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

 

The third gender’s right to dignity


PRABHA SRIDEVAN, The Hindu

They came beautifully dressed, some a tad brightly, but all beautifully and proudly, there was much chatter, and a lot of sisterhood. It was the public hearing of transgenders at Delhi. An excluded group must definitely feel cheered in a gathering, where the members of that group form the majority. True, the transgender experience is full of pain. It is a story of gross human rights violation, but today they had a voice, they had visibility.

The Pakistan Supreme Court recently ruled that those who do not consider themselves to be either male or female should be allowed to choose an alternative sex in their national identity cards. I thought of the times when I fill up forms, mindlessly marking (F), and what it must be like to have the pen faltering then, not knowing if I should mark the one or the other. I thought of the times when I enter the public restrooms for women, and if at all something hits me it is the sensory assault of those pit-places, and what it must be like to feel a sense of achievement that finally I gained my right to enter the restroom of my choice. A body which is built in one way, houses a mind which is crying to be something else. It is difficult to walk in those shoes, but that does not mean those shoes are not there.

Heart-rending

The stories are heart-rending. Every citizen has a right to life, the right to self-expression, under the Constitution. The right of gender expression is inherent in it, as much as the right of expression of sexuality. This is a facet of the right to life. The space of the third gender is not a space that is easy to inhabit for the ones who are there, and not easy to imagine for the ones who are not there.

Parents and siblings do not understand why this child cannot be like the others. Nor does the child know why, when he looks like his brothers, he wants to be like his sisters or the other way round. Acceptance is denied and the child faces exclusion even at home. In Sunil Babu Pant vs Nepal Govt and others , the Supreme Court of Nepal used the Yogyakarta Principles and held that sexual orientation is not “mental perversion” or “emotional and psychological disorder” and that the people of different gender identities are entitled to enjoy their rights without discrimination.

The discrimination against the third gender is embedded in our consciousness and is aggravated by ignorance and insensitivity. Even well-meaning persons are uncomfortable if they face someone who does not fit in the Procrustean beds of “the normal”. One might well ask, why a person who has a man’s body, can’t mark (M) in application forms, or queue up in the men’s restroom and be done with it. I will give you two answers. The first comes from a member of the community, “In public places, we are treated differently. If I am out and visit the women’s washroom they won’t like it and if I go to men’s washroom … you know it would be a different story. Where should I go?” The next answer is from Justice Albie Sachs‘s The Strange Alchemy of Law and Life : “There was an abysmal decision by our top court, the appeal Court, in the 1930s, when people of Indian origin objected to being excluded from post office counters where white people would queue. Three out of four judges could not see the problem; the applicants could be served just as well in the one queue as in the other. Only one judge, Gardiner said, ‘It touches on the dignity of people to be excluded, it’s not simply a question of functionality’.” The brown man will get the same postcards in the other counter. So why complain? No, it is about dignity, real dignity to all barring none. Justice Sachs speaks of the equality of the vineyard (grading up) or the equality of the graveyard (levelling down). The choice is entirely our people’s and of their representatives.

‘Invisible’

That day at the public hearing for “Access to Justice and Social Inclusion” Aradhana Johri (Additional Secretary, National AIDS Control Organization) narrated an incident at a parliamentary consultation. She said: “Avina [a transgender] got up to speak and asked the audience, “Do you see me?” and when they said yes, she said that though you ‘see’ me you don’t ‘see’ me. I am invisible, I am nowhere, we are the third gender.” Our country must be having the highest percentage of “invisible” people, people who do not matter, the disabled, the third gender, the old, the oppressed, the pavement dwellers, the list goes on. Perhaps that is why the forgotten ones vote in large numbers while for the others, it is a matter of option. For the invisible groups, it is important that they vote, because an election is the only time they count. That is why this community fought for the right to indicate their gender as “O” for ‘others’ in the electoral rolls, and got it in 2009.

Recently, the fight for equality of transgenders scored a remarkable victory. The Argentine Senate unanimously passed the Gender Identity Act, which has been described as the most progressive and liberal in the world. It recognises that a person’s subjectively felt and self-defined gender may or may not correspond with the gender assigned at birth. This is the right that the participants at the public hearing claimed, which is acknowledgment of their “human-ness”. If their gender identity is not accepted then even if they are elected, their election may be nullified. This has happened in our country.

The State of Tamil Nadu has a fair record of recognising the rights of the transgender community. But let us remember that this is not state largesse, this is the state performing its duty under the Constitution. One participant said in poignantly poetic words that we have day and night and the beauty of dusk and dawn too, the in-betweens, and asked why their worth cannot be recognised. Transgender persons walking alone are subjected to harassment, and so, in defence, they adopt a loud and aggressive behaviour. There are highly qualified, educated and articulate persons who cannot secure employment because of the difference. They pleaded, “Please do not drive us to sex-work. If we have no other option, what do we do?” They argue that if there can be reservation for the differently-abled, there must be for the differently-gendered too. One speaker said, “I too want to nurture my child.” There are no answers in a climate of non-acceptance.

The experience of the transgender community with the police is dignity-destroying. The case ofJayalakshmi v State of Tamil Nadu is an example. A young transgender named Pandian was interrogated by the police regarding a theft case. He was so abused and sexually harassed by the police personnel that he poured kerosene and set fire to himself. The Madras High Court ordered compensation. If the face of law which should protect the citizen turns brutal, to whom will the weak and vulnerable turn? Hear this voice from the community, “When [the police] saw my body they said that there is no hair on your body anywhere so you get yourself waxed or what do you do. First they began asking nicely then they told me that night time is the time for the police. After that I never went to the police.” How far can one go in reducing the dignity of another?

The young transgender drops out of school because of exclusion and one participant argued, “Provisions should be made that in whatever attire a child comes to school the right to education cannot be denied.” A safe childhood and access to education is their right. When state and society have no space for the different ones, they are doomed to be excluded. So wherever there is a form to be filled or there is a definition of “person” as male or female, this group goes invisible. The community wanted to know how the domestic violence against them can be addressed if the law recognises protection of women alone. They wanted an Indian protocol put in place for the sex change process.

All they want is to be recognised as persons and treated with dignity. I will end with their own words: “Today … we want to earn a decent livelihood, live with dignity.” In short, they assert their right under Article 21 of the Constitution.

(The writer is a former judge of the Madras High Court and Chairman of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board)

 

By recognising the rights of the transgender community, the state is not doling out largesse; it is only performing its duty under the Constitution

 

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