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Sat, 23 Jun 2018

Northeast Today

‘Nothing About Us Without Us’

‘Nothing About Us Without Us’
August 25
13:32 2017

July Edition, Opinion, Partha Prawal

First words

Meeting a sex worker, talking to him/her/ze and writing a report or doing news looks easy only in the reel life. In real life even though this is not that impossible, yet it is not as easy as it sounds. And when we come from a conservative society, finding a sex worker and visiting her/his/ze’s place is a matter of prestige and the prestige ambit also covers a larger group of the journalists. In Assam it is difficult to track down a sex worker as apart from a few selected and pointed red light areas, sex working in Assam is carried out mostly under the blanket of secrecy.

Moreover, in most cases a sex worker is involved in the trade only to earn some extra money, and it is not the only way to make a living. Sex working is largely a gender (women) issue as male or transgender sex workers are rare and few. Any sex worker, irrespective of the place of one’s origin, firstly is a human and they too should enjoy the basic rights. But in most cases it has been observed that these rights are not only violated, but the sex workers are also subjugated.

Sex workers across the world face a constant risk of abuse, which is seldom informed about or highlighted as these makes no news. They being an extremely marginalized group of people, who are frequently forced to live outside the law, make it even harder for their oppression to grab headlines. They are often denied access to the basic health or housing services, which are also rarely reported by the media.

Brief explanation

Sex work is the oldest profession of the world, but sadly the profession is not recognized as a profession per say. Even in the 21st century in most countries, sex working is a sin and sex workers the biggest sinners and the societies have rarely wondered as what ‘forced’ so many in this most hated profession? Studies have revealed that sex workers chose the profession mainly because they are left with no other option. But, ‘left with no other option’ sounds and acts more like a guard, shielding several other serious issues!

In an interview with a national daily, a 36-year-old female sex worker, said, “No one likes to get abused and satiate the sexual urges of different men daily. We are forced to suppress our feelings and emotions and gradually we tend to act like robots. As long as we have youth, we have demand but once the youth leaves, streets become our new address.”

“The male sex workers face similar situations as well. However, the worst sufferers are the eunuchs and the transgender. Whether in the profession or out of it, security of life eludes us all the time,” she added.

A study revealed that a majority of sex workers of Sonagachi in West Bengal are suffering from anxiety as they feel that their future is not just unsecured but also bleak! They now are demanding that their rights should be safeguarded.

The societal patriarchy, since the beginning has echoed that the sex workers are untouchables and they are ‘spoiling’ the society. But, is this right? Sex workers thrive on ‘customers’ and if the ‘customers’ stop visiting them, the trade would eventually cease out. Let us assume that the trade is dead, but even then what will happen to those lakhs of sex workers? Will their life turn normal and will they enjoy any right? Won’t the tag of being a ‘sex worker’ follow them for eternity?

Sex workers’ rights

The main questions that need to be answeredare-as how could the sex workers be brought under the ambit of human rights and what laws and policies should the countries make? How should sex work laws look like, if human rights are to be respected to the fullest extent?

Answers to these questions, however, are controversial – both philosophically and politically. It may be mentioned here that in the past few years, several countries have put sex work policies on their political agenda – for different reasons and with different goals and outcomes.

In New Zealand, where sex work is decriminalised, a sex worker won a case for sexual harassment against a brothel owner.In Germany and Austria, court rulings abolished the notion of prostitution being ‘immoral’, thus opening up the space for legal reform and the recognition of sex work as work. The European Court of Justice has repeatedly ruled that ‘prostitution’ is an ‘economic activity’ and that within the European Union member states cannot restrict ‘freedom of movement’, not even for sex workers.

Final Words

While court rulings are useful and necessary in reminding us that sex workers have rights too, relying solely on courts to read human rights into existing legislation cannot be the sole answer to injustices that sex workers face. Democracies need to step in to make laws that actually improve sex workers’ lives – a goal that has proven difficult to reach.

Prejudices and lack of knowledge about the topic as well as the unwillingness to engage with sex workers themselves have proven to be hard obstacles to surmount. Often, sex workers are heard in consultation processes, but their views and political claims aren’t always taken seriously.

In a discussion held in Delhi on January 27 earlier this year, the sex workers’ networks, which included the All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW) firmly said, “Nothing about us without us.”

In India, voluntary sex work itself is legal (there were approximately three million sex workers at the last official count over a decade ago) but organised sex work is illegal. It was later clarified that voluntary sex work was not included in the anti-trafficking clauses of Section 370. A Supreme Court panel in 2016 also made the crucial suggestion that voluntary sex workers be given dignity under Article 21.

Evidence from other countries indicates that sex workers appear to be safer in parts of the world where it is decriminalised. It is apparent that a more inclusive approach to the notion of prostitution is required in India, and banning sex work, rather than fighting to improve the working conditions of workers, is certainly not a helpful option.


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