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Sex workers demand basic rights, inclusion in voters list

By Ians English

New Delhi, March 3: An umbrella group of sex workers on Monday requested the Election Commission to register the entire community as voters, and also urged political parties to clarify their stand on pension rights for sex workers.

The All India Network of Sex Workers, which represents 90 sex worker organisations across 16 Indian states, in its letter stated that due to the stigma attached to their profession, sex workers are not treated as "equal citizens" and their inclusion into the social security framework is often denied.

"Sex workers, including their family members, can't access various social entitlements, which are offered to citizens in general. We consider sex work like any other occupation belonging to the unorganised sector and we should be brought under the universal pension scheme," the collective wrote to the political parties.

"In addition to that, we want our representation in the process of designing any comprehensive social security scheme which is overdue. This would help our social inclusion, which the national government and planning commission is committed to achieve," it added.

Bharati Dey, president of the collective, said that despite sex workers being the sole earning member of a woman-headed family, they live without any social entitlements and security.

"Unlike other workers, sex workers retire by the age of 40-45 years. Till we earn, our family members survive on our income, but after we retire no one supports us and there is no provision to provide us to live with our family members with decent shelter," Dey added.

It demanded that the political parties clarify their stand on the pension rights of sex workers and accordingly articulate their concerns in their election manifestos.

"Now the time has come to recognise sex workers like other workers in our society. We urge you to provide us with the minimum grounds for social inclusion. We are rather surprised to note that every category of worker is free to work in our society with rights and dignity, no space is allowed for sex workers," it said.

It also asked for the decriminalisation of sex work, and added that men, women and transgenders who willingly choose sex work as their profession should be considered as workers with full rights and dignity.

"Sex workers should not be forced to leave their chosen occupation in the name of rehabilitation programme, as it goes against the premise of human rights," it said.

The collective further urged the Election Commissioner to make special provisions to help every sex worker get their voter card.


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