Re: NEWS: Women's groups demand action on forced marriages

New Message Reply Date view Thread view Subject view Author view
Wed, 29 Jul 1998 14:48:07 EDT

There is little difference between trafficking in women's bodies for
prostitution and forced marriage, which is a legalized form of prostitution.
Both are exploitation of women and loss of their control over their own
bodies, their own destinies and reproductive choice. We are happy to see you
have added this issue to your agenda. gbdiaspora
From Wed Jul 29 21:56:13 1998
Received: from ( [])
        by (8.9.0/8.9.0) with ESMTP id VAA22280
        for <stop-traffic@SOLAR.RTD.UTK.EDU>; Wed, 29 Jul 1998 21:56:11 -0400 (EDT)
Received: from ( [])
        by (8.8.5/8.8.5) with ESMTP id MAA09999
        for <stop-traffic@SOLAR.RTD.UTK.EDU>; Thu, 30 Jul 1998 12:00:09 +1000
Message-Id: <>
From: "Sue Metzenrath" <>
To: <stop-traffic@SOLAR.RTD.UTK.EDU>
Subject: Re: news: Women's groups demand action on forced marriages
Date: Thu, 30 Jul 1998 11:56:08 +1000
X-MSMail-Priority: Normal
X-Priority: 3
X-Mailer: Microsoft Internet Mail 4.70.1161
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

You wrote:
> There is little difference between trafficking in women's bodies for
> prostitution and forced marriage, which is a legalized form of
> Both are exploitation of women and loss of their control over their own
> bodies, their own destinies and reproductive choice. We are happy to see
> have added this issue to your agenda. gbdiaspora

As a sex worker (and I assume that you are not) sex work is not
exploitation of women (there are male sex workers of course!!) and it is
certainly not a loss of control over the loss of body, destiny or
reproductive rights. Quite the opposite, being a sex worker is being a
rebellious woman, one who challenges the constructed and expected role of
women as being monogamous and attached to one man. It provides a safe and
secure environment where sex workers are in control to explore their own
sexuality. I in fact adopt sex work as part of my sexual expression. And
of course it is the sex worker who is offering particular services and
attaching a monetary value to it, this in itself puts you in control. In
supportive legal frameworks if the contractual agreement entered into
between a sex worker (male, female or transgender) and a client (male,
female or transgender) is broken there are legal recourses that can be
Expousing the attitude that sex work is exploitation of women leads to
underground and hidden behaviours which actually endangers the lives of sex
workers more than any client or sex work itself could.

Sex workers don't want to be exploited and pushed to the margins of society
by dogooders like you, they want better working conditions in supportive
legal frameworks. This is what connects the global movement for sex worker
rights and in fact clearly names the needs of 1st and thrid world sex
workers as being the same.

From Thu Jul 30 12:59:21 1998
Received: from ( [])
        by (8.9.0/8.9.0) with ESMTP id MAA00864
        for <stop-traffic@SOLAR.RTD.UTK.EDU>; Thu, 30 Jul 1998 12:59:20 -0400 (EDT)
Received: (from Received: (from akrill@localhost)
        by (8.8.7/8.8.7/08.30.97) id NAA23761;
        Thu, 30 Jul 1998 13:10:38 -0400 (EDT)
Date: Thu, 30 Jul 1998 13:10:37 -0400 (EDT)
From: Hanya Krill <>
To: stop-traffic@SOLAR.RTD.UTK.EDU
cc: Multiple recipients of list <stop-traffic@SOLAR.RTD.UTK.EDU>
Subject: Re: news: Women's groups demand action on forced marriages
In-Reply-To: <>
Message-ID: <>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII

It is important to note that the author of the original note did not
suggest that voluntarily choosing "sex work" is exploitation. The original
point was that trafficking for the purposes of forced prostitution and
forced marriages are involuntary and therefore exploitative.

