Mumbai – Critique of Maharashtra Women Policy- 2013 submitted by Women Groups #Vaw #Womenrights


CRITIQUE OF MAHARASHTRA WOMEN POLICY- 2013

SUBMISSION BY- MUMBAI WOMEN GROUPS AND ACTIVISTS

MAY 10TH 2013, Kamayani Bali Mahabal

The Mumbai Women groups and  activists submitted their critique to the Women  and Child Welfare Minister Varsha Gaikwad, at the   committee meeting held today for finalisation of the women policy. The committee has 11 members .

The submission stated that the  portrayal of women across the policy document reinforces gender stereotypes. The policy does not recognize women’s exploitation as a larger structural or systemic issue. The State continues to see women’s issues as ‘women’s problems’. An issue observed across the policy is that of referring to women as victims or pidit . The policy document typifies women as needy of welfare. So women are portrayed as victims and thus deserving of a piece in the development pie.

The objectives of the policy are very general and do not respond to the changing contexts and the current situation of women. It does not refer to any current data on women at the State level, for example, increasing caste violence, informalisation of labour in agriculture and otherwise, lowered sex ratio, honour killings, conditions of waste-pickers, sex workers, etc. The Policy with a very generic understanding of women’s concerns would lead to providing generic solutions

The policy is not framed within a rights based framework and this is evident from the titles of the sections which are for example day care centre, toilets, women’s hostels etc. The use of the term “adult unmarried women” (praudh kumarika)., assumes that all women have to be married by a certain age and those who cross that age would be referred to as adult unmarried women. So here we still function within the framework of family and marriage as the final goals to be strived for women. Anything outside of the family framework is treated as a problem to be addressed. In another place the word kalavantin has been used to typify women folk artists. The policy is oblivious of the fact that such a usage carries a very different connotation in terms of class and caste histories of exploitation. These and similar such usages probably would befit discussions in the 18th and 19th century but not so in the 21st century by which time we have benefited from learnings from the movement and feminist scholarship.All through the document sex selective abortion is referred to as female foeticide and this despite the fact that women’s movements have been crying hoarse over its use.

One of the very disturbing statements is regarding Sexual violence the reasons for which are attributed to mental illness amongst men or sexual distortions. One of the major contributions of the women’s movement has been to prove that violence is rooted in power and hierarchies whether they are related to case, class, gender, religion. Unfortunately the policy recognizes this not as an issue of broader systems and structures but one of individual malaise. The understanding of sex work also suffers from a similar problem. The entire discussion around sex work is under the broad title of sexually exploited women. Organisations working on the issue of sex work have time and again stated that sex work is not only about sexual exploitation. The policy should be explicit and state sex workers as sex workers and not try to portray them as ‘socially acceptable victims’

The policy is silent on the more pressing needs of the State, with its non committal on the reinstating of the women’s commission and its democratic functioning.. The policy comes across as a stand alone document with no forward or backward linkages. It does not take stock of the achievements of the past policies and neither does it mention the gender indicators which it wants to improve upon.

Below are some detailed critiques of chapters of the Policy Document

Chapter 5 – Awareness /Participation by NGOs….
• Instead of transferring the responsibility to NGOs the government should take full responsibility and take the onus of coordinating and networking with NGOs. They should become equally accountable to them.
• A trained social worker/ Counsellor should be appointed in every school and not a trained social volunteer as suggested to prevent student suicides
• Schools to be guided to undertake programmes/ activities with the purpose of bringing about awareness on gender equality
• The Censure board should include a member working on women’s issues
• When the nodal agency WCD makes training modules they should take inputs from NGOs experienced in that area before finalizing them
Miscellaneous
• The age limit for hiring a woman in crisis to a low cadre government job should be pushed back to 50, as many women between the ages of 35 and 50 years have never worked, and would therefore find it difficult to be seen as “employable”, making them vulnerable to poverty and further hardship, and exacerbating their crisis.
• Refresher training on gender issues to be offered to the police as well as school and college teachers at least once a year.

• MEDIA
• The provisions to grant powers to women commission, for approrpiate actiosn is very vague and arbitrary, unless they are defined .The issue of . Filming / video graphing in media of anything that is vulgar with a commercial purpose or insulting womanhood will be discouraged and such attempts will face legal actions. Rights of reinforcements in these matters will be assigned to an independent agency such as the Women Commission. Again, what is ‘vulgar with a commercial purpose’? Item numbers? Is every item number vulgar? How do we determine which ones harm women? How will such filming be discouraged? What on earth is the ‘rights of reinforcement’?. The policy document says formulating the censor board’ what does it mean, are they proposing a new censor board . The State policy should look at ways in which media can be used to empower women, instead of viewing media only through this punitive lens. This is very one-sided.
• Chapter 6- Education
Under the National Program for Education of girls at Elementary Level every blocks under each district of Maharashtra runs ‘Kasturba Gandhi Residential Schools. These schools are meant for girls and especially for those girls who are being employed as child labour and/or involved in home based work. Every school consists of 100 girls, due to which they could complete their education. Therefore we request that such programs must be implemented at all block levels. Today, it’s been functional only in few districts.

• Today most of the rural schools in Maharashtra do not have separate toilets for women school teachers and girls students. Therefore, separate toilets needs to be constructed for them.

• Every school must have complaints box, so that girl students who wants to complaint of sexual harassment can complete and report about the same. Also, there as to be redressal mechanism to address issues of sexual harassment at every school level.

• In spite of instituting monitoring committees at residential schools levels, which is suppose to hold meetings, submit regular reports to the higher authority, they do not act properly. Therefore there has to be a strict rules and regulations laid down for the same.

Chapter 9- Health

The Chapter on Health does not see women’s right to health as an individual in her own right and but simply as a mother, wife or daughter . The present policy however states the importance of women’s health more because it impacts the health of the child and the society at large. There is no mention of the social determinants of women’s health: poverty, caste, patriarchy as leading to poor nutrition, lack of access to medical care, etc in this section.

The promises such as a counselling centre per public health centre or every district will have a women’s hospital, the policy or the State absolves itself of providing basic primary health care for all, are very unrealistic .It shows disconnect with the ground reality wherein there are no well-functioning PHCs themselves or not stocked with basic medicines — iron and calcium for example for women. Rather than sensationalising the policy by giving everything “women special” there is a need for a more rational and sensitive health service in the State with focus on women, Dalits, tribals and other socially and economically discriminated sections.

• The Policy states about doing a new women health project, Instead of implementing yet another project, efforts should be made to gender sensitize other public health programs.
• Secondly the onus cant be on women alone, the accountability and responsiveness by the State needs to be mentioned.
• The Women’s orgs, NGOs and academic institutions should become obvious choices but they are not mentioned.PPP should not be an excuse by the State to wash its hands off from providing the services, instead, clear guidelines should be formulated to operationalise PPPs. T
• The Gender sensitivity programs should be across all carders of health care providers. It can’t be assumed that Physicians and those at decision making levels are sensitive.
• The policy should examine longer term strategies for addressing the social determinants of health. These are intended to highlight ways that gender inequality and health inequities (between women and men and between differing groups of women) can be addressed.
• To emphasize the importance of gender as a key determinant of women’s health and wellbeing.
• To recognize that women’s health needs vary according to their life stage.
• To prioritize the needs of women with the highest risk of poor health.
• To ensure that the health system is responsive and accountable to all women, with a clear focus on illness prevention and health promotion.
• To support collaborative research, monitoring, evaluation and knowledge transfer to advance the evidence base on women’s health.
• Instead of targeted health insurance , there should universal access to health care.
• Malnutrition is severe among women, the State should come up with a clear plan to combat it.
• Terminal care is needed for all women.
• Efforts will be made to improve women’s freedom to make decisions in regards of health and family planning.
• Special provisions should be made for health care for women in institutions such as prisons, shelter homes, women’s hostels, beggar homes etc.

