|Victims of Prostitution and Poverty Alliance1 No Shastitala Road
Watgunge Police Station
Dear Amnesty India,
We are members of the Victims of Prostitution and Poverty Alliance in India. We would like Amnesty International to include our right not to be prostituted in their upcoming resolution. We are from the most marginalized section of society. We are poor, female and low-caste, often from groups labeled as nomadic tribes under British colonialism and from minority religions.
We would like Amnesty to recognize that our prostitution is an absence of choice and not a choice. We request you as Amnesty India to take into account the lived experiences of the most marginalized low-caste and poor women and girls in India who want protection from our exploiters, not their impunity. We want you to call on states to invest in our basic needs. Our basic needs are our “human rights”.
Our prostitution is based on us being the most marginalized and weakest in society -the “last”- due to the fact that we are poor, female, low-caste and teenagers. We are facing the multiple inequalities of class, caste, gender and age. Our rights are violated in every way before we are prostituted and when we are in prostitution.
We are kept out of school, sold into child marriage, domestic servitude and child labour and then finally pimped into prostitution. In prostitution we live in debt bondage, with our debt increasing, not our income as we move into our twenties. We are finally thrown out when we are in our thirties and no longer commercially viable.
Our old pension is disease, trauma and the multiple wounds due to the violence done to our bodies by pimps and clients. The pimps beat us when we say no to standing for long hours on the street, or don’t want additional customers in the same night. The customers are buying violence -they stub cigarette butts out on us, push rods into our bodies, slap us, piss on us, break our arms and punch us.
Amnesty is known for protecting the rights of prisoners. In prostitution, we are imprisoned by pimps and brothel keepers. We are subjected to mental and physical torture. Our mobility is controlled by psychological abuse and brothel managers actually sitting at the door of our brothels to monitor our movements. We cannot even decide when to stand or lie down. We suffer from sleep deprivation.
We are also imprisoned by our debt bondage. Over the years our debts increases and the income earned off our body decreases. We don’t earn an income, we earn disease and trauma. It is the brothel owners and pimps who earn an income from us.
In the guise of protecting our rights from police harassment and detention, your resolution is giving impunity to our prisoners.
You will end up legitimizing our exploitation as work, and give legally acceptable status to those who torture and imprison us. You will also give states the easy way out and an excuse not to invest in ending our marginalization or looking at the violation of our human rights.
As a human rights organization we ask Amnesty the question: Do you stand for the commodification of human beings?
Asma Begum and Salma Ali, co–convenors, Victims of Prostitution and Poverty Alliance, India,
Munshigunge, Kidderpore, India
Education, Advocacy, Mentoring, Organizing
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
How can you, Amnesty International UK, claim that a person of age is able to choose
sex work as a livelihood, and also understand that they are the most marginalized group in the world?
How can the women who are being presently exploited in the commercial sex industry, that are far removed from being organized, and who remain unseen and neglected by the rest of their community, have a voice or be a stake holder when they are consistently ignored? Why are you not seeking out these exploited women? Is it because you do not see them or know they exist? These women walk the streets of my city, as sex buyers seek them out and they seek out sex buyers, in order to meet their basic needs of housing and food, and, for some, support their addiction. They are the ones right at the threshold of trafficking. They are involved in the commercial sex industry, and are being exploited daily, even though they do not meet the legal definition of sex trafficking.
“If you truly understand the marginalization of the majority of those in the commercial sex industry, and how groups that experience the most discrimination and oppression are overrepresented, you would know that calling us “a chosen at will sex worker” is most harmful. Calling this harm a “choice” prevents us from being able to access needed social services such as healthcare, housing, and long-term recovery.” No one recognizes these women, my friends in Boston, in Maine, and in Canada, who don’t fall under the legal definition of “sex trafficking,” but are still facing sexual exploitation, as anything worthy of assistance. They are the least of the least. There is no one trying to provide a service and path for them to exit the street. In the street outreach that I do, I connect with these women who are stuck at least every other day. When I have asked them, “How would you feel if we arrest the sex buyers?” they say, “Don’t arrest them, because I won’t be able to make money if you arrest them.” However, when I have asked them, “If you had another way to live, if you could be provided with everything you need to exit the street, housing, access to recovery, education, and counseling, would you still want to do this?” they say, “No, I would not want to do this anymore, I would want something different.” So, a lot of the perspective depends on how you ask the question. Along with this, it is important to recognize that for most of these women these needed services are completely unavailable, which is why they continue to remain in the commercial sex industry. It’s not a choice, it is a lack of opportunity, a lack of choice. These women are in the commercial sex industry because they are so marginalized, they have no access to anything. These women know these services are unavailable because they do not meet the legal definition of human trafficking, and they’ve told me this. They have no choice. How will legalizing and regulating the commercial sex industry provide these choices and these opportunities to these women? How are you listening to and advocating for these women?
