The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is showing no signs of abating, and sex workers, whose main selling point is physical intimacy, were dealt a huge blow.
With the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic still spreading, the nation’s economic fallout is likely to be far more severe than the first wave. The sex workers’ community has been badly hit because, for the rest of the city, it may be a night curfew, but for the sex workers, it is just like a complete shutdown of their livelihood.
Far from being a “non-essential” thing, but for sex workers believe it or not, this is their only bread and butter.
The sex workers at one of the country’s biggest red-light areas located in Budhwar Peth and in the narrow bylanes of Garston Bastion (GB) Road are among the worst affected zones during these times.
While some were still trying to recover from the impact of the 2020 lockdown, sex workers who were struggling to make ends meet have been dealt another blow in the second wave. With the government announcing 2021 lockdown, strict night curfews, weekend curfews and other Covid-19 curbs to stop the resurgence of cases, left them with little to no work along with no other choice but to face starvation.
The dirty picture
“Before all these, I used to charge around ₹1,000 per client. But, the client visit started to fall due to the pandemic. Our fees came down to ₹700 per client then ₹500 per clients and now its ₹250 per clients as there are virtually no customers,” said a sex worker from Garston Bastion (GB) Road as per multiple news reports.
“We majorly provide services to drivers and migrant labourers, but everyone left for their villages in the lockdown. We managed to get most of them back but when the cases surged again, the weekend curfew took away all the clients,” she added.
“90% of customers have stopped coming to us. We are actually scared that this will go down to nothing,” she said, adding: “We definitely need help to survive and to help our family. We do not know how we will be able to feed ourselves if things go on like this.”
Cases of violent incidents are also increasing because many clients are now taking the advantage of this desperate situation sex workers are in and now, as a result, many women’s mental health has suffered considerably, with much-contemplating suicides. Many sex workers can’t even decide for themselves and are forced to go with dangerous clients.
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Hardships sex workers have gone through
Women in this profession always have to face difficult situations while earning their livelihood. They even struggle at various levels, like access to health, education and social justice or status.
Many sex workers have been facing increased violence for survival as a result of lockdowns, night curfews and coronavirus restrictions.
According to multiple news reports published in newspapers and magazines, sex workers are in more drastic situations than they have ever seen before. Women who had left the sex trade to do something good in their life had to compromise again and have fallen back into it, and others who had regular clients or had stopped working on the red light streets had to return and some have taken up sex work for the first time because they had no other choice and were desperate for their survival.
Many are experiencing greater levels of loneliness, stress, anxiety and depression since the start of the pandemic.
Like any other workers, we (sex workers) are being forced to choose between earning an income by risking ours and our loved ones’ life, said a sex worker
There are many sex workers who are also single mothers being forced by her pimp or by the situation to continue work but didn’t get any bookings so she was made homeless after not being able to pay the rent.
It was also reported that a 34-year-old mother of a 6-year-old, earning her livelihood through sex work, died by suicide. Unhappy with no-work, no interaction with client or customer, no good friend to talk to, she was driven to take her own life and was succumbed to 90% burn injuries. Many helping hands were about to come but before the relief could reach her, she ended her life, fearing the consequences of the falling economy and uncertain future.
Lack of support from government
Till date, no relief packages have been exclusively declared for the sex workers. However, there were some NGO workers and police personnel who came forward voluntarily to help by offering them food packets, masks and sanitizers. They also ensured everyone to have the complete knowledge about Covid-19 and how it is spreading.
Unlike everyone else, sex workers are always denied the status as “workers” – which means they don’t have the same rights and entitlements. Women working on the street, some migrant and Trans workers, who already facing poverty, arrest and violence, are particularly suffering a lot.
It is hard for sex workers getting help from authorities as it is a challenge since they do not have ration cards. 2,000 plus sex workers who reside in 100 brothels have lost their only means of livelihood because of the lockdown.
Humanity during crisis
Many teams of volunteers comprising students and young professionals are trying to help sex workers by distributing food and dry ration to families of over 800 sex workers!
Various organisations provided sex workers with free food and ration to survive the lockdown but things got more complicated even after the relaxation. They did not get the income for survival as customers were refusing to visit the red light area because of the COVID-19 scare.
Various efforts are being made by some NGOs and working professionals to provide emotional support, literacy and life skills to women engaged in prostitution. Women are taught how to stitch cotton masks and bags, to help them with an alternate source of livelihood.
Also, these women have been given machines so that they can continue from work at home, to reduce the chances of risk of Covid-19. Many women are also learning about finance and entrepreneurship through online classes and many NGOs have come forward to take care of around 30 children of the sex workers.
Till date, sex workers are surviving on donations from various NGOs and civil society groups.
The vaccination drive already started everywhere but it was reported that there is no emphasis on prioritising the jab for sex workers.
“Government didn’t help us back then and they are not even doing anything now because many of us don’t have valid documents which is needed to get a shot of the COVID vaccination, a sex worker said.
“When everyone were helping each other in this crisis, we were looked down upon because of our ‘dirty work’ and left on our own and forgot we are still humans,” she added.
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