Sex Workers Use Elections to Find Voice

Wall Street Journal

Indian politicians are courting women in this year’s national elections, but one group of women still feels ignored: sex workers.

Decades of being snubbed and harassed by the police, the government and the general populace have convinced many sex workers there is no place for them in the political process.

“Most sex workers feel, ‘what is the point of voting if none of the parties have anything in their manifestos for us?’” said Seema Sayyed, manager of Aastha Parivaar, a Mumbai-based federation of sex workers.

The Congress Party’s Rahul Gandhi has called for the empowerment of India’s women and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi has promised “security to every mother and daughter.” But sex workers feel the promises are not directed at them. Continue Reading.

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Meeting with Monique Villa and Serena Grant by Alexandra Mochnacz, Intern

CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Founder of TrustLaw and Trust Women, Monique Villa, was welcomed by Apne Aap staff on April 8. Girls, aging from 10 to 16, from the Dharampura centre in Delhi, joined the discussion in order to communicate some of their concerns as part of the Perna community, a denotified tribe.

The discussion between Villa, her colleague Serena Grant (co-head of Legal for Thomson Reuters) and the girls was largely concerned with issues of identification. Villa and Grant expressed surprise upon finding out that these girls, as well as their parents, make up a fringe group of society that has neither a political voice nor legitimisation from the state. None of the women and girls hold caste certificates, which would grant them subsidisations and access to many governmental programs, as well as schooling. One of the girls, no more than 15 years old, already understood the stigmas her tribe held in society, claiming that government officials avoided their area at all costs. The point was made: this community is criminalised by others and suffers from resultant marginalization and discrimination.

Sadly this community is not small, in Delhi alone it makes up approximately 50,000 people. There are at least 198 of these tribes spread across the country. With these approximate statistics in mind, Grant agreed to work with lawyers she knew in India, who could work on this systemic issue. For a group of people in the 21st century to be ostracised from their society because of a cultural heritage imposed on them by the British and blocked from developing as a community with very few formal job opportunities, is a problem stemming from a severe lack of political will.

For any progression to occur within the dynamics of these communities, the state needs to understand the demographic of this population in society. Only then can they understand the kind of programs needed to help sustain these people. What we need, what is important right now, are lawyers, government officials and researchers willing to take on the task of providing an identity these individuals can relate to in society.

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The Last Girl in Idaho’s Last Frontier by Kelly Miller, Executive Director, Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence

idaho coalitionDuring the Move to End Violence journey in India, Ruchira Gupta, founder and director of Apne Aap, a grassroots organization working to end sex trafficking, shared her perspective on our movement to end violence. Ruchira’s focus on the “last girl” deeply informed and radically transformed our work at the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence and my own vision of leadership.  I invited Ruchira to come to Idaho to share her vision of the last girl and of the movement with our staff, Idaho’s tribal and community domestic and sexual violence programs, and the larger community.

On Ruchira’s first day in Idaho, we created spaciousness and rest, driving through the mountains alongside a creek to a hot springs an hour north of Boise.  Soaking under the open skies and snow draped mountains, Ruchira shared stories about her recent month long tour with Gloria Steinem.

We spent the next day with the staff of the Idaho Coalition, sharing a meal and talking about current feminist thought, readings that have inspired our respective work, and Ruchira’s perspective on the last girl.  We talked about the challenges and the opportunities of federal funding, and the importance of movement building.  Ruchira asked each staff what our purpose was or why we did the work, creating a powerful moment of reflection.

On the following day, the executive directors of Idaho’s tribal and community domestic and sexual violence programs came together to engage in conversation with Ruchira on reaching and standing by the last girl.  From the Coeur d’Alene reservation to the agricultural community of Weiser to the conservative Mormon community in southeastern Idaho, the leaders of community and tribal programs shared their personal experiences of the last girl.  Ruchira asked everyone to close their eyes and imagine the last girl in their community. Homeless teenagers in the northern forests of Idaho to a young woman raped and found in a ditch to an immigrant woman economically tied to an abusive partner, everyone could clearly envision the last woman or girl in their community.

The Apne Aap approach of a building a community of ten women, then building self-empowerment through ten assets from the articulation of their problem to speaking out, resonated with many in the circle.  This concept also resonated with the sixty community members who joined the program directors the following the day for a luncheon in celebration of International Women’s Day.

That evening, Ruchira was our featured speaker at a public event for International Women’s Day.  Over 600 people, over half of whom were students from Boise State University attended the event at the restored Egyptian Theatre in downtown Boise.  She spoke on her personal journey and the values that guide her work. After Ruchira’s presentation, the question and answer session sparked a powerful community conversation on movement building, power and privilege, the impact of violence on girls and women, the vital role of men as allies, and the links between pornography and violence.