I and my street outreach partner are friends and sisters to the women you are wanting to call “sex worker” with the sex worker definition in the draft of your policy. They are not organized, and not there by their choice, in the sense of what are the choices. I, myself, am a survivor, and like these women, I ended up in the commercial sex industry because I believed I wasn’t worth anything else. I lived out of choices created by outside influences. My family, my community, and my culture groomed me from childhood to believe that this was what I was meant for. Like these other persons, I didn’t choose commercial sex. Society and the systems around mepushed me into it. Legalizing commercial sex and calling it a “choice” ignores these societal, systemic forms of oppression-sexism, racism, economic inequality-that creates and fosters the path into this industry. You list all of these forms of oppression in your draft policy, yet continue to state that commercial sex is a choice for these women. How can this truly be a free choice? Oppression is not a choice.
I am against the criminalization of those being exploited in the commercial sex industry. I am not arguing for the arrest or prosecution of these persons. However, decriminalizing the individuals and systems that are oppressing them-the pimps, traffickers, and sex buyers-will do nothing to help these women, will do nothing to bring systemic change, will do nothing to provide them with justice. The Nordic model which was used in Sweden, which decriminalizes those who are being exploited in the commercial sex industry while still prosecuting those doing the exploitation. The Nordic model provides education to law enforcement about approaching individuals in the commercial sex industry with dignity, justice, and humanity and provides resources and services for these persons to give them more choice. While the Nordic model is not currently in place in Maine, law enforcement here has taken a stand against criminalizing these persons and are actively advocating for them to receive more services and resources. How does legalizing all forms of the commercial sex industry provide more choice and opportunity for these persons than the pre-existing Nordic model does?
Amnesty International is one of the most respected human rights organizations in the entire world. Your decisions about this policy will influence many other important actors in this field for the foreseeable future. This decision will influence policy creation and funding and other resources around the world. I am asking you to remember these women, who, like me, do not have a choice, those whose voice is not heard at the table of these policy discussions. Remember those who are not organized, who do not have advocates, who are being exploited daily, even though they do not fit within the legal definition of sex trafficking. You are speaking for them without recognizing them. I am one of these women, and it has taken years for me to find my way to the table of these policy discussions. I am only just now learning more about your organization, what you do, and the power and influence you have. After years of work and experience, I am still far removed and excluded from discussions at organizations like yours. You will never hear the voices of many of the persons who will be affected by your policies. It is your responsibility to put the needs and perspectives of these persons first in decision making. The voices of these persons may never make it to your policy table. They are the least of the least, unheard and ignored by those in power. Unless you learn who these persons are, what their daily life is, you cannot be inclusive in your decision making. You are excluding their voices and perspectives from the table. If you knew who these persons were, you would not adopt this policy and call their oppression a “choice.”
I’m sure the stakeholders that I know stuck on the street engaged in turning car tricks and trick houses here in Maine, Boston and Canada WERE NOT a part of your SOLID RESEARCH and consultation.
OPPRESSION IS NOT A CHOICE
a grass roots organization
educating advocating mentoring organizing
for systemic change for sexually exploited prostituted
victims and survivors
Kriti Sharma, the Creative Director of The Theatre Collective, ran a theatre workshop from the 29th of June to the 3rd of July with a group of approximately 15 girls from Najafgarh in the Apne Aap office in Delhi. The workshop ran Monday through Friday every day from about 3 pm to 5 pm.
The first day Kriti aimed at establishing a sense of trust and security with the girls and started the workshop off with crazy dancing, encouraging the girls to move freely and let go of any tension. Afterwards, she made everyone sit in a big circle for the next series of activities: she would ask a question and then throw a ball to one of the girls, and after answering the question, she would pass it on to someone else. This way everyone got actively engaged in the activity and slowly started to open up as the comfort zone was being established. The first question was “what do you love most in this world” and many answered “parents”, “siblings”, “cousins” whilst others were more philosophical, saying things like “honesty”, “friendship” and “studying”. The next step involved telling the person to your right what you like most about them, thereby creating a wonderful environment of appreciation and affection.