Hanya Krill

On Thu, 30 Jul 1998, Sue Metzenrath wrote:

> You wrote:
> > There is little difference between trafficking in women's bodies for
> > prostitution and forced marriage, which is a legalized form of
> prostitution.
> > Both are exploitation of women and loss of their control over their own
> > bodies, their own destinies and reproductive choice. We are happy to see
> you
> > have added this issue to your agenda. gbdiaspora
> As a sex worker (and I assume that you are not) sex work is not
> exploitation of women (there are male sex workers of course!!) and it is
[ ... ]
> Sex workers don't want to be exploited and pushed to the margins of society
> by dogooders like you, they want better working conditions in supportive
> legal frameworks. This is what connects the global movement for sex worker
> rights and in fact clearly names the needs of 1st and thrid world sex
> workers as being the same.
> Sue
From Thu Jul 30 13:22:26 1998
Received: from ( [])
        by (8.9.0/8.9.0) with ESMTP id NAA04148
        for <stop-traffic@SOLAR.RTD.UTK.EDU>; Thu, 30 Jul 1998 13:22:24 -0400 (EDT)
Received: from [] ( [])
        by (8.8.5/8.8.5) with ESMTP id KAA08614
        for <stop-traffic@SOLAR.RTD.UTK.EDU>; Thu, 30 Jul 1998 10:27:59 -0700 (PDT)
X-Sender: (Unverified)
Message-Id: <l03102800b1e5bb978db1@[]>
Mime-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
Date: Wed, 29 Jul 1998 22:42:47 -0800
To: Multiple recipients of list <stop-traffic@SOLAR.RTD.UTK.EDU>
From: Carol Leigh <>
Subject: Calcutta Declaration

Asian prostitutes meet to demand legal status

CALCUTTA, India -- Hundreds of prostitutes from Cacutta's red light
districts attended a three-day conference on Sunday to demand their rights,
backed by representatives of sex workers from around Asia.

The prostitutes came in processions to the conference inaugurated by three
Indian women -- a sex worker, the daughter of another sex worker and a

They demanded legalisation for prostitution and proper legal status for sex
workers as well as better working conditions to help prevent the spread of
AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

"We cannot improve our lot and play our role in prevention of HIV
transmission if our demands are not fulfilled," said Mala Singh from the
port city's Sonaganchi red light district.

"I cannot force a client to use a condom if a pimp holds a dagger at my
throat. I have to sleep with him without a condom," she told the gathering.

She urged her colleagues to fight for the scrapping of India's Prevention
of Immoral Traffic Act (PITA) and for the formation of a regulatory body.

The conference is the second held by the India-based Women Coordination
Association, a cooperative of sex workers which looks after their health
care, education of their children and vocational training for former sex

The first conference was held in Calcutta last November and the meeting
will decide on a venue for the next.

Representatives are attending from Malaysia, the Philipines, Nepal and
Bangladesh, Thailand and Australia.

Smarajit Jana, a doctor working with prostitutes under an STD/HIV
prevention programme, said the conference would make Indian prostitutes
more conscious of their rights.

"The conference will enable them to chalk out their

Prostitution is a growing menace in India where there have been fears over
the spread of AIDS and reports of young girls being abducted and forced
into prostitution.

Sue Matzenrath from Australia told Reuters: "We are focusing on issues of
commonality among sex workers in the Asia-Pacific region, including the
struggle for law formation, better working conditions and challenging the
negative attitude of society against sex work."

She said sex workers had better working conditions in countries where
prostitution was legal and legalisation had not encouraged more girls to
become prostitutes.

"Morality is an individual issue and people who live in glass houses should
not throw stones at others," she said.

But Meena Seshu, secretary of the Indian organisation Sangram, doubted if
legalisation would help.

"We don't want to penalise the women. On the contrary, we want to penalise
the pimps, the criminals and corrupt officials. Legalisation, in the
prevailing situtation in India, will only help the pimps, criminals and
corrupt officials to exploit the women more," said Seshu.

"What we need to do now is to get them (prostitutes) a pro-right approach,
a trade union and a regulatory body," she said.

Khartini Slamah from Malaysia called for greater regional interaction to
strengthen the stuggle for better working condition and medical facilities.

"All the time we talk about international organisation but we do not have a
body to coordinate our work in the region. So we decided to form the
regional network," she said. "It will be easier to tackle the problems
regionally than globally."

But Calcutta police officials worry that scrapping the current
anti-prostitution law would mean children turning to prostitution.

