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
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
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
Around the world, selling sex is as inflammatory an issue as abortion. It’s just as divisive, too—particularly among feminists and in the global human rights community.
At the 2012 AWID Forum—the largest women’s rights gathering in the world—sex workers’ rights took center stage. Panel discussions and plenary sessions featured sex workers from Burma, Thailand and Cambodia, along with myriad organizations—including several AJWS grantees—that protect sex workers from human rights violations. One grantee offered a clever metaphor to capture how sex work is relatively alien to women’s rights conversations. “Imagine you go to a restaurant with a friend,” she said. “You order beef. But your friend explains she is vegetarian, so she orders a plate of rice and vegetables. You look at her plate and think to yourself, ‘This is a bit strange; a little different.’ But it’s a choice on the menu. And it’s a choice she made herself, just like any other choice. That’s sex work—a choice.”
Photo: Scott Davidson
Originally posted on Gender Across Borders: A Global Feminist Blog.
Last February, I sat across from 50 Ugandan prostitutes who sought my legal advice. They wanted me to get the police to stop raping them. I was the legal consultant at Platform for Labour Action (PLA), a Ugandan non-governmental organization that provides marginalized workers with free legal services. The prostitutes had formed an association called the Lady Mermaids Bureau, which partnered with organizations like PLA to help the women receive medical, psychological, social, and legal support.