Who do you work with?:
1. People in sex work at local, national and international level
2.Transport and migrant workers, youth, rural women
3. Work with men who have sex with men and males in sex work
4.Work with mainstream society
5. Children of sex workers
How are sex workers involved in your organisation?:
The Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP) collective is a sex-worker lead organisation born in 1996 in the context of a growing HIV/AIDS movement which has generally taken an instrumental approach to sex workers. In contrast to many sex worker organisations emerging around that time, VAMP took an explicitly rights-based approach from the outset. It aims to forge and consolidate a common identity among women in sex work which could empower them to articulate and assert their full range of rights as well as protect themselves from HIV infection.
Which of NSWP priority areas does your organisation work on?:
Oppose the criminalisation and other legal oppression of sex work and support its recognition as work
Critique the trafficking paradigm that conflates representations of sex work, migration, and mobility
Advocate for universal access to health services, including primary health care, HIV and sexual and reproductive health services
Speak out about violence against sex workers, including violence from police, institutions, clients, and intimate partners, while challenging the myth that sex work is inherently gender-based violence
Oppose human rights abuses, including coercive programming, mandatory testing, raids and forced rehabilitation
Challenge stigma and discrimination against sex workers, their families and partners, and others involved in sex work
Advocate for the economic empowerment and social inclusion of sex workers as sex workers
What are the two main challenges that the sex workers you work with face:
A particular strand of feminism joins hands with the extreme right wing that informs the anti-trafficking discourse, in which prostitution is viewed as a form of violence against women. Such discourses are often from privileged positions of class, race or caste, and they analyse the trading of sex through a narrow framework. This in effect limits an understanding of sex work, epitomizing sex work as oppression, victimization and exploitation of women and constructing the women only as victims of unequal gender relations. The necessity to stop prostitution has therefore become pivotal to the movement to stop trafficking.
This conflation has presented major obstacles to initiatives working for the rights of sex workers, including for VAMP. For example, in 2005, an American evangelist working for the anti-trafficking NGO Restore International arrived in Sangli and with assistance from local police, conducted several brothel raids. An assumption had been made that all the young women living in the area were doing sex work, had been trafficked, and needed ‘rescuing’. Thirty five women were picked up and sent for medical examinations to determine their age. They were detained for several days at the behest of Restore International, which was determined to malign the name of VAMP as an organisation supporting trafficking. It was found that only four women detained were underage, out of which two were not doing sex work but living with relatives in the area. The women received no apology or compensation for loss of income, and the organisation has continued to conduct raids periodically.
VAMP therefore faces an ongoing struggle with a powerful set of players who misconstrue their work, interpret the business and empowerment successes of the women as necessarily involving illegal practices, and take on an aggressive policing role under the mantle of moral authority.
Describe other areas of your work:
The ongoing struggle for VAMP is for sex workers to be recognised as persons who provide sexual services in a commercial context, as opposed to people engaged in an immoral activity. However, advocating this does not happen in a vacuum. The challenges facing sex workers are a complex web of interrelated issues. VAMP works with the overall goal of improving the quality of sex workers’ lives.
Advocacy with community members, leaders, Panchayat heads, local political leaders, police, policy makers, NGOs
Training of trainers – organizing workshops, exposure visits
Education - rights of people in sex work
Production of plays, documentary films and use of electronic media, use of rallies
Research study planning and implementation
Delegation at local, national, international level-meetings, sessions, debates, dialogues and conferences