Kriti had by now laid the first stepping stone and was ready the next day to start with the theatrical aspect of the workshop. She divided the girls into two groups and instructed them to enact a scene of “kids having fun at school.” Both performances cleverly started with the school bell ringing and with the girls running into the playground with big smiles on their faces and using their scarves as jump-ropes or balls. The next scene now had to involve a “problem” of any kind; the first group came up with a teacher beating his students for not completing their homework and the second group showed one of the girls getting injured on her way home.
Time ran out so the third day the workshop started with the two groups re-enacting the two scenes, though this time Kriti asked the girls to think of an even “greater problem”, one that is deep rooted and not only causes physical pain, but also psychological discomfort. The theatre workshop was aimed at dealing with child sexual abuse but Kriti had never mentioned it… all on their own, the girls chose “greater problems” that addressed the issue of child abuse. One group depicted a scene with a male teacher holding one of the schoolgirls back and then trying to inappropriately touch her. The other group instead showed a girl coming home from college and being eve-teased by guys on the street, which lead the mother to forbidding her daughter from going to study. The final scene had to portray a solution to the problem or a way of coping with the issue at hand, so the first group decided to close their performance with the schoolgirls standing behind the victim as they decide to go to the principal and then addressing the audience with a powerful question: “are you also supporting me?” The solution in the second group was a representative from Apne Aap coming to the home of the victim and persuading the mother to let her daughter go to college since education is a fundamental tool in the path of self-empowerment.
The girls continued rehearsing their scenes all of Thursday and were ready by Friday for the big performance. With a wonderful audience of about 15 people from Apne Aap and the neighbouring office, the girls totally rocked their performance! The girls professionally acted out their roles and proudly received “Certificates of Participation” and a small children’s book at the end of the performance, whilst the entire audience was enthusiastically clapping along. And to top it all off, there were samosas as a treat for our young actors and the wonderfully supportive audience!
On July 2nd 2015, 15 girls participated in a comic book workshop in Apne Aap’s head office, conducted by Ram Devineni, Producer, Director and Co-writer of the Priya’s Shakti comic book.
The girls were taught basics of drawing a body and a face and how to use speech and thought bubbles. They were also taught how to draw a comic book poster. The girls drew their schools, their family etc. They were enthusiastic and did a great job!
Urgent help needed in Nepal after devastating earthquake
Apne Aap’s main center in Forbesganj is only 14km away from Biratnagar in Nepal. A devastating earthquake has hit Nepal and Apne Aap needs to start a soup kitchen and get clothes and water there. Women and girls are sitting in the open with their families and they urgently need our help.
A 7.8 magnitude earthquake has hit Nepal, killing over a thousand people. According to the United Nations over a million people may end up without shelter. Aftershocks are still occurring. During disasters women and girls are disproportionately affected. We work 14 km away from Nepal in Forbesganj, Bihar and have partners rooted in communities in Bihar and Nepal. We need money for food, soup kitchens, medical supplies, clothes and to run safe spaces for women and girls.
Please make a gift. Your support is urgently needed so that Apne Aap and its friends and partners can support women and girls in Nepal during this devastating crisis.
Founder, Apne Aap Women Worldwide
To read the article in The Guardian: Click Here
To read the article in The New York Times: Click Here
You can donate online by clicking here
Checks can me mailed to:
Apne Aap International
Peck Slip Station
PO Box 916 New York, NY 10272
Click the image above or here to hear our founder Ruchira Gupta deliver a keynote address at the Apollo on CSW59 Consultation Day which took place at the historic Apollo Theatre on Sunday March 8th, 2015.
Please share the recording and the documents on this page with your peers and help us advocate for change.
Transcript of keynote address: Ruchira Gupta, Apollo CSW/NY Consultation Day 2015
Our Letter to UN Women: Apne Aap’s letter to UN Women
2012 UN Reports: UN reports 2012
UN Women’s note 2013: UN Women’s note on sex work sexual exploitation and trafficking
All of us at Apne Aap Women Worldwide are pleased to share some exciting news with you! This year’s NGO CSW/NY Woman of Distinction awardee is our founder Ruchira Gupta. We are so pleased to announce this honor and share our joy with you! Please find the official press release below…
NGO CSW/NY Announces 2015 NGO CSW Woman of the Year Distinction Awardee
January 28, 2015 – New York, NY – The NGO Committee on the Status of Women, NY (NGO CSW/NY), one of three women’s committees of CoNGO that advocates for women’s rights and gender equality, is pleased to announce the 2015 NGO CSW Forum Woman of Distinction awardee, Ruchira Gupta from India, founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide.