"Their (prostitutes) demands for rights can be considered. But scrapping of
PITA and legalisation of prostitution will pave the way for entry of more
minors into the profession. It will be dangerous for society," said a
police official who did not want to be named.

Pompit Putman from Thailand said legalisation would help get better working
conditions and medical facilities which, in turn, will help prevent HIV

"Legalisation depends on the respective governments. But if we get our
rights, we can improve our condition...We can ensure proper medical check
up and we can educate clients about the prevention of AIDS," she said.

Lin Chue of Global Action on Trafficking of Women called for more autonomy
for prostitutes. "We have to restore the rights of those victimised...give
them support to stand on their own. The need is to increase autonomy,
self-determination and self-representation," Chue said.

REUTER 03-29-98

******The following was developed at a previous conference.*****


First National Conference of Sex Workers in India 14-16 November 1997, Calcutta

A new spectre seems to be haunting the society. Or maybe those phantom
creatures who have been pushed into the shades for ages are taking on human
form -- and that is why there is so much fear. The sex workers' movement
for last few years have made us confront many fundamental questions about
social structures, life sexuality, moral rights and wrongs. We think an
intrinsic component of our movement is to go on searching for the answers
to these questions and raise newer ones.

What is the sex workers' movement all about?

We came together as a collective community through our active involvement
as health workers, the Peer Educators, in a HIV/STD Control Project which
has been running in Sonagachhi since 1992. The Project provided the initial
space for building mutual support, facilitating reflection and initiating
collective action among us, sex workers. Very early in the life of the
Sonagachhi Project, we, with the empathetic support of those who had
started the Project, clearly recognised that even to realise the very basic
Project objectives of controlling transmission of HIV and STD it was
crucial to view us in our totality -- as complete persons with a range of
emotional and material needs, living within a concrete and specific social,
political and ideological context which determine the quality of our lives
and our health, and not see us merely in terms of our sexual behaviour.

To give an example, while promoting the use of condoms, we soon realised
that in order to change the sexual behaviour of sex workers it was not
enough to enlighten them about the risks of unprotected sex or to improve
their communication and negotiation skills. How will a sex worker who does
not value herself at all think of taking steps to protect her health and
her life? Even when fully aware of the necessity of using condoms to
prevent disease transmission, may not an individual sex worker feel
compelled to jeopardise her health in fear of losing her clients to other
sex workers in the area unless it was ensured that all sex workers were
able to persuade their clients to use condoms for every sexual act? Some
sex workers may not even be in a position to try negotiate safer sex with a
client as they may be too closely controlled by exploitative madams or
pimps. If a sex worker is starving, either because she does not have enough
custom or because most of her income goes towards maintaining a room or
meeting the demands of madams, local power-brokers or the police, can she
be really in a position to refuse a client who can not be persuaded to use

And what about the client? Is a man likely to be amenable to learn anything
from a woman, particularly an uneducated 'fallen' woman? For him does not
coming to a prostitute necessarily involve an inherent element of taking
risk and behaving irresponsibly? In which case are not notions of
responsibility and safety completely contradict his attitude towards his
relationship with a prostitute? Does not a condom represent an unnecessary
impediment in his way to 'total' pleasure?

In most case this male client himself may be a poor, displaced man. Is he
in a position to value his own life or protect his health?

Then again why does not a sex worker who is ready to use condom with her
client, would never have protected sex with her lover or husband? What fine
balance between commercial transaction and love, caution and trust, safety
and intimacy engender such behaviour? How do ideologies of love, family,
motherhood influence our every sexual gesture?

Thus, thinking about such an apparently uncomplicated question -- whether a
sex worker can insist on having safe sex, made us realise that the issue is
not at all simple. Sexuality and the lives and the movement of sex workers
are intrinsically enmeshed in the social structure we live within and
dominant ideology which shapes our values.

