Sex workers strive to fight exclusion, discrimination
Resolving to take forward the fight against "exclusion and "discriminatory practices", over 550 sex workers from 46 countries released a declaration at the ongoing International AIDS Conference Hub here Thursday seeking their calling be recognised as work.
The document, christened the Kolkata Platform of Action, was launched by Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) president Andrew Hunter, All India Network Of Sex Workers (AINSW) head Bhagyalakshmi and chief of the city-based Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) Bharati Dey at the Hub, which is part of the Sex Workers' Freedom Festival.
The six day festival at the Swabhumi Heritage Park was organised after the US barred sex workers from abroad from participating in the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington.
Espousing the three core values of the Kolkata Platform of Action - acceptance of sex work, opposition to criminalisation of sex work, support for self-organised and self-determination of sex work, Hunter said: "Exclusion of sex workers and drug abusers (a key population affected with AIDS) at the 19th International AIDS Conference in the US was a missed opportunity in the fight against the epidemic."
Citing the global festival as a stepping stone to changing the lives of the marginalised comunity, Dey said: "Collectivisation and mobilisation of sex workers is the key to necessary change, all around the world. "
Besides tackling the AIDS issue among sex workers, demanding respect for their community and acceptance of sex work as work were the key agenda at the festival.
Bhagyalakhsmi, a sex worker, explained, "We do all the chores at home and take care of our children. But our profession is this - sex work. It is just like any other profession. So why should we be discriminated against?"
"This is the first-ever meeting with sex workers from so many countries coming together. We also saw different movements coming together and our own networks getting strengthened," said Swampa Gayen of DMSC.
Social activists Meena Seshu and New Zealand's Anna Pickering urged policy makers to ensure that sex workers have the freedom to equal protection under the law, which includes working without criminal laws and penalties.
"In several countries, judiciary has taken a lead to re-look at the repressive policies against sex workers and India too should take their example to decriminalise sex work," said Seshu.
Representatives from the union health ministry, National Aids Control Organisation, the women and child development ministry and many funding organisations like UNAIDS, HIVOS AIDS Fond and others participated and supported the conference.