In Chapter 15– Women and Law

Government of Maharashtra will adopt following measures for effective implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
• Provide safe working environment to its women employees at its workplaces which shall include safety from the persons coming into contact at the workplace.
• Display at any conspicuous place in the workplace’ the penal consequences of sexual harassments; and the order constituting, the Internal Complaints Committee.
• Organise workshops and awareness programmes at regular intervals for sensitising the employees with the provisions of the Act and orientation programmes for the members of the Internal Committees in government offices.
• Provide necessary facilities to the Internal Committees or the Local Committees, as the case may be, for dealing with the complaint and conducting an inquiry.
• Provide assistance to the woman if she so chooses to file a complaint in relation to the offence under the Indian Penal Code or any other law for the time being in force;
• Cause to initiate action, under the Indian Penal Code or any other law for time being in force, against the perpetrator, or if the aggrieved woman so desires, where the perpetrator is not an employee, in the workplace at which the incident of sexual harassment took place;
• Treat sexual harassment as misconduct under the service rules and initiate action for such misconduct.
• Monitor the timely submission of reports by the Internal Committee.
• Notify a District Magistrate or Additional District Magistrate or Collector or Deputy Collector as District Officer for every District to exercise powers and functions under the Act.
• Monitor constitution of LCCs by the District Officers and appointment of Nodal Officers to be appointed by the District Officers in every block, taluka, tehsil in the rural area and in every Ward in the Municipal Corporation area.
• The Central government to pay State Governments grants of sums of money for payment of fees and allowances to be paid to the Chairperson and Members of the LCCs
• State Government to set up an agency to transfer the grants to the District Officer.
• The appropriate Government shall monitor the implementation of this Act and maintain data on the number of cases filed and disposed of in respect of all cases of sexual harassment at workplace. (Section 23).
• Receive the reports and monitor collection of annual reports to be received by the District officer (Section 21).
• Monitor the timely submission of reports furnished by the Local Committee to the district officer (Section 20).
• Monitor the measures taken by the District Officers for engaging non-governmental organisations for creation of awareness on sexual harassment and the rights of the women. (Section 20).
• Imposition of penalty on employers for non compliance with the provisions of the Act. (Section 26)
• Cancellation, of his license or withdrawal, or non-renewal, or approval, or cancellation of the registration for repeated non compliance to the Act. (Section 26)
• In the public interest or in the interest of women call and inspect records relating to sexual harassment from any workplace through the District officer (Section 25)
• Authorise officers to make inspection of the records and workplace in relation to sexual harassment, who shall submit a report of such inspection (Section 25)
• Provide finance and other such resources to develop relevant information, education, communication and training materials, and organise awareness programmes, to advance the understanding of the public of the provisions of this Act providing for protection against sexual harassment of woman at workplace (Section 24)
• Provide finance and other such resources to formulate orientation and training programmes for the members of the Local Complaints Committees. (Section 24)

PWDVA
• Wider publicity should be given by the government not only to women and girls, but also to men; government officials should set an example.
• Sensitizing police officials is not enough. Make them accountable through administrative and penal provisions if they refuse to assist the woman who complains of domestic violence.
• Protection officers – need to be trained as well as monitored. There has to be a system of accountability; more protection officers need to be appointed as the present number is inadequate.
• NGOs can play a complementary role, but the responsibility of implementing the Act cannot be outsourced to NGOs, as it is essentially a state responsibility.
• Political will to implement the Act needs to be exhibited through an adequate budgetary allocation and provision of required infrastructural facilities for personnel under the Act.
Suggestions regarding Special Court / Family Courts:
• Travelling allowance to needy women who attend court – proper criteria needs to be set, to avoid ad hocism and discrimination.
• For every court date, working women need to take half day or full day leave, which results in a loss of earning. Appropriate measures need to be taken to address this problem.
• Vacancies in family courts need to be filled up promptly to ensure that pendency of cases does not increase.
• Family court judges need to be trained to inculcate a gender perspective – they should not prioritize saving the marriage at the cost of physical security and mental well-being of the woman.
• There has to be a system of regular updation of knowledge of family court judges, and a proper system of monitoring the judgments delivered and the perspective with which such judgments are delivered.
• The state free legal aid service needs to be strengthened; legal aid lawyers should be competent professionals with integrity, who should undergo adequate training; women should not be subjected to harassment and demand of bribe by the legal aid lawyers.
• Fast track courts, if started, should not compromise over rights of the accused to a fair trial, and should follow the safeguards in law to balance the interests of the accused and the complainant.
Helplines for Women
Clarity is required on the following issues:

It is positive step that government has announced setting up of 1091 as a helpline number. The most important is that it should be placed within the police control room and should be operated by Police personnel and should be supported with regular trainings of police personnel and adequate publicity for the number to be known to people so that it can be effectively used by women in crisis. There should be a standardize catergorisation across the state and there should be systematic documentation of calls, action taken.

Elderly / Senior Women
• Its important to train police officials to be sensitive to the difficulties faced by the elderly, particularly elderly women
• They should not be called to the police station often
• Stringent action should be taken against police officials who refuse to register a complaint by elderly women, and against those who take a bribe from their relatives

Trafficking of Women

• The government needs to de-link trafficking and sex work completely, as trafficking of women and girls is done not only for sexual exploitation but also for cheap and exploitative labour, for forced marriage, adoptive or other intimate relationships.
• Ensure proper and effective implementation of Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA);
• Issue strict directions to law enforcement officials to act bona fide and with due diligence;
• Take strict action against public officials who are complicit in or connive with the perpetrators in trafficking of women;
• Ensure that women’s human rights including the right to dignity and privacy are respected at all stages of the legal proceedings, including at the time of registration of FIR, investigation and prosecution;
• Provide free legal aid to trafficked women, and protect them from intimidation / threat / coercion from the traffickers;
• Issue directions to all law enforcement and health officials not to conduct mandatory medical examinations on trafficked women, including for HIV / AIDS; the same is to be conducted only on a voluntary basis, if requested by the woman concerned;
• Provide adequate, confidential and affordable medical and psychological care to trafficked women,
• Ensure that strictly confidential HIV testing services are provided only if requested by the woman concerned, and any and all HIV testing is accompanied by appropriate pre- and post-test counselling;
• Any state initiatives for ‘rescue and relief’ of trafficked women should be conducted in a planned manner, with the participation of civil society groups, and after putting in place provisions to meet the needs of trafficked women;
• In contexts of inter-country trafficking, repatriation of the women to their country of origin should be resorted to, only after due consideration of the woman’s wishes;
• Provide directions to state enforcement officials not to detain trafficked women in nari niketans / government-run homes or institutions, as the trafficked women have committed no crime and their rights have to be respected;
• The state has to address the issue of trafficking, not only through a law and order approach that focuses on criminal law, prosecution and punishment, but through a human rights approach that keeps the trafficked woman’s right to privacy, dignity and other human rights at the centrality of state response.
• Strengthen measures to alleviate poverty, underdevelopment and lack of equal opportunity, as well as educational, social and cultural measures to discourage the demand that fosters exploitation and leads to trafficking, particularly of women
• Provide adequate livelihood opportunities for rural women in order that migration is not the only means to secure reasonable wages and an adequate standard of living
• Address the structural causes of violence against women to ensure that migration is not resorted to as a means of escaping from violence and discrimination at the place of origin
• Put in place gender-specific interventions for contexts of natural disasters, displacement, political instability, civil unrest, internal conflict including communal violence, as such contexts exacerbate women’s vulnerabilities and may result in an increase in trafficking;
• Mandatory testing for HIV, as conceived of in the women’s policy, is violative of women’s human rights. Instead, women should be given information and raise their awareness about the advantages of testing.