Like many other occupations, sex work is also an occupation, and it is
probably one of the'oldest' profession' in the world because it meets an
important social demand. But theterm 'prostitute' is rarely used to refer
to an occupational group who earn their livelihood through providing sexual
services, rather it is deployed as a descriptive term denoting a
homogenised category, usually of women, who poses threats to public health,
sexual morality, social stability and civic order. Within this discursive
boundary we systematically find ourselves to be targets of moralising
impulses of dominant social groups, through missions of cleansing and
sanitising, both materially and symbolically. If and when we figure in
political or developmental agenda, we are enmeshed in discursive practices
and practical projects which aim to rescue, rehabilitate, improve,
discipline, control or police us. Charity organisations are prone to rescue
us and put us in 'safe' homes, developmental organisations are likely to
'rehabilitate' us through meagre income generation activities, and the
police seem bent upon to regularly raid our quarters in the name of
controlling 'immoral' trafficking. Even when we are inscribed less
negatively or even sympathetically within dominant discourses we are not
exempt from stigmatisation or social exclusion. As powerless, abused
victims with no resources, we are seen as objects of pity. Otherwise we
appear as self-sacrificing and nurturing supporting cast of characters in
popular literature and cinema, ceaselessly ready to give up our hard earned
income, our clients, our 'sinful' ways and finally our lives to ensure the
well-being of the hero or the society he represents. In either case we are
refused enfranchisement as legitimate citizens or workers, and are banished
to the margins of society and history.

The kind of oppression that can be meted out to a sex worker can never be
perpetrated against a regular worker. The justification given is that sex
work is not real work -- it is morally sinful. As prostitution is kept
hidden behind the facade of sexual morality and social order, unlike other
professions there is no legitimacy or scope for any discussion about the
demands and needs of the workers of the sex industry.

People who are interested in our welfare, and many are genuinely concerned,
often can not think beyond rehabilitating us or abolishing prostitution
altogether. However, we know that in reality it is perhaps impossible to
'rehabilitate' a sex worker because the society never allows to erase our
identity as prostitutes. Is rehabilitation feasible or even desirable?

In a country where unemployment is in such gigantic proportions, where does
the compulsion of displacing millions of women and men who are already
engaged in an income earning occupation which supports themselves and their
extended families, come from? If other workers in similarly exploitative
occupations can work within the structures of their profession to improve
their working conditions, why can not sex workers remain in the sex
industry and demand a better deal in their life and work?

What is the history of sexual morality?

Like other human propensities and desires, sexuality and sexual need are
fundamental and necessary to the human condition. Ethical and political
ideas about sexuality and sexual practices are socially conditioned and
historically and contexually specific. In the society as we know it now,
ideologies about sexuality are deeply entrenched within structures of
patriarchy and largely misogynist mores. The state and social structures
only acknowledges a limited and narrow aspect of our sexuality. Pleasure,
happiness, comfort and intimacy find expression through sexuality. On one
hand we weave narratives around these in our literature and art. But on the
other hand our societal norms and regulations allow for sexual expression
only between men and women within the strict boundaries of marital
relations within the institution of the family.

Why have we circumscribed sexuality within such a narrow confine, ignoring
its many other expressions, experiences and manifestations?

Ownership of private property and maintenance of patriarchy necessitates a
control over women's reproduction. Since property lines are maintained
through legitimate heirs, and sexual intercourse between men and women
alone carry the potential for procreation, capitalist patriarchy sanctions
only such couplings. Sex is seen primarily, and almost exclusively, as an
instrument for reproduction, negating all aspects of pleasure and desire
intrinsic to it. Privileging heterosexuality, homosexuality is not only
denied legitimacy, it is considered to be undesirable, unnatural, and
deviant. Thus sex and sexuality are given no social sanction beyond their
reproductive purpose.

Do we then not value motherhood? Just because our profession or our social
situation does not allow for legitimate parenthood, are we trying to claim
motherhood and bearing children is unworthy and unimportant for women? That
is not the case. We feel that every woman has the right to bear children
with if she so wishes. But we also think that through trying to establish
motherhood as the only and primary goal for a woman the patriarchal
structures try to control women's reproductive functions and curb their
social and sexual autonomy. Many of us sex workers are mothers -- our
children are very precious to us. By social standards these children are
illegitimate -- bastards. But at least they are ours and not mere
instruments for maintaining some man's property or continuing his
genealogy. However, we too are not exempt from the ideologies of the
society we live in. For many of us the impossible desire for family, home
and togetherness is a permanent source of pain.

