I was once in a support group program where I heard the testimony of a sex worker in my country (a kind of program where women in sex work come together to share about factors behind their choice to be in the sex trade to lend support to each other) and she shared how it was for her to transition from having been a homemaker to a sex worker. It redefined my perspective on livelihood options that are available for women in India where families do not invest money and resources on their education and girls and women acquire very little skills along their lives that will land them a decent job or a well paying vocation.
The woman in her early thirties shared that she married against her parent's wish so when her husband started beating her and making life intolerable for her when she could not get dowry from her parents, she had no support coming in from her family. One day her husband pushed her out of his house and brought in a woman he called his new wife. The woman was stranded with two small children, a girl and boy with nowhere to go and no relative to give them shelter till she found a job or a way out.
She found her cousin sister sympathise with her situation and lived for a month in her house. She looked for a job with a vigor but did not find any. Her cousin sister asked her to leave as she too was unable to afford to support the three of them and her husband was not in favour of the idea to keep them for too long.
The woman and her two children stood under a big banyan tree for 3 long days and slept under the shade at night among the mosquitoes, insects and the hot sun in the day time. By the third day, the woman's daughter developed high fever causing much distress to her and a sense of urgency to find money to take her to a doctor and get a shelter for them.
All throughout the days the three of them stood under the banyan tree, different men approached her, appearing to show sympathy and offered money, food and shelter in exchange for sexual services.On the fourth day, when no other alternative was working out for her, the woman consented to have sex with two men who paid her Rs. 300 each. With that money she acquired confidence of fending for her children and moved to a make-shift rented room and got her children in the safe confines of a home.
The woman became a sex worker officially that day.
Listening to this testimony my paradigm on sex work shifted which had rested on the concept of women walking along the streets to fetch clients and earn money easily without putting much effort. I realized that sex work is the most difficult job a woman can do. She is not treated right by many clients, the kind of sex they demand may not be aggreable to her; many a times she is underpaid, many times she has been contracted for one man but more number of men join in thus exploiting her, there have been instances of cigerette burns and beating and instances where clients have fled after stealing all their money. She is abused by clients on job, by the policemen when she refuses to pay them a part of her earnings in exchange for not arresting her or not offering them sexual favours for free. Her lover, husband or partner abuses her out of suspicion or disrespect over her choice of work even when he might be living off her earnings.
Why do women look at livelihood avenues that make them injured, unhappy, exposing them to disease and danger or low income? This is to my understanding a power dynamics that exists in our society and a woman just succumbs under its pressure and crumbles like a pack of cards. These women chose sex work over starvation, sickness and death like any man would do if no options remained. These women chose sex work because they did not have skills that would get them a job. The solution then lies in investing in our daughters education and skill building. The solution is in giving her the confidence. The solution is in keeping our doors open to our daughters when things go wrong and possess the strength to support them defying societal norms. If every mother can do this, no woman will have to look at livelihood options that are dangerous.
The problems of our gender are economic but they begin from discrimination against our gender. We must work to clarify this in our minds first to be able to develop empathy for women whose lives are caught up in this whirwind. The solutions of our world begins with empathy.
This is not a story on sex work but my story of how I acquired a new personality after a testimony and today, I host a stance within me to extend all possible help to women in sex work and any woman who is in a difficult situation. Women are victims of their situation but if women fend for women, we need no one else.
Breaking the Silence
Banish myths & taboos on menstruation,
National Laadli Awardee|2015