Signatures from the grassroots: Raising our voice towards gender sensitive policies

1. Signatures received from survivors and at-risk women and girls of our Kishori Mandal and Mahila Mandal SEGs, Sonagachi (Asia’s largest red-light area), Kolkata

2. Signatures received from Munshiganj & Khidderpur (red-light areas), Kolkata

3. Signatures received from survivors and at-risk women and girls of our Kishori Mandal and Mahila Mandal SEGs, Forbesganj, Bihar

4. Signatures from members of De-notified Tribes, Forbesganj, Bihar

CONCEPT NOTE FOR OUR UN CAMPAIGN

To circulate a revised note calling for more gender sensitive language in all UN documents 

Apne Aap Women Worldwide is deeply concerned about recommendations contained in two United Nations Reports released in 2012 (HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health published by UNDP; Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific: an UNDP, UNFPA and UNAIDS backed report) and a clarification note issued by UN Women in 2013 entitled Note on Sex Work, Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking on these issues.

The two reports and note not only ignores the experiences and views of victims and survivors of prostitution but makes recommendations in direct opposition to international human rights standards agreed upon in consultations with member states and ratified in protocols and conventions and therefore contradict international law.

1. The reports and note ignore the rights of India and other member states to be consulted before any change is made to agreed upon protocols and conventions. They dangerously flout processes inside the UN system to build a consensus before any protocols and conventions are made. They violate language agreed upon in existing protocols like the UN Protocol to End Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, to which India is a party.

2. These reports are recommending the decriminalization of pimping and brothel-keeping as a means of reducing the HIV/AIDS of people in prostitution. “Laws that criminalize activities associated with sex work, living on the earnings of sex work; procuring; pimping; the management and operation of brothels; and promoting or advertising services, should be reviewed”, says the UNDP, UNFPA and UNAIDS backed report and reiterated in the UN Women Note. By doing so these agencies have effectively stood by the sex-industry rather than the victims and survivors of prostitution and have actually advocated impunity for rapists, traffickers and exploiters of women and children.

3. These reports and the note are asking for prostituted women and children to be called “sex-workers” advocating the acceptance of their exploitation as “work” and their survival strategies as “choice” thus effectively removing any responsibility of international agencies like UN Women, UNFPA, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNICEF, UNHCR and individual governments from investing in or protect their marginalized citizens.

4. The reports and the Note recommend the revising and narrowing of the definition of sex trafficking that is already laid out in the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children. A narrowing of the definition would prevent many victims of trafficking from being recognized as such and jeopardize their ability to access support and justice. It would reduce accountability of traffickers.

Thus Apne Aap Women Worldwide has initiated a consultation with like minded individuals and organizations to establish a network of victims and survivors of prostitution and those who support them, to act as a pressure group that will bring voices of survivors – of women and girls, boys and men prostituted by violence and poverty to bear on international and national policies, laws, conventions and protocols. We feel that over the years there is a move to ignore the realities of the lives of victims and survivors in developing state level, country level and international laws, policies and conventions.

Growing global inequalities perpetuated by non-state multi-national actors drives this departure from standing by the poorest and the weakest-Gandhi’s last people. An example is how Big Pharma and the Sex Industry have used AIDS management policies to entrench and legitimize their own interest-such as the increased sale of condoms, pornography and purchase of females.

Multi-national marketing consultancies have designed AIDS management policies that are implemented by International Foundations, INGOS and local NGO, who hire pimps and brothel owners to distribute condoms inside brothels and ignore the enslaved girls inside. These interventions aim at protecting the male customers from disease rather than protecting the women and girls from the male customers. They ignore the violence in the lives of women and girls and reduce development targets to the number of condoms distributed rather than going to the root causes of the prostitution of these women-such as the fact that women and girls from poor, low-caste and minority groups (Dalits, Denotified Tribes, Hill Tribes, backward classes, religious minorities) are kept in debt bondage, cut off from education, land and livelihood, safe and independent housing, savings and jobs or even access to justice & legal protection, making them vulnerable to traffickers.

Many state and non-state actors have stopped seeing the reality of the lives of poor and low caste women as victims of poverty, marginalization and globalization, writing off their survival strategy as ‘choice’ and their sexual exploitation to be called “sex work”. This is why they go along with those who ask for impunity for those who make a profit from buying and selling Dalit, Denotfied and Hill Tribes, and backward class women.

In Germany, where prostitution is legalized, an unemployed woman was asked to try prostitution as a work option before being given dole. Today Germany has found that the legalization of prostitution actually legalizes the sex-industry and increases the commodification and violence against women. They are in the process of revising their law. Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Korea, Philippines, and France, have all changed their laws.

India has made traffickers more strictly accountable under the new Section 370 of the I.P.C, on April 3, 2013 as part of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act. However, it has yet to a) delete Section 8 of ITPA, which criminalizes women and girls for soliciting in a public place or b) allocate adequate budgets for girls and women from at risk communities to improve their access to education, jobs, housing and justice.

It is an urgent need to build on the campaign to ensure that UN policies reflect and promote gender equality. While we acknowledge the need to effectively address and prevent HIV/AIDS, the proposed solutions of decriminalization of the sex industry and delinking prostitution from sex trafficking has far reaching policy implications that will impact the woman and also efforts to advance gender equality and end violence against women and may even end up putting women and girls in harms way, which would eventually impact all sexes.

The network, therefore, aims to pressurize and hold accountable MNCs, UN Agencies, INGOs, and our own government and ministries to stand by the rights and needs of marginalized girls and women at all times. This network will :

1. Act as a constant watchdog an all agencies, foundation, INGOs, state and national level authorities to draw up policies on behalf of the most marginalized-victims and survivors and the majority of those at risk to prostitution.
2. Immediately we are aiming to collect a thousand signatures from different NGOs to submit to UN Women in the first week of the New Year. The online petition addressed to the Executive Director of UN Women asking not just for the withdrawal of the UN Women Note but for UN Women to issue a new note to all UN agencies asking for them to abide by the UN Protocol to End Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and ask for a revision of language in all UN Documents from “sex-worker” to prostituted women and children.
3. Demand an increase in budget allocations from GOI for marginalized and at risk girls and women so that their access to education, housing, jobs and land and livelihoods improves.
4. Ask for a survivor policy that deletes Section 8 of ITPA, has increased budgets for survivors and creates mechanism for survivors to access justice, and one that rationalizes ITPA with Section 370, I.P.C

Please sign on our online petition