Shelter

• The condition in Maharashtra government’s shelter homes is despicable, and does not provide a safe environment for women to live in, due to many incidents of sexual exploitation and rape in shelter homes. A social audit of all shelter homes operating in the state is required urgently.
• Ensure that all shelter homes are registered under the relevant laws, and that provisions for frequent monitoring of the conditions of the homes are implemented
• At present, women are so terrified of shelter homes that they would rather tolerate the violence in their matrimonial homes. This situation needs to change for the better, if the Maharashtra government is serious about empowering women.
• Ensure that shelter homes are provided with adequate facilities and a clean environment for the physical and mental well-being of the inmates
• Counselling, psychiatric and medical services should be provided
• Surprise checks should be conducted to ensure the proper management of shelter homes
• Financial audit requires to be done, as required.

Implementation of the Section 498 (A) IPC

1. In depth and intensive multidisciplinary research and documentation in the area of violence against women and law are required. There should be concerted efforts for coordinated research projects involving stakeholders like the police, judiciary, women’s organisations and academic institutions.

2. Capacity building for skilful investigations of crimes against woman will help in sensitive handling of cases. A protocol or ‘drill’ for investigation in cases of Section 498A IPC should be developed. The focus should be on women as citizen’s experiencing violence within the family.

3. Capacity building to enable the Criminal Justice System to uphold mental violence as legitimate evidence and render legally relevant facilities in cases of mental and emotional abuse will help address the current situation. Mental violence should be treated at par with physical violence.

4. The judicial decisions of compounding/reconciliation in cases of Section 498A should be critically reviewed through research.
PCPNDT ACT

The Policy says In order to make the PC-PNDT law provisions mandatory, the government will form a new protocol under PC-PNDT Act and will strictly implement it. This is a central act and they cannot make their own protocols. The State needs to ensure implementation of law without backlash on the right to abortion to women.

A recent survey conducted in the slums of Mumbai by Women Networking (an informal network of community organizations, NGOs and individuals) has revealed that while 65% of the respondents (out of 700) were aware of the law on sex selection only 24 per cent knew that abortion is legal in our country. This high-level of awareness of PCPNDT Act is an outcome of the government’s efforts to save the girl child, but it has inadvertently resulted in mortality rate as high as 8% among women who are forced to approach ill trained health practitioners for abortions, because of poor awareness on women’s right to abortion. In Mumbai, the medical shops are directed not to sell drugs & injections related to abortion and contraception without a prescription from authorized doctors. The Maharashtra Policy needs to ensure that under no circumstances the right to abortion as stipulated in the Medical Termination of tHE Pregnancy (MTP) Act be curtailed.

Limiting access to safe abortion methods only pushes women towards unsafe methods, thereby endangering their health and survival. Monitoring women buying pills from pharmacies is regressive as it undermines the confidentiality aspect of abortion and can lead to harassment of women at the hands of officials. Such regulations are discriminatory and curtail autonomy of women over their own body, right to dignity and right to benefit from advances of science, medicine and technology.
Sex selection is a phenomenon which emerges from gender discrimination and socio-economic bias. All efforts to prevent sex selection must seek to address issues of gender discrimination, instead of further constraining women’s access to safe abortion services

Chapter- 19- Physically disabled and mentally challenged women

The chapter on women with disabilities finishes in 12 lines , which says a lot . The language should be women with psycho social disabilities and not physically disabled and mentally challenged . The Women with disabilities do not need ‘ Sypmathy” as the policy document says but ‘Empathy. Clubbing them with senior citizens is not at all justice to their needs and rights . They need more of integration with society and the so called normal citizens need to be sensitized with issue and concerns of women with psycho social disabilities especially the teachers , than, having special schools. The Policy only addresses physical access to transport and does not even touch upon the issue of forced psychiatric interventions and institutionalization. These acts of violence are done under the legal authority of the state, and in pursuance of wrong and discriminatory state policy, and there is no possibility of redress, emphasizing the message of all violence that tells the victim she is powerless.

There have been instances for forced sterilization were in the range of 5-7% for the combined group and 7.5% for women with mental disabilities. The high incidences of sterilization of women with disabilities happen because families and community do a role reversal viewing them as incapable of motherhood, which goes unchecked. Unjustified administration of drugs {tranquillizing the woman to ‘shut her up’) or withdrawal of drugs also comes under the realm of physical abuse. We see regular over medication of patients. There is no prescription audit and we are demanding it. Over medication is leading to patients having serious side effects and not being able to participate in the rehabilitation programs

Voluntary admissions, hospitalization and discharge favor men more than women. A study of five mental hospitals in the state of Maharashtra revealed that while men are admitted to hospitals for treatment in the early stages of diagnosis, women are “dumped” here only after their illness turns chronic ie when they turn dysfunctional and are unable to comply with their social roles. The policy needs to address
1. The Gender Gaps in Mental Health Treatment
2. Marriage and Lack of legal aid in rural areas
3. Stop Institutionalization
4. Initiate Community linked programmes
5. Legally ban forced sterilization of girls
6. Make policies which are more catered towards the needs of the women with disabilities.
7. Audit and monitor on a regular basis to make sure the implementation of these policies.
8. Bringing in accessibility features so as to make access to enforcement agencies and various redressal mechanisms easier and available.
9. ECT is used in most hospitals without permission
10. Punishment of erring officials and duty bearers.

Chapter 23– Sexually Exploited Women

This policy conflates trafficked women and those that are in sex work of their volition.
This is a deliberate attempt to ignore the supreme court who in the case of Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal , wherein a regular criminal appeal relating to the murder of a sex worker in Kolkata was converted into a broader PIL to look into the issue of rehabilitation of sex workers. A panel was constituted by the Supreme Court order
dated 19.07.2011 with the following terms of reference:
• Prevention of trafficking,
• Rehabilitation of sex workers who wish to leave sex work, and
• Conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in
accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution (as modified by the order of the Supreme Court dated 26.07.2012).The Policy by the state of maharashtra clearly conflates all the three above instead of following the orders of the supreme court of India.