The Idaho Coalition raised over $5,000 for Apne Aap, but more importantly raised the consciousness of movement builders in Idaho.  In recognition for Ruchira’s contributions to the movement to end sex trafficking, the Idaho Coalition and the Idaho Human Rights Education Center presented Ruchira with a paver with her name and contribution to humanity that will be placed at the Anne Frank Memorial, an educational park dedicated to human rights and one of the only places in the world where the full Universal Declaration of Human Rights is on public display.  Along a curved wall of stone, quotes from human rights leaders are embedded in the wall. When we visited the memorial, Ruchira was excited to find a quote, one that speaks directly to her work and to ours:  Make injustice visible. Mahatma Gandhi.

Absence of Choice: Untangling captives from the web of human trafficking

Boise Weekly

The victim had been testifying for hours, and through the whirlwind of anecdotes, digressions and tears, Ada County Sheriff’s Office Detective Ryan Pacheco had pieced together enough information to start verifying her story about being forced into prostitution. Her body advertised and sold to johns over the web and via word of mouth, she had escaped an organized sex ring to find safety and tell her tale–but a few traces of the life she was trying to flee remained, giving police hints they could follow back to their source. Continue Reading.

Schaefers join Gloria Steinem on tour

BlowingRocket.com

When we give to international aid organizations such as the Red Cross or UNICEF, we don’t generally get to see that aid in action.

A generous Blowing Rock couple got to see their donations at work in January and traveled halfway around the globe to do so.

Jamie and Bonnie Schaefer, owners of Westglow Resort and Spa, traveled with legendary women’s rights advocate Gloria Steinem and a group of five others through Calcutta, India, from Jan. 24 through Feb. 7. Continue Reading.

Sex workers protest against sexual violence on V-Day

India TV

Kolkata: Protesting against the rising crime against women in the country, sex workers and their daughters yesterday took part in street plays and dances in and around the city’s red-light area on the occasion of Valentine’s Day.

Around 70 women from the red-light areas of Sonagachi and Munshiganj took out a procession on a two kilometre stretch in Khidirpore as part of the global One Billion Rising campaign to end violence against women and promote gender equality. Continue Reading.

Debates, book releases mark second day of Patna Literature Festival

Times of India

PATNA: Frequent drizzle notwithstanding, people in large numbers enjoyed hot debates, discussions on Indian cinema and folk literature, book launches and screening of sensitive documentaries on the second day of Patna Literature Festival (PLF) on Saturday.

Opening with a session on ‘My Life: A Musical Journey’, Vikram Sampat and Kumud Diwan discussed the lives of music maestros followed by release of a book, ‘When the Saints Go Marching In: The Curious Ambivalence of Religious Sadhus in Recent Politics in India’. Written by Dr Rajesh Pradhan, it was launched by Om Thanvi. Continue Reading.

Prostitutes to take part in One Billion Rising campaign

Business Standard

Demanding an end to sexual violence, prostitutes and women vulnerable to trafficking will bring out a protest rally tomorrow on Valentines Day.

About 70 prostitutes from red-light areas of Sonagachi and Munshiganj will bring out the rally on a two kilometre stretch at Khidirpore as part of the”One Billion Rising for Justice campaign” to end violence against women and promote gender equality. Continue Reading.

A Constant Battle Against the Sale of Bodies in Bihar

New York Times

The women’s rights activists Ruchira Gupta and Gloria Steinem are keeping a diary of their travels throughout India as they meet the country’s young feminists, writers and thought leaders (previous posts are here and here). In this installation for India Ink, Ms. Gupta and Ms. Steinem visit Patna, Bihar state’s capital, and Forbesgunge, a small town on the border of India and Nepal, in Bihar.

Jan. 22, Wednesday:  Not many tourists go to Bihar.  It’s one of the poorest states in India, with good land for agriculture but too few other jobs and too little electricity to create them. Buddha was born here, but after national boundaries were drawn, his birthplace ended up in Nepal. This was also the home ground of Jayprakash Narayan, the great Gandhian socialist leader, but a leftist tradition is held against Bihar by a central government now into big business. Life is politics. Politics is life.

This is my fourth visit to Bihar, Ruchira’s family home. They used their income from small rice, oil and biscuit factories to help socialists, reformers, poets. You might say they were the Kennedys of Bihar. Continue Reading.

Raise the Bar

The Pioneer

The One Billion Rising movement has got bigger this year with men participating in equal numbers. Apart from flash mobs, there will be car rallies, plays and musical performances at multiple venues. Divya Kaushik reports

When American activist Eve Ensler came to India around a month ago, there was a long queue of college students waiting to meet her, wherever she went. Her only introduction to most of them was that she is the woman who started One Billion Rising. The movement, started last year, emerged as the global campaign when women got together on streets and danced to spread the message against violence. According to Eve, “Dance is the best way to unite and express freedom.” The worldwide campaign got so big that it made Eve a household name even in rural areas. Going by the excitement among the youth that has grown manifold in the last one year, Eve said during her Indian visit, that this year the campaign will be bigger and better and women will rise together for justice. Continue Reading.