per cent of male customers coming to them were using condoms while the vast majority were disinclined to use condoms but today 95 per cent of clients were using condoms, says Sudha Rani, the programme officer of CEFAR during an informal chat with “The Hindu”.

Awareness

The sex workers were first educated and motivated on the pros and cons of practicing unsafe sex. Exclusive medical clinics were opened for them in the five mandals of Kalluru, Tadipatri,, Garladinne, Peddavaduguru and Anantapur . Free medicines for HIV and even for veneral diseases were being given. A doctor to cure their problems and to educate about health problems without embarrassment and inhibitions were extended to the sex workers, be it male or female sex workers or transgenders . Holding of community meetings, discussing problems and representing the same with the concerned agencies at the highest-level and interacting with the station officers at the police station-level were in vogue since 2004.

Sex workers fully convinced of their social responsibility educated their clients and almost made sex conditional to put a halt to the spread of HIV/AIDS virus. Due to community approach violence, police harassment and other related problems had been minimised, says Naga Lakshmi, an outreach worker.

She says that minor girls were being prevented from entering into sex business and even new entrants were being counselled on the far reaching consequences of living the life of a sex worker. Rama Lakshmi, president of Jhansi Lakshmi community-based organisation said that the campaign against AIDS by sex workers themselves has paid rich dividends and today only 195 of the 1,600 odd sex workers were victims of the AIDS virus.