Chapter 24- Transgenders (Sr.No 24)

A welcome move to include transgender, the policy only suggests ‘preventive measures’ for stopping people from being transgender. It suggests that this can be done through monitoring pregnant mothers and hormonal levels. The policy shows a lack of sensitivity and understanding of the issue. One of the reasons cited for being a transgender is “under too much influence of women” or the reason for being transgender as a ‘distortion’, which reflects the level of empathy among the government for people’s choices.

• Definition of Transgender is absolutely incorrect – archaic words such as gender deformity, chop of their genitals etc are used.
Alternate definitions
– Transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression, or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. (American Psychological Association)

- Transgender is the state of one’s gender identity (self-identification as woman, man, neither or both) not matching one’s assigned sex (identification by others as male, female or intersex based on physical/genetic sex -) ^ a b Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. ‘’GLAAD Media Reference Guide – Transgender glossary of terms”‘’GLAAD’’, USA, May 2010. Retrieved on 2011-02-24.)

- Transgender (sometimes shortened to trans or TG) people are those whose psychological self (“gender identity”) differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with. To understand this, one must understand the difference between biological sex, which is one’s body (genitals, chromosomes, ect.), and social gender, which refers to levels of masculinity and femininity. Often, society conflates sex and gender, viewing them as the same thing. But, gender and sex are not the same thing. Transgender people are those whose psychological self (“gender identity”) differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with. For example, a female with a masculine gender identity or who identifies as a man.
http://geneq.berkeley.edu/lgbt_resources_definiton_of_terms#transgender ; Retrieved on 08-05-2013)
• Lesbian and bi-sexual women have been totally ignored in the policy -They need to be included
• The paragraph on preventive measures makes no sense and should be scrapped
• There is a complete welfare approach adopted rather than a rights based approach in the policy as far as transgenders are concerned
• There is no need for having a separate comprehensive Act for them to live a life of Dignity. The constitution already provides these rights. The changes are required through rigorous sensitization of stake holders and civil society and creation of structures to enable them to get their basic rights.eg modification of all official documents to include a sex option apart from male and female etc.
• Need to incorporate non-discrimination and equal employment opportunities in public and private organizations as well.

The Submissions by- Women Organisations / Networks and Individual activists
• Akshara
• Forum against Sex Selection- FASS
• Jan Swasthya Abhiyan- Mumbai
• Point of View
• Sneha
• Veshya Mukti Morcha
Individuals -
• Anagha Sarpotdar
• Kamayani Bali Mahabal
• Saumya Uma

The feminist and the sex worker: Lessons from the Indian experience


Himal Mag
Despite decades of tension between feminists and sex workers, it is finally becoming clear that the former has much to learn from the latter.
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Photo: Alessandro Vincenzi

From the earliest days of ‘second wave’ feminism, the issues of choice and consent have been central to feminist thought throughout the world. Much of early feminist analysis focused on how patriarchies manifested themselves in terms of male control over women’s lives: their sexuality and reproduction, their mobility, their work, employment and assets, and their access to and participation in the public realm. This control not only constricted the range of women’s choices, but often denied their right to make choices at all. The issue of consent was fraught with far greater political complexity, and viewed by many feminists with some suspicion, since it was widely used by anti-feminist and religious ideologues to justify gender discrimination. Feminist thinking on consent – connoting acquiescence, willing acceptance or even active support – therefore appeared more often in the context of women’s ‘false consciousness’, as a manifestation of women’s co-option into maintaining patriarchal rule. In terms of both choice and consent, few issues have been more rigorously debated in recent decades than that of sex work; but today, it seems that feminism itself has quite a bit to learn from sex workers.

In the Indian context – on which this article focuses – analysis by both scholars and activists has addressed the question of feminism’s ambivalent approach to sex work and sex workers, and the implicit lack of understanding of how choice and consent operate in this realm. There are several possible roots to the feminist dilemma: unconscious internalisation, for example, of Brahminical patriarchy and Hindu nationalist reconstructions of the home and family as a sanctified site of ‘pure Indian-ness’, and the role of women’s chastity and sexual exclusivity in maintaining this purity. Similar constructions of women as guardians of communal identity, purity and the highest moral values were visible among Muslim and Christian communities as well.

These historical and social processes basically constructed women’s bodies, particularly their sexuality and ability to reproduce, as capable of maintaining or polluting caste and communal purity. Combining with tenets of Brahminical Hinduism – which permeated not only other castes through what sociologist M N Srinivas termed the ‘Sanskritisation’ process, but non-Hindu communities as well – a sliding scale of chastity was prescribed. Oppressed-caste women had to be sexually monogamous within marriage, but simultaneously available to upper-caste men, while upper-caste women’s chastity was non-negotiable and strictly imposed through the additional measures of restricted mobility and seclusion. Some parts of women’s bodies naturally became more sacrosanct than others – the vagina, for instance. As such, a woman who sold the labour of her hands and feet was still considered a good woman, no matter how filthy or arduous the work, or even if she belonged to an untouchable caste; but one who sold sexual labour was beyond the pale. So, while sex workers were part of the social landscape in every part of the country, they were symbols of the fall from grace that kept ‘good women’ under chaste control.

In this writer’s opinion, this is the hidden heart of the matter. Emerging from societies that held women’s sexual organs as a vehicle both to purity and pollution, Southasian feminists were, until recently, unable to critically examine the patriarchal underpinnings of this paradigm. The first sign of this internalisation was in the tacit hierarchy that emerged in forms of violence against women, where rape became implicitly categorised as the most heinous crime a woman could suffer. It could be argued that this was mainly due to the stigma attached to the rape victim, where the social consequences that ensued were far heavier than, for instance, a victim of domestic violence, who would at least be pitied or receive some grudging acknowledgement, if not justice. In a sense, rape was like leprosy – leading to social ostracism – while domestic violence was like tuberculosis, which, though far more contagious, elicits sympathy and support. But this difference in feminist reaction could also have been due to feminism’s deeply embedded but unquestioned sense that violation of the most sacrosanct part of a woman’s body was the ultimate, and therefore most unforgivable, expression of male dominance and control.

Therefore, sex work and sex workers presented a unique challenge to the feminist discourse, and resulted in several positions (or divides) in feminist approaches to sex work. But at the root has always been the fundamental dilemma: How could feminists accept prostitution – the sale of sexual services by women to men – as a legitimate form of employment, when it represented the grossest expression of women’s commodification? For many feminists, only two options seemed acceptable: to treat the individual prostitute as a victim lacking in agency, one who symbolises the ultimate oppressiveness of the patriarchal regime, and who is in need of rescue and rehabilitation; or as women of false consciousness, morally decrepit agents of the patriarchal system, whose work results in the oppression of other women. However, given that a large number of India’s feminist founding mothers came out of left political parties, a third strand also emerged. This line of thought did not engage in moral judgment, but instead argued that because sex work is a form of work, all labour rights and protections must be extended to sex workers.

Meanwhile, underlying all these feminist positions was the basic assumption that a world without sex work would be a better place – therefore making them political bedfellows of religious and political conservatives engaged in campaigns against sex trafficking.

