Demanding social protection for sex workers and their family members and greater representation for them in all policy-making bodies, the All-India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW) has urged the Central Government to consider setting up welfare boards in all the States to address the various problems faced by them.

Stating that ensuring better access to social entitlements and services for sex workers was the need of the hour, the AINSW has also noted that there is an urgent requirement for bringing in self-regulatory boards to address violence and trafficking in sex work settings.

Speaking at a two-day meeting of AINSW here that concluded this past week, social activist Dr. Smarjit Jana said: “In the states where self-regulatory boards are present they are participatory, transparent and found to be very effective in addressing trafficking.”

He added that while the Maharashtra Government had taken steps to set up a social welfare board for sex workers, there was a need to modify it to bring in elements of the self-regulatory board.

“In the last ten years the self-regulatory board in Kolkata has rescued and rehabilitated more than 1,000 women and minor girls. In comparison the anti-trafficking cell in Kolkata, which has been set up by the government, has rescued less than 100 girls between 2009 and 2011 according to their report,” said Dr. Jana.

At the meeting, participants also spoke on the issue of accessing schemes and entitlements. They said several welfare programmes had been found to be ineffective because they were developed using a top-down approach which did not involve the community. “Therefore it is important to have representatives in policy-making bodies in these ministries,” said Dr. Jana.

Sultana Begum from Ajmer said: “People making laws don’t know anything about our issues, concerns and why we do this work. Therefore it is necessary to have our representatives on policy-making bodies.” It was also pointed out that though the Supreme Court has asked all the state governments to provide voter and identity cards to all citizens, little progress had been made in this regard, particularly with the sex worker community, because of the apathy and discriminatory practices by service providers. Sex workers, who are primarily from poor and socio-economic backgrounds, are incapable of accessing social entitlements.

Bharti Dey of AINSW said: “It was therefore suggested that the Social Welfare Department at the state level should involve AINSW representatives to enable the community to register for various schemes and access to social protection and legal services.”

“We are also encouraging women to send copies of our complaints against police violence, inaccessibility to social entitlements and various discriminatory practices to the Women & Child Department, Health Ministry, Home Ministry, Department of Social Justice and Women’s Empowerment and the Prime Minister’s Office,” she added.