After winning an Emmy for her documentary on sex trafficking, The Selling of Innocents, Gupta started Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an anti-sex trafficking organization in India that empowers more than 20,000 low-caste girls and women and their family members affected by prostitution. She received the Clinton Global Citizen award for giving a voice to the voiceless and for tenaciously standing by the last girl in brothels in Bihar and India.
For over 25 years, Gupta has worked to end sex trafficking by emphasizing the link between trafficking and prostitution laws and lobbying policy makers to shift blame from victims to perpetrators. In 2000, she testified in the United States Senate before the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and addressed the UN General Assembly on human trafficking.
Gupta will be the keynote speaker at the NGO CSW/NY Consultation Day (8 March 2015 at the Apollo Theatre) along with Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women. The formal presentation of the NGO CSW/NY Woman of Distinction award will take place at the annual NGO Reception (9 March 2015 at the Armenian Convention Center Ballroom, 6 pm–8 pm). This year’s theme of the UN Commission on the Status of Women is the 20th review of the Beijing Platform for Action.
About the Women of Distinction Award:
This annual award is given to a woman in recognition of her leadership in the struggle for gender equality and women’s empowerment. The honoree is a leading activist from a developing country who can address the theme of the CSW, will benefit from participation in Consultation Day, and make a difference when she returns home.
About the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, NY:
The NGO Committee on the Status of Women, NY (NGO CSW/NY) is one of the three women’s committees of the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the UN (CoNGO). Under CoNGO’s umbrella, the NGO CSW committees helped plan the NGO Forums at the UN World Conferences in Mexico, Copenhagen, Nairobi, and Beijing. NGO CSW/NY is a volunteer-based, non-profit NGO funded largely by individual contributions.
“I have always longed for equality and justice. I have joined any campaign or movement for social and political justice. I slowly began to see that sex was a kind of class or caste; that of any group, females were the largest group that were universally unequal. So I began to campaign for women’s empowerment to create a world which respected the full social, political and economic equality of women,” said Ruchira Gupta, Founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide.
In this month’s article for Women LEAD, Nepal, Megan Foo, President of Women LEAD’s Hong Kong Chapter, takes a closer look at Ruchira’s history in advocating to put an end to to sex trafficking and Ruchira speaks about why she campaigns for women’s empowerment.
To read the full article in Women LEAD, Nepal: click here
Prostituted Girls, Women and activists marched in the Sonagachchi red-light area to demand police investigate the murder of 20 year old Saathi Das, who was trafficked there 9 months ago. Prostituted girls and women from Kolkata’s red light areas and activists under the banner of Apne Aap Women Worldwide took on a, first of its kind, candle light march in the Sonagachi red light area, to demand police take action against the murderer of Sathi Das.
Sathi was a member of the Apne Aap network. She had started attending Apne Aap’s adult literacy classes and had auditioned for a part in a TV serial and was trying to get out of prostitution. She had planned to start conference bag making classes with Apne Aap just two days before she was strangled. Shockingly, she was found dead in the morning and somebody had run away with her two children. Her cell phone is also missing. The brothel owner and one of her regular clients are also missing. The police have failed to investigate the case. The march was followed by a meeting of survivors, activists and Apne Aap team members to plan followup actions against the growing violence against prostituted girls and women in the Sonagachchi red light area.
“RUCHIRA GUPTA: I am once again reminded why slavery still exists, because the laws are on paper and they are never implemented. And this is like – is back to ground zero, where I realize that the police, come what may, do not want to implement the laws on behalf of women and girls.”
Above Ruchira Gupta speaks on the troubles involved with fighting sex trafficking in the PBS NewsHour special which aired this week. Special PBS correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro traveled to India to take a closer look at the issue.
Please take a look at Apne Aap working in the field to put an end to sex trafficking as they conduct a rescue in India in a two-part special. Links provided below:
To watch Part one: click here
To watch Part two: click here