Not hapless victims
In India, encounters between organised sex workers and feminist groups have been infrequent and strained. Sex-worker organisations have never been invited to participate in national conferences of women’s groups; in fact, in the early 1990s, a tentative attempt by a local sex-workers group to attend such a national conference created acute discomfort among the organisers, who rejected the request on grounds that the group did not constitute a ‘feminist’ organisation. Sex workers are puzzled by why the dialogue with feminists is predicated upon an assumption that they must renounce – or, at least, express an intention to renounce – their occupation, or reiterate the ‘hapless victim’ mythology. For their part, feminists wonder why sex workers expect their support on issues such as violence, police harassment or legal reform, while making their occupation itself a non-negotiable.

Another curious element in feminist approaches to sex work has been the tendency to isolate analysis of sex work from other forms of work performed by women, including those from similar classes, skill levels and mobility. Studies of women workers in the unorganised sector, both in India and elsewhere, have repeatedly underlined high levels of exploitation, sexual harassment, poor working conditions, violence at the hands of employers or agents, wide range of health hazards, and lack of social security and legal protection. Almost all of these studies, as well as the experiences of activist and women’s organisations across India, testify that poor women in a range of informal-sector occupations routinely face sexual exploitation and violence – the supposed hallmarks of sex work – as well as a form of trafficking, when they migrate in search of livelihoods. Consequently, feminist organising within the informal sector has been imbued with the assumption that women have the agency and capacity to challenge their exploitation and mobilise for their rights within these occupations. For some reason, however, the nature of their victimhood has been viewed differently from that of women in sex work, an equally informal occupation.

The only right that sex workers have been able to mobilise for has been to be ‘rescued’ from sex work itself. Indeed, the only time a link is made between women workers in general and sex work in particular is to argue that one of the negative impacts of economic reforms is the migration and entry into sex work of women from impoverished families. Thus, analysts like Manjima Bhattacharya argue that sex workers are marginalised from three directions: ‘the criminality associated with their work, the morality that keeps them ostracised, and the informality of their labour which deprives them of bank accounts, insurance, or employment security.’ She concludes: ‘Recognition of their labour and economic contribution is one of the first steps in mainstreaming sex workers and according them dignity and rights.’

Ironically, religious and political conservatives have usurped some feminist discourse on sex work in their anti-sex trafficking crusades. Outlining a series of assumptions and positions on prostitution adopted by some feminists and anti-trafficking groups, researchers Sandhya Rao and Cath Sluggett have written:

Traditionalist and conservative groups use the feminist construct that prostitution violates women per se, but their argument has very little to do with women’s equality. Rather they feel that prostitution threatens traditional sexual arrangements … The anti-trafficking movement has drawn upon radical feminism, evaluating prostitution as that which degrades all women. This is connected to a wider analysis of power and male domination. Radical feminists would [deny] that their arguments are based in morality; yet the moral message is evident in their claims … an idea of female sexuality that is contaminated by sex and all the more so when sex is separated from love and exchanged for money. None of these understandings leave room for the female sex worker to speak of her own subjective experience. In this way, the depiction of the sex worker as a subjugated, helpless victim, living a life of misery, needing rescue and rehabilitation, becomes essential to justify the anti-trafficking movement. In fact, this has little to do with the reality or self-image of sex workers themselves. Seizing upon stories of atrocities of rescued sex workers, while ignoring the empowered narratives and analysis of sex-worker organisations and movements, is a studied and conscious process.

The rapid pace of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Subcontinent, and the demonisation and targeting of female sex workers in prevention rhetoric and programmes, finally brought some feminist activists – especially from the health sector – into a closer alliance with sex-workers organisations. The injustice of focusing on sex workers as significant carriers of the disease, rather than their male clients, brought at least some feminist groups to support sex-worker organisations in pushing for condom use and the right to reject a client believed to be infected. These organisations were also able to demonstrate that, when organised, the capacity of sex workers to choose safe sex, or even to refuse to service non-compliant clients, was far superior to that of the majority of Indian women.

Over the course of this long and rather torturous historical relationship, many feminists – including this writer – have slowly come to re-examine the approach to sex work. This reappraisal has been largely due to the growing visibility, views and compelling analysis of sex-worker movements in India and beyond, and the open challenges that these have thrown to feminist organisations and the national women’s movement as a whole. The turning point occurred at the National Autonomous Women’s Conference, held in Kolkata in 2006 after a gap of nearly a decade, where women of all backgrounds from across the country came together to share their experiences. Unlike previous such gatherings, however, this one included women with disabilities, hijras and, most conspicuously, sex workers – and the latter strongly voiced their views. Thus, over the past few years a new dialogue has begun, and many feminist scholars, researchers and activists are beginning to listen and learn, rather than lecture or prescribe.

The citizenship approach

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Art: Venantius J Pinto

Organised, politically aware sex workers are making their claims within a new framework. A composite of their arguments for visibility, voice and rights would read something like this: We may not have had a choice about whether or not to do sex work, or the other choices available to us for livelihood and survival were worse. When and if we find better alternatives, we ourselves will change occupations. But for now, we consent to be in this occupation, or we choose to remain in it as the most economically advantageous option at this time. We are neither victims nor harlots, but citizens. We demand recognition as workers and all our rights as citizens.

What can feminists learn from this? First, the views of organised sex workers and their movements are framed within the discourse of citizenship rights, an approach that feminist analyses of sex work have never used. At its most basic, citizenship is defined as the relationship between an individual and a particular state, and defines citizens as having both rights and responsibilities within those settings. However, feminist critiques of this theory have addressed the ways that this kind of definition fails to address unequal power dynamics, such as based on gender, race, class, etc. Organised sex workers, among other politically marginalised groups, have been able to push for the recognition of this discrimination and hold the state and its machinery accountable to them.

This claiming of citizenship rights places sex workers in the same space as other marginalised and ‘illegalised’ constituencies; the claims made by, for instance, slum- and pavement dwellers are very similar. What is striking is that in embracing the citizenship approach, both sex workers and other groups facing exclusion and stigma are shifting the debate to new ground, away from the arenas of moral probity and social sanction and towards citizen rights. Certain organised sex workers’ groups have negotiated such rights with town municipalities, the police and even politicians – the successes of the VAMP collective in negotiating basic services with the municipality and improved protection against violence from the police in Sangli town, and of the IFPEC network’s electoral poll boycott to gain political support for their demands in Chennai, are excellent examples. The state and local authorities have been forced to deal with these women as citizens, not as sex workers; in so doing, they have demonstrated their choice of equality and refusal to consent to discrimination.

Another lesson comes from the possibilities that open up because of the way sex work breaks down otherwise rigid moral and social boundaries. While in no way seeking to minimise the enormous range of problems that sex work entails, we must also recognise that for women, sex work can paradoxically be liberating: they no longer have to behave within the parameters of the ‘good’ woman, or observe the cultural norms, taboos or submissiveness typically expected of other women. In such a situation, women sex workers are free to make choices that are not available to their ‘good’ sisters. They can speak openly, for instance, about the violence, humiliation and duplicity of clients, police, pimps, lovers and the larger community in a way that poor women in the mainstream of society often need years of consciousness-raising to emulate.

Of course, this kind of voice and power requires organisation. The evidence is quite clear, for instance, that ‘upmarket’ individual sex workers actually have less power to set the terms of their work than poorer but organised women working in brothels or red-light districts. And like unorganised-sector workers everywhere, unorganised sex workers are exploited by the structures of the sex industry itself – by brothel owners, pimps, police and others. On the other hand, even unorganised sex workers are no worse off than other unorganised workers, whose hours, low wages, health hazards and lack of social security receive scant attention from state machinery.

