Sex workers’ convention kicks off, to focus on their rights

Amhich Amche-Vishvidhate (we shall forge our own path) is the vibrant theme for a convention of sex workers, male homosexuals and transgenders who arrived from nine districts of Maharashtra to participate in the two-day convention that began at Hotel Kala Sagar in Pimpri on Tuesday.

Namdeo from Latur, who works as a volunteer for the Community-based organisation (CBO), is among the high risk group of Men Having Sex with Men (MSM). "We have our own issues and still cannot disclose our identity," Namdeo told Newsline admitting that his wife was unaware of his MSM status.

Mumtaz, a sex worker from Kolhapur, too, is excited to attend the first such state-level convention and is keen on being a part of "Jeevanjyot" — a state federation of community-based organisations (CBOs) that was recently set up for the vulnerable and marginalised people and supported by Pathfinder International, a non-profit international organisation.

For Mandatai from Kolhapur who has been appointed by the Women and Child Department as one of the experts on the committee to tackle with issues related to violence, stigma and discrimination admitted that international NGOs like Pathfinder had got them together and worked towards improving their lot.

"After their term is over we have to now work cohesively to fight for our rights," she said.

Pathfinder's work in the state for past nine years has resulted in significant reduction of new HIV infections, said T K Jayarajan. This convention is the first-of-its-kind where specific issues of marginalised communities in accessing their rights for social inclusion and protection is being discussed.

Meena Seshu, general secretary of Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha (SANGRAM), an NGO that works with sex workers to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, who will officially inaugurate the convention on Wednesday, said communities have transcended the HIV agenda and there are broader issues like social inclusion and protection that need to be looked into.

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