Do men and women have equal claims to sexuality?

Societal norms about sex and sexuality do not apply similarly to men and
women. If sexual needs are at all acknowledged beyond procreation, it is
only for men. Even if there are minor variations from community to
community and if in the name of modernity certain mores have changed in
some place, it is largely men who have had enjoyed the right to be
polygamous or seek multiple sexual partners. Women have always been
expected to be faithful to a single man. Beyond scriptural prohibitions
too, social practices severely restricts the expression of female
sexuality. As soon as a girl reaches her puberty her behaviour is strictly
controlled and monitored so as not to provoke the lust of men. In the name
of 'decency' and 'tradition' a woman teacher is prohibited from wearing the
clothes of her choice to the University. While selecting a bride for the
son, the men of the family scrutinise the physical attributes of a
potential bride. Pornographic representations of women satisfy the
voyeuristic pleasures of millions of men. From shaving cream to bathroom
fittings are sold through attracting men by advertisements depicting women
as sex objects.

In this political economy of sexuality there is no space for expression of
women's own sexuality and desires. Women have to cover up their bodies from
men and at the same time bare themselves for male gratification. Even when
women are granted some amount of subjecthood by being represented as
consumers in commercial media, that role is defined by their ability to buy
and normed by capitalist and patriarchal strictures.

Is our movement anti-men?

Our movement is definitely against patriarchy, but not against all
individual men. As it so happens, apart from the madams and landladies
almost all people who profit from the sex trade are men. But what is more
important is that their attitudes towards women and prostitution are biased
with strong patriarchal values. They generally think of women as weak,
dependent, immoral or irrational -- who need to be directed and
disciplined. Conditioned by patriarchal gender ideologies, both men and
women in general approve of the control of sex trade and oppression of sex
workers as necessary for maintaining social order. The power of this moral
discourse is so strong that we prostitutes too tend to think of ourselves
as morally corrupt and shameless. The men who come to us as clients are
victims of the same ideology too. Sometimes the sense of sin adds to their
thrill, sometimes it leads to perversion and almost always it creates a
feeling of self loathing among them. Never does it allow for confident,
honest sexual interchange.

It is important to remember that there is no uniform category as 'men'.
Men, like women are differentiated by their class, caste, race and other
social relations. For many men adherence to the dominant sexual norm is not
only impracticable but also unreal. The young men who look for sexual
initiation, the married men who seek the company of 'other' women, the
migrant labourers separated from their wives who try to find warmth and
companionship in the red light area can not all be dismissed as wicked and
perverted. To do that will amount to dismissing a whole history of human
search for desire, intimacy and need. Such dismissal creates an unfulfilled
demand for sexual pleasure, the burden of which though shared by men and
women alike, ultimately weighs more heavily on women. Sexuality -- which
can be a basis of an equal, healthy relationship between men and women,
between people, becomes the source of further inequality and stringent
control. This is what we oppose.

Next to any factory, truckers check points, market there has always been
red light areas. The same system of productive relations and logic of
profit maximisation, which drivesmen from their homes in villages to towns
and cities, make women into sex workers for these men.

What is deplorable is that this patriarchal ideology is so deeply
entrenched, and the interest of men as a group is so solidly vested in it,
that women's question hardly ever find a place in mainstream political or
social l movements. The male workers who organise themselves against
exploitation rarely address the issues of gender oppression, let alone the
oppression of sex workers. Against the interest of women these radical men
too defend the ideology of the family and patriarchy.

Are we against the institution of family?

In the perception of society we sex workers and in fact all women outside
the relation of conjugality are seen as threats to the institution of
family. It is said that enticed by us, men stray from the straight and
narrow, destroy the family. All institutions from religion to formal
education reiterate and perpetuate this fear about us. Women and men too,
are the victims of this all pervasive misogyny.

We would like to stress strongly that the sex workers movement is not
against the institution of family. What we challenge is the inequity and
oppression within the dominant notions of an 'ideal' family which support
and justify unequal distribution of power and resources within the
structures of the family. What our movement aims at is working towards a
really humanitarian, just and equitable structure of the family which is
perhaps yet to exist.