The further lesson for feminists here is that despite decades of organising among diverse classes of women, feminist movements have not been as successful in catalysing this sense of liberation in the most intimate sphere of women’s lives – their relationships with their own bodies, or in their sexual lives. As a consequence, feminists have collectively been far less effective in enabling women to negotiate sexual interaction with their partners –ensuring condom use, or not consenting to sex when they are ill, in advanced pregnancy, or simply too tired, for instance – that organised sex workers consider a right. Furthermore, even the limited choice that organised sex workers have in setting the terms of their trade appears more advanced than what has been accomplished through organising among other unorganised women workers, with a few notable exceptions. Indeed, it is hard to find examples of movements of unorganised women workers that are as vibrant, visible and vocal, or have made as many significant gains, as sex-worker movements have accomplished for their members in some parts of India.

Lessons from sex workers
Even within the domain of sexuality, sex-worker movements are pushing feminist theory by re-positioning sexual services – and, hence, the entire morass of choice and consent – in a fundamental way. They have taken sex out of the domain not only of morality but of the relationship paradigm entirely. The members of these movements are saying that providing sex can be a relatively uncomplicated physical service similar to nursing or cleaning. Therefore, it can also be a livelihood choice: one can freely consent to be in sex work, especially for those whose skill set and socio-economic location restricts access to ‘better’ work.

Organised sex workers also seem to suggest that when they mobilise politically conscious movements, they can assert equal or greater power and control than women in equally un-regulated sectors of the market. For instance, they can negotiate condom use, working hours, time off, housing and habitat, and health care; they can also choose clients, choose the kinds of services they will provide, and resist and penalise violence of various kinds. And they seem to be telling feminists that condemnation of sex work is evidence of their own co-option into the patriarchal belief system, an unquestioned acceptance of the mythology of the sanctity of sexual interactions.

Finally, sex-worker movements are breaking through the rhetoric of the ‘poor, hapless victim’, and of the stranglehold of external actors in setting the terms of the discussion. Sex workers are becoming the subjects of their own analysis, breaking free of this ideological and conceptual stranglehold. They are asserting their consent to be involved in sex work – whether they entered it by choice or not – and consequently challenging the victim imagery. But more importantly, they are making shocking and uncomfortable arguments about their choice in remaining within the line of work: that it gives them a higher income, more purchasing power, better long-term economic security and independence, and far less drudgery than the other options available to them. How can members of such a dubious, stigmatised profession make such seemingly audacious, non-victimised claims? Further, how many feminist movements can claim to have parleyed their organising into the sort of political power that many sex-worker movements have demonstrated?

If feminists such as myself re-examine our views in light of the radically different perspectives offered by sex-worker movements, we would almost certainly arrive at a different definition of notions of choice and consent. We would recast choice not as just ‘real’ or ‘false’, but as occurring within a spectrum that is defined by context. Consent would be looked at as not only a manifestation of ‘agency’ within socially recognised institutions (marriage, family, state, market) or for socially acceptable alternatives, but as the right to choose a social situation outside of these structures. A long-term partnership for the production of new paradigms and strategies is the need of the day, and I believe that sex workers are a key source of learning for the future of the feminist project. The question is whether we have the humility and courage to ask for a seat at their table, rather than invite them to ours.

~ Srilatha Batliwala is a scholar associated with the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, based in Bengaluru.

March 3-International Sex Workers Rights Day- demand for decriminalisation of Sex work #Vaw #Womenrights


March 3, 2013,  Kamayani Bali Mahabal

The 3rd of March is International Sex Worker Rights Day. The day originated in 2001 when over 25,000 sex workers gathered in India for a sex worker festival. The organizers, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a Calcutta based group whose membership consists of somewhere upwards of 50,000 sex workers and members of their communities. Sex worker groups across the world have subsequently celebrated 3 March as International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.

Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (2002): “We felt strongly that that we should have a day what need to be observed by the sex workers community globally. Keeping in view the large mobilization of all types of global sexworkers [Female,Male,Transgender], we proposed to observe 3rd March as THE SEX WORKERS RIGHTS DAY.

Durbar seeks to build a world where all marginalized communities live in an environment of respect, rights and dignity. Durbar hopes for a new social order where there is no discrimination by class, caste, gender or occupation and all individuals communities live in peace and harmony as global citizens.The Durbar MissionDurbar’s shared mission is to enhance a process of social and political change with an objective to establish, promote and strengthen the rights, dignity, social status, and improvement of the quality of life of all sex worker communities. Durbar wishes to integrate the sex workers movement with the broader global movement to establish rights of all marginalized communities in the globe through.
Improvement of image and self-esteem of marginalized communities.Influencing existing norms, policies and practices, operating at all levels in the society and out the nation state.Empowering communities through a process of collectivisation and capacity building and Addressing power relations within the trade and outside. Durbar is also Building Formal and informal alliances with individuals, groups, institutions and movements..

Research has demonstrated that the criminalization of sex work is associated with violence against sex workers, decreased access to health care, barriers to reporting human rights abuses, and disempowerment in condom negotiation (whether a sex worker’s wishes regarding condom use are respected). Governments should recognize and address the relationship between laws criminalizing sex work and the human rights violations that result from these laws.

Affirmation and defense of the rights of sex workers as an integral part of our work to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right.   International Sex Workers Rights Day isn’t just about securing the rights of sex workers; it’s about securing human rights.

Sex work is criminalized either through direct prohibitions on selling sexual services for money or through laws tha tprohibit solicitation of sex, living off of the earnings of sexwork, brothel-keeping, or procuring sexual services.Inaddition, sex workers are frequently prosecuted for non-
criminal offenses—often municipal-level administrative offenses—such as loitering, vagrancy, and impeding the flow of traffic. By reducing the freedom of sex workers to negotiate condom use with clients, organize for fair treatment, and publicly advocate for their rights, criminalization and aggressive policing have been shown to increase sex workers’ vulnerability to violence, extortion, and health risks.
Decriminalization is an issue of gender equality and sexual rights.Laws against sex work intrude into private sexual behaviors and constitute a form of state control over the bodies of women and transgender women, who make up a large majority of sex workers worldwide.like state controls over reproductive rights and limits on abortion, criminal laws prohibiting sex work attempt to legislate morality without regard for bodily autonomy. Decriminalizing sex work is a step in the direction of recognizing the right of all people to privacy and freedom from undue state control over sex and sexual expression.
Decriminalization refers to the removal of all criminal and administrative prohibitions and penalties on sex work, including laws targeting clients and brothel owners. Removing criminal prosecution of sex work goes hand-in-hand with recognizing sex work as work and protecting the rights of sex workers through workplace health and safety standards. Decriminalizing sex work allows workers to access financial services like bank accounts and insurance and other financial services.
Moreover,decriminalization means sex workers are more likely to live without stigma, social exclusion, and fear of violence.To effectively protect the health and rights of sex workers,governments must remove all criminal laws regulating sex work, including laws that criminalize the purchase of sex. Systems that maintain criminal penalties for clients who purchase sexual services continue to put sex workers at risk. Rather than ending demand for sex work, penalties on clients force sex workers to provide services in clandestine locations, which increases the risk of violence and limits the power of the sex workers in the transaction.When sex work is decriminalized, sex workers are empowered to realize their right to work safely, and to use the justice system to s eek redress for abuses and discrimination.Even if sex work is decriminalized, the prostitution of minors and human trafficking can and should remain criminal acts.
Criminal laws contribute to social marginalization not only through the imposition of legal penalties on sex workers prosecuted for specific acts,
but also through the assignment of criminal status to all sex workers,regardless of any particular arrest, charge, or prosecution.This sweeping
condemnation leads to widespread discrimination, stigma, and illtreatment in social institutions and services, by health providers, police,
and the general public. Decriminalization removes one source of stigma,the criminal label that serves to validate mistreatment or social exclusion.

