Here at Snehalaya we've been working to improve the lives of female sex workers since 1989, motivated by the question our founder, Dr Girish Kulkarni, asked himself when taking a short cut through a red light area: "What if this was my sister, my mother, my grandmother?". With this question at the forefront of our minds, we are constantly assessing how we can best help sex workers in the Ahmednagar region.
Your support has enabled us to achieve transformative results in recent years:
- 100% reduction in second generation prostitution
- 0 underage sex workers in the Ahmednagar district
- 96% reduction in STDs since 2005
- 100% condom use among sex workers
For 30 years we have been providing shelter and education to the children of sex workers, breaking the vicious cycle of second generation sex work, and providing free health check-ups and human rights to the workers. We have also counseled and encouraged them to seek alternative work and leave the profession with limited success. A little over a year ago, in June 2017, we saw the need for a new, more targeted, project for Ahmednagar's female sex workers, and so we established Sneh-Saksham to go one step further and offer them more varied ways out.
We started by surveying 200 of Ahmednagar's 876 registered FSWs to identify those wishing to leave sex work and find out what would motivate them. We found that 38 of them wished to leave immediately, while another 124 wanted to develop a supplemental income that would offer more options in the future. Challenges included a 75% illiteracy rate among them, psychological damage and social stigmas, however we were determined to overcome them. Thus, Sneh-Saksham was born. We decided to focus our efforts on 200 women a year, prioritising those over 35 whose earnings are reduced to as little as US$1.50 per day, those with teenage children most a risk in red light areas and those living with HIV/AIDS.
In the 14 months since the project was established, we've been working hard to identify new opportunities for female sex workers, including both paid employment and self-employment, whilst also providing free counselling, de-addiction programs, training and business start-up materials. By offering sustainable incomes tailored to their own domestic situations and skills, we are extending FSWs working lives and improving their socio-economic status, quality of life and life expectancy. It also allows them to move away from the red-light areas and be reunited with their children who live in our shelter home and help improve their childhood development
We've already successfully rehabilitated and empowered 10 female sex workers, providing them with the opportunity to work in safer, more dignified environments. We couldn't have helped these women without your support, and so we'd like to introduce to you some of the women whose lives you have helped transform.
Sharda lives in the town of Korpargoan where she worked as a sex worker for over 40 years. Sharda wished to leave sex work for a long time, but having spent her entire adult life in the profession, and limited by her illiteracy, she saw little way out.
Sneh-Saksham worked with Sharda to explore her options, and provided her with the resources and advice that she needed to start her own small business. Sharda now runs her own food stand, selling seasonal fruit and vegetable snacks. She is earning a modest living and living a dignified life, even acting as a peer-mentor to other FSWs wishing to leave the industry.
Vijaya lives in the town of Srirampur and had been working as a sex worker for 30 years since a relative forced her into prostitution. Vijaya had never chosen sex work, and was desperate to leave, but, just like Sharda, she felt imprisoned by her circumstances.
Fortunately, as a registered beneficiary of Snehalaya, Viyaya was able to explain her situation to our Sneh-Saksham team. Having developed partnerships with a number of businesses, entrepreneurs and industrialists, Sneh-Saksham was able to connect Vijaya with a number of potential employers, and prepare her for the first job interview of her life. Vijaya was nervous and unconfident, but with Sneh-Saksham's training and advice, she passed her interview with flying colours, and was swiftly offered a job working in the kitchen of a local hotel. Vijaya has now started a new life for herself, having moved away from the red-light district, and enjoys her new profession, as well as being part of the hotel team. Vijaya is now confident and proud, almost unrecognisable from the woman that we first met.
While Sunita was working as a sex worker in Nagar, she fell pregnant and gave birth to a son named Suraj. When Suraj was just 5 years old Sunita realized he was at-risk living with her in Nagar's dangerous red light district, and she gave her blessing for him to be brought to live at our children's home. Sunita did her best to visit Suraj as often as she could, but was restricted by her pimp who wanted her to work.
When Sneh-Saksham surveyed Sunita in 2018 she was among those expressing their desire to leave sex work immediately. Keen to both rehabilitate Sunita, and reunite her permanently with the now teenage Suraj , Sneh-Saksham was able to offer Sunita the opportunity to work in Snehalaya's new Caring Friend's Hospital, on the same campus as our children's shelter home.
Sunita is now living alongside women who have experienced similar situations, surrounded by supportive friends, and, most importantly, she is with her son. These days you will find Sunita constantly smiling as she works hard to keep our hospital pristinely clean. Meanwhile, Suraj is over the moon to be reunited with his Mum, and visibly proud of her new vocation.
Without your support and belief in our work, we wouldn't have been able to provide these strong and courageous women with an alternative to the dangers of sex work. You can help us to continue to rescue and rehabilitate more women just like Sharda, Vijaya and Sunita from the harsh realities of India's sex trade by donating to our projects.
What if it were your mother, your sister, your grandmother?