American Jewish World Service (AJWS) recently hosted Meena Seshu for a visit to our headquarters in New York City. Meena is the secretary general of SANGRAM, an AJWS grantee in India that educates and empowers sex workers to overcome their most challenging health and human rights issues.
While she was here, Meena stopped by The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC, New York City’s public radio station. She talked with guest host and actress Martha Plimpton, star of the Fox television show “Raising Hope,” about SANGRAM’s efforts to help Indian sex workers curb violence and keep themselves safe from HIV.
Sex workers mobilize for their human rights. Photo credit: Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled on the side of human rights. In a six to two ruling, the Court struck down a federal provision that required organizations receiving government funding to pledge that they had adopted a policy “opposing prostitution.”
Commonly known as the “anti-prostitution pledge,” this provision contravened best practices in public health, including evidence-based research showing that supporting sex workers to lead their own community health interventions is an effective way to fight the HIV and AIDS pandemic. The policy also created a chilling effect for sex worker rights organizations, as non-governmental organizations feared they would lose their funding if they engaged with sex workers. Read More
Originally published by Salon.
It’s no secret that when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously declared in 1995 that “women’s rights are human rights,” she cemented her status as a champion for women and girls around the world. And as secretary of state, Clinton made gender equality and women’s empowerment a pillar of American diplomacy. The question now is whether the departure of the leading advocate for women will signal the end of the State Department’s focus on these key issues.
Among her achievements in this area, Clinton launched the Equal Futures Partnership to increase women’s leadership in politics, and made the case that rights for women and girls are key ingredients for democracy, peace and economic growth in every country. Critically, she led the United States National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security as well as the United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, an initiative of USAID and the State Department. If that wasn’t enough, she also shaped the Secretarial Policy Directive on Gender, which has been instrumental in working to end child marriage. Read More
When I was a member of the New York City Council in the 1980s, I changed my vote on an issue only one time. It was during the debate over whether the city should fund needle exchange programs for drug users. My first instinct was that we should not be enabling drug addicts to abuse heroin. Then, someone from an HIV organization invited me to visit an illegal needle exchange program—now known as a “harm reduction program”—that he was running on a street corner in a very poor part of the city.
I visited the program at night, and people spoke with me about how gaining access to clean needles was helping them to avoid infecting their friends and fellow drug users. By the time I spoke with the third person, my perspective had shifted. I understood why these programs were so important, and I decided to vote in favor of funding them. Read More
This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Ki Tetze, contains 74 interesting and illuminating commandments—including one that, at first glance, gets my hackles up: “A man’s apparel should not be on a woman, and a man should not wear a woman’s clothing, for whoever does these things is an abomination before Adonai your God.” For many of us—and especially for those of us who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming—this apparent prohibition against cross-dressing feels problematic. Why should wearing clothes that are not “gender-appropriate” earn the harsh title of abomination? Read More
Members of AJWS’s Thai partner, EMPOWER, marched in the Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival in Calcutta, India.
Why would someone who works for the American Jewish World Service attend an international meeting of sex workers? At AJWS, we support people who chose to work as sex workers by making grants to their organizations and sending volunteers to work with them. As an organization committed to realizing human rights—including access to health care, economic autonomy, and control over one’s body and sexuality—we support sex workers who are organizing themselves to advance their own rights. That’s why, while many AJWS grantees participated in the International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC in late July, I was with more than 1,000 sex workers from 42 countries around the world who traveled to Kolkata (aka Calcutta), India for a Sex Workers’ Freedom Festival. The timing was no coincidence. Unfortunately, sex workers were not allowed by the US government to enter the United States for the AIDS conference, excluding people who must be part of the solution. Read More
Photo: IAS/Steve Forrest
Originally posted on the blog of Human Rights and HIV: Now More Than Ever and on RH Reality Check.
Two years back, our Minister of Ethics and Integrity blocked a sex workers’ regional workshop that we had organized in Kampala. Because sex work is illegal in Uganda, he insisted that all our activities are illegal. He even called our activities “criminal.” He said sex workers should stop using HIV and AIDS as an excuse for breaching the law and that we should stop citing human rights as a justification for our “crimes.”
This is just absurd. Sex work may be illegal in Uganda but providing services for sex workers is not. The conference that we had organized was not about sex techniques or related to anything that is illegal. We were trying to build the skills of sex workers—in leadership, economic empowerment, personal development and entrepreneurship. We were also trying to provide information on their health rights, HIV and AIDS and sexual and reproductive health.
AJWS intern Jessica Newfield (right) at the “Grantee Meet and Greet” with AJWS grantees from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Last Monday, I took part in a gathering of global change-makers. Not only did I have the incredible opportunity to attend the International AIDS Conference, but I also participated in AJWS’s “Grantee Meet and Greet” event, where close to 24 of our grantees from Africa, Asia and Latina America networked, learned together, and shared experiences and stories. Now that the United States’ HIV travel ban has been lifted, grassroots activists and grant-makers can join forces in their fight against HIV and AIDS.
My specific role at the Meet and Greet event was to be the French interpreter for our grantees. It was very powerful to talk with the community leaders whose work I’ve been learning about all summer, and especially to observe how the impact of their work resonates internationally. Read More
Each year when we reach Parashat Dvarim I experience a rush of exhilaration when I imagine the scene: the Israelites are gathered high on the steppes of Moab, having finally reached the end of their 40-year ordeal in the desert. As they wait for Moses to deliver his final address, they look out at the expanse below, and see the Promised Land at last. For a few moments, perhaps, their thoughts of the traumas behind them and the battles ahead are eclipsed by the simple joy that home is within their sight. Read More
Sex worker protest in Satara, India. Photo: Vidya Kulkarni.
Originally posted on the blog of Human Rights and HIV/AIDS: Now More Than Ever.
Just two months back, I marched with hundreds of sex workers in India to demand justice for Anu Mokal. Anu, a sex worker, was picked up by the police at a bus stop one evening, charged with ‘soliciting’ customers at the bus stand, abused and beaten up. As a consequence, Anu, who was then four months pregnant, suffered a miscarriage.
With the support of a collective of sex workers, Anu filed a complaint against the policemen who assaulted her. But two months down the road, has her complaint progressed any further? No. Has the promised State inquiry into the incident taken place? Unlikely. If it has, the results have not been made known. Has Anu been given a fair hearing? Not that I know of. (Instead, while she was complaining, she was told that sex workers cannot be mothers). Have the policemen faced any action for assaulting a woman in a public place, an action that was witnessed by others? No. Read More