In India, Sex workers are unhappy with Justice Verma Committee’s recommendations which, according to them, equate human trafficking with sex work and define prostitution as exploitation.The proposed Section 370 in the ordinance seeks to include prostitution as a form of exploitation. If this is accepted, it would criminalize sex workers since it does not differentiate between coercive prostitution and prostitution. Neither does it talk about the exploitation of prostitution.

For decades we have been demanding decriminalization of sex work, dignity of labour for sex workers and protection from exploitation by various sections of the society, including clients, goons and police.Terming prostitution ‘exploitation’ contradicts the Supreme Court which upheld the rights of women employed in sex work while observing that Article 21 grants them a right to live with dignity.

It also goes against the commitment made by India, which is a signatory and has ratified the UN Protocol on human trafficking in 2011.

According to this, Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.Instead of protection of sex workers, the ordinance will make them more vulnerable to exploitation and snatch away their livelihood.The inclusion of voluntary and consenting sex work into the definition of exploitation has angered sex workers.It will be a big setback to our struggle to get recognition of sex work as work, social protection for sex workers and assuring them workers’ rights.

The first pan-India survey of female sex workers was done  in 2011 under the aegis of Centre for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalization, Sangli, was conducted by Rohini Sahni and V Kalyan Shakar of the Department of Economics, University of Pune. This unique survey documents the lived realities of sex workers; delves into the complex details of their day-to-day interactions; the stigma and marginalization they experience and attempts to understand the challenges they face as well as their complex responses. The survey pools together a large national level sample of 3000 unorganized sex workers from 14 states. The women who participated in the survey are from various geographies, ages, family backgrounds, languages, sites of operation, migratory patterns, incomes and cultures.

The videos below

 

UN wants prostitution decriminalized to help curb spread of HIV #sexwork


October 23rd, 2012 | News | 


By Gian C. Geronimo/GMANEWS - If the United Nations will have its way, soliciting sex or paying for it in the Asia and the Pacific region will no longer risk imprisonment.

In a recent report, the UN recommended the decriminalization of the world’s oldest profession to help curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV.

“Removing legal penalties for sex work assists HIV prevention and treatment programmes to reach sex workers and their clients,” the UN said in its report titled “Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific.”

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, known to condemn prostitution, cannot be reached for comment on the subject, as the organization’s secretariat said the bishops authorized to talk about the issue are out of town on official business. But at least one bishop has blamed prostitution for the spread of HIV and has urged a crackdown on the illicit livelihood.

The UN report makes the opposite argument. By legalizing prostitution, the government can make sex work safer, extend health services to sex workers and thus slow the spread of the virus.

Malacañang, meanwhile, said in a briefing Friday that it will leave the issue of legalization of sex work to the country’s legislators.

“We have no comment. We would rather leave it to our legislators,” said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte at a press briefing.

But Valte stressed that Philippine laws make prostitution in any form illegal. “Primarily, that’s illegal. Under our present laws that’s illegal which is why the LGUs are also in charge of cracking down and making sure that hindi lang doon sa establishments but rather people who traffic [are also apprehended].”

Susceptibility to HIV

The UN said the criminalization of sex-related jobs increases workers’ susceptibility to HIV by “fuelling stigma and discrimination, limiting access to sexual health services, condoms and harm reduction services; and adversely affecting the self esteem of sex workers and their ability to make informed choices about their health.”

The recommendation is also a move to stop the exploitation of sex workers and to give them basic rights by suggesting that their jobs, too, should have typical workplace standards in line with the law and government.

Decriminalization enables sex workers to organize within their communities and register their organizations, obtain identification documents so that they can fully access services and entitlements, engage in advocacy and respond to the health and safety needs of their peers,” the UN said.

The UN noted that, with the exception of New Zealand and the state of New South Wales in Australia, all countries in Asia and the Pacific criminalize sex work or associated activities.

In the Philippines, for one, sex work and soliciting sex work are illegal, as well as the establishment of brothels.

According to the Revised Penal Code, vagrancy is an offense, with the code defining prostitutes as vagrants. Sex workers caught may be fined up to six months in prison under the code’s vagrancy provision.

Valte said the government is continuously fighting prostitution and trafficking in the Philippines. “It is a point of concern which is why the IACAT (Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking) continues to work on improving ‘yung mga conviction when it comes to trafficking in persons. We continue to work with—or the member-agencies in ensuring na nababawasan at mawawala po ‘yung mga ganitong kaso.”

Condoms

The UN study said in the Philippines, despite the government’s support for efforts to promote condom use among sex workers, many people in the sex industry still steer clear of condoms for fear that it may be used by the police as evidence against them once they are arrested.

The UN report referenced a 2003 study that found that many street-based sex workers refused free condoms offered by outreach workers because of the police issue.

“Police impeded their access to HIV prevention services by confiscating condoms, using possession of condoms as evidence of sex work, or arresting them for vagrancy,” the UN report said.

Ways to decriminalize sex work

The UN listed ways to decriminalize sex work.

“To enable the sex industry to be regulated as a legitimate form of work requires removal of the range of laws that criminalize activities associated with sex work, including removal of offences relating to soliciting, living on the earnings of sex work, procuring, pimping, the management and operation of brothels, and advertising,” it said.

Its report also debunked claims that countries in Asia and the Pacific where sex work is illegal have low HIV rates and prevented the epidemic to spread among sex workers and their clients.

In fact, the study said evidence suggests areas that decriminalized sex work have “very high” condom use rates and increased access to sexual health services. —

with Patricia Denise Chiu/KBK/RSJ/HS, GMA News

Sex workers cannot be mothers – says Satara police #WTFnews



Anu Mokal, a pregnant woman was beaten up by Police in Satara, Maharashtra. She was so severely beaten  that she had a miscarriage and lost her baby. No Law in the country allows Police to physically assault a women. This case is worst because male cops have assaulted a female victim.

Her fault, being a sex worker

Actually, i feel very demoralized because if the police had done this to a non sex worker everyone would be up in arms. NO body reacted after it appeared in the papers in Satara, too. When they met me Durga said, if it was a `gharguti’ [wife] woman everyone would protect her womb, [ vanshacha diva – heir] but because it is a sex worker her fetus is not considered sacred or that she has a `vansh’, as a `bad woman’. That is what the police and society think, in any case.- Meena Seshu of SANGRAM
On 2nd April, around 7:30 PM, Anu Mokal accompanied by Anjana Ghadge were taking dinner for her friend Jaya Kamble who was undergoing treatment in the local civil hospital. When they were passing the Satara bus stand area, senior police inspector Dayanand Dhome started yelling at them using abusive language. When they told him that they were only taking food for their friend, he called them liars and without any provocation, Dhome and his subordinates started beating Anu and her friend Anjana Ghadge.

