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International Sex Workers' Day 2021: How sex workers are coping with the pandemic?

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The Times Of India
02nd June, 2021 15:23 IST

It is not shocking to say that sex workers experience discrimination all over the world . They have always been living in exploited conditions. Many cases have been witnessed where the sex workers have even faced violence on the streets. Often, the violence against them goes unnoticed by the law enforcement agencies because of the existing taboos around the profession. In many cases, the violence is perpetrated by pimps, clients, family members, and regular partners.

The years of exploitation finally came to a boil on June 2 1975 when more than 100 sex workers protested to draw attention to their inhumane working conditions at a local church in France to bring an end to the harassment and discrimination against them. Since then, the day is observed as the International Sex Workers’ Day to honor the sex workers of the world.

The French police used to keep sex workers under increasing pressure to work in secret. After the unwillingness of the government to improve the situation, the sex workers in Lyon went on a strike.

The sex workers continued their protest and strike for 8 long days. They were finally able to create a legacy of activism that is observed on this day annually. The event acts as a starting point for an international movement for sex workers’ rights.

The plight of sex workers in India
Approximately, India has a population of more than 10 million sex workers. The sex workers in India are struggling to be categorized under Labor law for years. Violence against sex workers has been reported, be it physical or psychological.

In a study, 82% of participants reported having experienced some type of physical violence, with 55% of these assaults being committed by their clients themselves. A research study by the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 70% of sex workers in India were beaten by the police and more than 80% were arrested without evidence.

Effect of the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of each and every individual in one or the other ways. The sex workers are also facing hardships like a major loss of income due to social distancing and lockdown being followed in each and every part of the country. They are stuck in brothels and are unable to return to their native places.

In addition, kids of sex workers can barely afford electricity in their homes They can't afford internet connectivity or the smartphones needed to attend classes.

Ways to assist sex workers
One good initiative for the well-being of the discriminated ones is that a vaccination camp has been organized in Gurugram for sex workers and transgenders. In Sep 2019, the Supreme Court directed all states to provide dry rations to sex workers identified by the National AIDS Control Organisation and legal service authorities without insisting on any proof of identity. But there are hurdles in this since many sex workers not documented. To solve this, recognition of sex workers as informal workers and their registration is important so they are able to get work benefits. They should be provided with at least temporary documents that enable them to access welfare measures.

Furthermore, the government must organize frequent health check-ups for sex workers in the country. The women who engage in sex work must receive appropriate cancer screenings and vaccinations. Proper legal protection should be given to sex workers who file complaints against violence.

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