On September 29, the Supreme Court directed all states to provide dry rations to sex workers identified by the National AIDS Control Organization and legal service authorities without insisting on any proof of identity. On the lines of Supreme Court guidelines, the Maharashtra government declared a sum of 5000/- rupees per month to be given to all the women whose livelihood depends on sex work. But the scheme failed as the money couldn’t be transferred due to a lack of identity proofs, bank accounts and ration cards among sex workers. (THEWIRE, 2020 )
The lockdown impacted AAWC severely. Our Umeed beneficiaries lost all their savings as there was no source of income for four months, they also faced abuse from the brothel owners and landlords as they were unable to pay rent. The growing unrest and uncertainties only increased stress levels among the woman beneficiaries.
AAWC responded to this situation promptly and launched the COVID relief program through which ration and toiletries were provided to women beneficiaries living in the area. AAWC also provided financial assistance wherever needed and mediated with brothel owners and landlords to understand the women’s economic situation. Women who needed urgent medical attention and were out of medicines for HIV/AIDS, TB and cancer were provided with medical referrals and sent to hospitals with adequate precautionary measures of wearing masks, carrying hand sanitizers and following social distancing; alternatively, the medicines were made available through mobile vans.
Our outreach workers were regularly in touch with the women beneficiaries through phone calls and counselled them how to tackle the emotional toll of loneliness in such times of uncertainties. Committed to the empowerment of women in brothel-based prostitution, AAWC trained women over phone calls to stitch masks, which they distributed in their neighborhood. They also made beautiful embroidered cloth bags.
AAWC encouraged the women to look for other alternative income sources. Some Umeed beneficiaries have set up vegetable shops, pan (betel leaf) shops and tea stalls in the neighborhood. Our outreach workers conducted various awareness sessions for women on various topics such as the importance of regular intake of Art medication, TB medication, the importance of family planning, eating healthy food, precautions to be undertaken during monsoons, ways to maintain cleanliness in the surrounding, precautions to be taken against COVID 19 etc
Women were informed about the government relief schemes. Due to the efforts of AAWC, women beneficiaries with bank accounts were able to avail the monetary benefits of the scheme easily and the money received proved to be very useful for the women.
As the lockdown hit the nation, AAWC decided to take full responsibility for providing all amenities to our Udaan beneficiaries staying in the AAWC night shelter. The safety of the girls was our top priority and we regularly conducted awareness sessions about what the pandemic was about and the importance of taking precautionary steps like washing hands, wearing masks and social distancing.
The entire premise was sanitized twice a day. A diet chart was made for Udaan to boost their immunity, which included a daily breakfast of immunity boosting foods, as well as providing them with multivitamins and regular exercise and yoga sessions. The girls who had already left the area prior to the lockdown were provided daily breakfast as a part of our Covid-relief program.
AAWC trained the staff, women and girl beneficiaries to conduct online classes, complete digital payments and hygiene maintenance. Music sessions, craft and educational activities were regularly conducted online to help them learn and grow even in the pandemic. Though no field visits could be undertaken due to a strict lockdown, regular follow-ups and counselling sessions were conducted via phone calls.
Once the lockdown eased, physical follow-ups in the area were conducted for the girls to ensure that nothing stopped their educational and overall development. Community classes were started in the area. They were trained and educated about the new online platforms of learning. School teachers provided them with homework, which they undertook with a lot of enthusiasm, while the tuition teachers at AAWC incorporated innovative teaching strategies to keep the girls engaged and motivated. The pandemic didn’t stop us from conducting the newspaper reading, journal writing, English writing task, general knowledge and storytelling sessions.
Enguru English online classes were also inaugurated under which, teachers focused on improving spoken English skills by working on the beneficiaries’ grammar, sentence formation and vocabulary. Online kathak class were also started where trained Kathak dancers imparted the skills to our Udaan beneficiaries. Career guidance sessions were conducted in where the beneficiaries improved their spoken English, understood parts of speech, enhanced communication skills, learned to prepare a CV, hold effective telephonic communications and the strategies of goal setting, time management, conflict management, etc..
An innovative joint session was conducted where the elder beneficiaries shared and introduced the younger girls to musical instruments and more. A girls-led internal committee was set up to inculcate leadership qualities among the Udaan beneficiaries with each beneficiary holding a position of responsibility. Beneficiaries engaged in healthy discussions every month to talk about the issues they faced while carrying out their responsibilities. This strengthened their team building abilities.
AAWC continues to pull the beneficiaries out from the clutches of the pandemic and helps restore a sense of normalcy.