Dhome repeatedly said that women like Anu are a ‘shame’ to him while he continued to kick her. Anu fell down and pleaded that she was four months pregnant but they continued kicking and beating her. She was then forcibly taken to the police station. Anu and Anjana were detained and put in a lockup from where Anu and Anjana were routinely taken to civil hospital for treatment. Anu told the doctor she was pregnant and he prescribed medication, but the police didn’t allow her to buy nor did they give the medication to her.

On 3/4/2012 they were produced before the magistrate and were released after a payment of Rs 1200 fine for an offense not known to them or specified. They were taken to the civil hospital again by members of Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad [VAMP], a network of sex workers and Anu received medication.

But on 5/04/2012 night, she suffered a miscarriage. The miscarriage is quite likely to have resulted from the trauma of the thrashing by Dayanand Dhome and his subordinates. She has filed a complaint against Inspector Dhome and his colleagues with the Superintendent of Police K. M. M. Prasanna. However, her complaint and visit to the SP have been in vain.

SANGRAM the organisation that runs the Maharashtra State AIDS Society HIV/AIDS prevention project with women in sex work and sexual minorities in Satara District also sent a written complaint to Home Minister R.R.Patil, DSP Prasanna, Satara and Regional DIG Tukaram Chavhan, demanding that action be taken against Dayanad Dhome and others, but to no avail. DSP Prasanna told a delegation from VAMP on 30/04/2012 that an enquiry is instituted but would not commit as to when we can expect a result.

Anu and Anjana are are asking for justice and their right to get a hearing. Anu feels that the miscarriage due to severe beating and the subsequent trauma are not taken seriously because she is a sex worker. In fact, the police had the audacity to tell these women that sex workers cannot be mothers.

We Demand

1. The Inquiry in the case be expedited and the report be made public

2. Inspector Dayanand Dhome be suspended with immediate effect.

3. A Grievance committee be set up by the Maharashtra Government, which includes members from the field of sex work, women rights, police, law, so that such incidents are not repeated and they get speedy justice.

4. The Maharashtra Government which runs the HIV/AIDS programmes with sex workers have a policy on Police violence against sex workers male/female and transgender.

PLEASE SIGN THE ONLINE PETITION AND SHARE WIDELY

Aboriginal Groups Warily Watch Canada Brothel Law


By Sadiya Ansari, Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Groups representing Aboriginal women hope the government will have a partial victory in upholding current prostitution laws. They say female sex workers need to be decriminalized, but they will be endangered if the government stops arresting pimps and johns.

VANCOUVER, Canada (WOMENSENEWS)–The Canadian government is appealing a judge’s decision to decriminalize many aspects of prostitution.

As Aboriginal women’s advocates wait for the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal, it’s a time of ambivalence.

While they side with the decriminalizing judge when it comes to the treatment of prostitutes, they agree with the federal government on outlawing pimps and johns, because they often commit violence against sex workers.

“It’s not a question of morality,” said Teresa Edwards, in-house counsel for the Native Women’s Association of Canada, which is based in Ottawa and represents 13 Aboriginal women’s organizations across the country. “It’s a question of safety.”

Aboriginal women are over-represented among sex workers, who are often living in poverty, suffering from addiction and have few other choices. Predatory gangs target these women, says Edwards, when they are as young as 9 years old.

A decision on the federal government’s June 2011 appeal–following the Ontario Superior Court‘s September 2010 decision striking down anti-prostitution laws as unconstitutional–is expected early this year from the appeal court in Toronto.

Such rulings are typically published within six months, but the Ontario Court of Appeal has indicated in cases as complex as this one, a ruling may take longer.

Meanwhile in British Columbia, sex workers are trying to launch a constitutional challenge to the prostitution laws. The Supreme Court of Canada will decide on whether the group will be able to initiate a challenge based on arguments presented to the court last week.

Related Activities Illegal

While prostitution is not illegal in Canada, related profits and activities are.

Justice Susan Himel ruled the laws outlawing the keeping of a common bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living off its avails were unconstitutional.

Despite the ruling, these offenses remain illegal during the duration of the appeal.

In Canada, women are more likely to be convicted and incarcerated for prostitution offenses than men. A 2009 government study found 32 percent of women found guilty of prostitution were sent to prison as compared to 9 percent of men found guilty.

Aboriginal women, meanwhile, are suffering skyrocketing incarceration rates. A 2010-2011 federal report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator found that 34 percent of incarcerated women were Aboriginal. Over the last 10 years, the number of incarcerated Aboriginal women increased by 86.4 percent, while the number of Aboriginal men in prison has grown by 25.7 percent.

But advocates say decriminalizing all aspects of prostitution is not a way to reverse this trend. Instead, they say the country should be embracing the Nordic model for addressing prostitution.

Implemented in Sweden, Norway and Iceland, this approach criminalizes buyers and those who profit off the industry while decriminalizing women engaged in prostitution.

“Absolutely you need to decriminalize women in prostitution,” said Janine Benedet, co-counsel of the Intervener Women’s Coalition. “To simply decriminalize and legitimize men’s purchase of women in prostitution goes in exactly the wrong direction if your goal is to protect women.”

The Intervener Women’s Coalition represents seven groups across the country, including the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers and Vancouver Rape Relief. Its intervener status–given for the purpose of the appeal process–means the court will hear its perspective because the ruling will directly impact its members.

Many Aboriginal advocates echo arguments about risking women’s safety if all aspects of prostitution were decriminalized.
Safer for Some

Decriminalization might make it safer for some prostitutes as they move into brothels and away from some of the dangers of the open streets.

But Samantha Grey, a member of the Vancouver-based Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, doubts this applies to most Aboriginal women.

She says they face more violence, higher rates of HIV, more drug addiction and would probably be excluded from brothels because they would not meet standard criteria for employment.

Benedet says many of these social problems, including prostitution, are a direct result of Canada’s history of colonialism and persisting government policies applying to Aboriginal women. One prime example is residential schools, which were funded by the government and run by churches, aimed at assimilation. Aboriginal children were taken from their families, isolated from their culture and many suffered through physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Edwards agrees and in particular thinks the legacy of abuse in residential schools has taken a toll on younger generations of Aboriginals whose parents have undergone trauma.

“We are taking a position that the government has an obligation not to confine Aboriginal women to prostitution as their social safety net,” said Benedet, adding that the government needs to acknowledge that prostitution should not be a solution for Aboriginal women to ameliorate poverty, educational disadvantage and addiction.

One group within the Aboriginal community has applauded the decriminalization ruling though.

The Native Youth Sexual Health Network works with indigenous youth across Canada and the United States. In a statement, it said the September 2010 ruling could reduce street-based violence if women have access to indoor working conditions. The statement also said prostitutes may be able to negotiate safer working conditions, such as condom use, with a client or report violence without fear of being arrested.

But Benedet disagrees. “There’s a lot of other reasons those women wouldn’t want to call the police,” she said.

One of those reasons, according to Grey of the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, is the fear that the police, themselves, can perpetrate sexual violence on prostitutes.

Sadiya Ansari is a Pakistani-Canadian freelance writer, based in Vancouver.