Like other social institutions the family too is situated within the
material and ideological structures of the state and society. The basis of
a normative ideal family is inheritance through legitimate heirs and
therefore sexual fidelity. Historically, the structures of families in
reality have gone through many changes. In our country, by and large joint
families are being replaced by nuclear ones as a norm. In fact, in all
societies people actually live their lives in many different ways, through
various social and cultural relations -- which deviate from this norm, but
are still not recognised as the ideal by the dominant discourses.

If two persons love each other, want to be together, want to raise children
together, relateto the social world it can be a happy, egalitarian,
democratic arrangement. But does it really happen like that within families
we see, between couple we know? Do not we know 0f many, many families where
there is no love, but relations are based on inequality and oppression. Do
not many legal wives virtually live the life of sex slaves in exchange for
food and shelter? In most cases women do not have the power or the
resources to opt out of such marriages and families. Sometimes men and
women both remain trapped in empty relations by social pressure. Is this
situation desirable? Is it healthy?

The whore and the Madonna -- divide and rule

Within the oppressive family ideology it is women's sexuality that is
identified as the main threat to conjugal relationship of a couple. Women
are pitted against each other as wife against the prostitute, against the
chaste and the immoral -- both represented as fighting over the attention
and lust of men. A chaste wife is granted no sexuality, only a de-sexed
motherhood and domesticity. At the other end of the spectrum is the
'fallen' woman -- a sex machine, unfettered by any domestic inclination or
'feminine' emotion. A woman's goodness is judged on the basis of her desire
and ability to control and disguise her sexuality. The neighbourhood girl
who dresses up can not be good, models and actresses are morally corrupt.
In all cases female sexuality is controlled and shaped by patriarchy to
reproduce the existing political economy of sexuality and safeguard the
interest of men. A man has access to his docile home-maker wife, the mother
of his children and the prostitute who sustain his wildest sexual
fantasies. Women's sexual needs are not only considered to be important
enough, in most cases its autonomy is denied or even its existence is

Probably no one other than a prostitute really realises the extent of
loneliness, alienation, desire and yearning for intimacy that brings men to
us. The sexual need we meet for these men is not just about mechanical
sexual act, not an momentary gratification of 'base' instincts. Beyond the
sex act, we provide a much wider range of sexual pleasure which is to with
intimacy, touch and companiability -- a service which we render without any
social recognition of its significance. At least men can come to us for
their sexual needs -- however prurient or shameful the system of
prostitution may be seen as. Women hardly have such recourse. The autonomy
of women's sexuality is completely denied. The only option they have is to
be prostitutes in the sex industry.

Why do women come to prostitution?

Women take up prostitution for the same reason as they may take up any
other livelihood option available to them. Our stories are not
fundamentally different from the labourer from Bihar who pulls a rickshaw
in Calcutta, or the worker from Calcutta who works part time in a factory
in Bombay. Some of us get sold into the industry. After being bonded to the
madam who has bough us for some years we gain a degree of independence
within the sex industry. A whole of us end up in the sex trade after going
through many experiences in life, -- often unwillingly, without
understanding all the implications of being a prostitute fully.

But when do most of us women have access to choice within or outside the
family? Do we become casual domestic labourer willingly? Do we have a
choice about who we want to marry and when? The choice' is rarely real for
most women, particularly poor women.

Why do we end up staying in prostitution? It is after all a very tough
occupation. The physical labour involved in providing sexual services to
multiple clients in a working day is no less intense or rigorous than
ploughing or working in a factory. It is definitely not fun and frolic.
Then there are occupational hazards like unwanted pregnancy, painful
abortions, risk of sexually transmitted diseases. In almost all red light
areas housing and sanitation facilities are abysmal, the localities are
crowded, most sex workers quite poor, and on top of it there is police
harassment and violence from local thugs. Moreover, to add to the material
condition of deprivation and distress, we have to take on stigmatisation
and marginalisation, -- the social indignity of being 'sinful', being
mothers of illegitimate children, being the target of those children's
frustrations and anger.

Do we advocate 'free sex'?

