Welcoming the modified National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) advisory titled “Human Rights Advisory on Rights of Women in the Context of Covid19”, feminist and women’s rights collectives and organizations have lauded NHRC for “proactively taking on board the diverse and even contradictory view points that emerged in response to the specific sections related to sex workers.”
A media communique signed by the Network of Sex Workers, Gamana Mahila Samuh (Bengaluru), Saheli, Delhi Forum Against Oppression of Women, Mumbai Sangram Sanstha, Sangli Point of View, Mumbai Naz Foundation (India) Trust, and the Delhi All India Progressive Women’s Association, said, the earlier NHRC’s initiative of October 7 was had also accepted “basic human rights” of adult women who for “various reasons have chosen to earn their living through sex work.”
However, it regretted, the October 7 advisory, which had given sex workers access “all welfare measures and health services due to workers in the informal sector” during the pandemic, came in for criticism from Sunitha Krishnan and her organisation, Prajwala, for seeking to reduce sex workers to hapless victims of violence and not citizens entitled to rights.
“There were voices who protested this far-sighted advisory by demanding a withdrawal of the section that recognises these women as workers”, the communique said, adding, “By willfully conflating trafficking and sexual violence which are undoubtedly criminal acts with sex work that per se is not illegal in law they sought to reduce these women to hapless victims with no independent voice of their own who have to be either forcefully rehabilitated or by default, criminalised.”
Calling the modified advisory “extremely balanced” which “in no way compromises on the basic rights and dignity of adult sex workers”, the communique said, “With sensitivity and nuance, NHRC acknowledges both their rights and dignity by stating that (a) sex workers on humanitarian grounds, may be provided the benefits that informal workers are entitled to during the Covid-19 pandemic, and (b) sex workers, who were forced to undertake reverse migration, may be provided the benefits meant for migrants for their survival.”
“We believe that by doing away with the disputed clause on registration of the women as workers but extending rights to the women, the NHRC has taken cognisance of the situation of the sex workers. This will also put the onus on the state to identify and reach out to the vulnerable women while also giving them the opportunity to self-identify as workers who are entitled to these basic needs and services”, the communique, distributed by Saheli, said.