What we advocate and desire is independent, democratic, non-coercive,
mutually pleasurable and safe sex. Somehow 'free sex' seems to imply
irresponsibility and lack of concern for other's well-being, which is not
what we are working towards. Freedom of speech, expression or politics all
come with obligations and need to acknowledge and accommodate other's
freedom too. Freedom of sexuality should also come with responsibility and
respect for other's needs and desires. We do want the freedom to explore
and shape a healthy and mature attitude and practice about sex and
sexuality -- free from obscenity and vulgarity.

We do not yet know what this autonomous sexuality will be like in practice
-- we do not have the complete picture as yet. We are working people not
soothsayers or prophets. When for the first time in history when workers
agitated for class equity and freedom from capitalist exploitation, when
the blacks protested against white hegemony, when feminist rejected the
subordination of women they too did not know fully what the new system they
were striving for would exactly be like. There is no exact picture of the
'ideal' future -- it can only emerge and be shaped through the process of
the movement.

All we can say in our imagination of autonomous sexuality men and women
will have equal access, will participate equally, will have the right to
say 'yes' or 'no', and there will be no space for guilt or oppression.

We do not live in an ideal social world today. We do not know when and if
ever an idea social order will come into place. In our less than ideal
world if we can accept the immorality of commercial transaction over food,
or health why is sex for money so unethical and unacceptable. Maybe in an
ideal world there will be no need for any such transactions -- where
material, emotional, intellectual and sexual needs of all will be met
equitably and with pleasure and happiness. We do not know. All we can do
now is to explore the current inequalities and injustices, question their
basis and confront, challenge and change them.

Which way is our movement going?

The process of struggle that we, the members of Mahila Samanwaya Committee
are currently engaged in has only just begun. We think our movement has two
principal aspects. The first one is to debate, define and re-define the
whole host of issues about gender, poverty, sexuality that are being thrown
up within the process of the struggle itself . Our experience of Mahila
Samanwaya Committee shows that for a marginalised group to achieve the
smallest of gains, it becomes imperative to challenge an all encompassing
material and symbolic order that not only shapes the dominant discourses
outside but, and perhaps more importantly, historically conditions the way
we negotiate our own locations as workers within the sex industry. This
long term and complex process will have to continue.

Secondly, the daily oppression that is practised on us with the support of
the dominant ideologies, have to be urgently and consistently confronted
and resisted. We have to struggle to improve the conditions of our work and
material quality of our lives, and that can happen through our efforts
towards us, sex workers, gaining control over the sex industry itself. We
have started the process -- today in many red light areas in cities, towns
and villages, we sex workers have come to organise our own forums to create
solidarity and collective strength among a larger community of prostitutes,
forge a positive identity for ourselves as prostitutes and mark out a space
for acting on our own behalf.

Male prostitutes are with us too

The Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee was originally formed by women sex
workers of Sonagachhi and neighbouring red light areas, and initially for
women prostitutes. However, within two years of our coming into existence
male sex workers have come and joined as at their own initiative. These
male sex workers provide sexual services to homosexual men primarily. As
our society is strongly homophobic, and in fact, penetrative sexual act
even between consenting adult men can still be legally penalised, the
material and ideological status of male sex workers is even more
precarious. We therefore had welcomed them in our midst as comrades in arms
and strongly believe that their participation will make the sex workers'
movement truly representative and robust.

Sex workers movement is going on -- it has to go on. We believe the
questions about sexuality that we are raising are relevant not only to us
sex workers but to every men and women who question subordination of all
kinds -- within the society at large and also within themselves. This
movement is for everyone who strives for an equal, just, equitable,
oppression free and above all a happy social world. Sexuality, like class
and gender after all makes us what we are. To deny its importance is to
accept an incomplete existence as human beings. Sexual inequality and
control of sexuality engender and perpetuate many other inequalities and
exploitation too. We re faced with situation to shake the roots of all such
injustice through our movement. We have to win this battle and the war too
-- for a gender just, socially equitable, emotionally fulfilling,
intellectually stimulating and exhilarating future for men, women and

Carol Leigh
Prostitutes' Education Network

New Message Reply Date view Thread view Subject view Author view

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.0b3 on Sun May 23 1999 - 13:43:49 EDT