The Fearless One

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I met her in the secrecy of midnight
I met her in broad daylight.
I met her outside,
I met her within.
I met her everywhere.
I saw her in her totality
I saw her in me.

Like a commodity in busy markets,
She was invisible as she was on display.
Her garish makeup, her name, her identity
Remained hidden under the bank notes and carnal needs.
She remained a nobody.
Her past, her present and her future
Stood in uncertainty.
The fearless one.

You come for your reasons,
And go for your reasons.
You leave behind very little.
That little then slowly takes over.
What was yours becomes hers too.
Birthing and suffering,
They breed in her body.
Dying and killing,
They take over her life.
She lives in the pain of your pleasure,
The invincible one.

She lives the life of one condemned,
Ignored and denied,
In perversions and passions,
In pleasure and in pain,
As the outcast and in the deity,
She is a fellow human being.
I met her in the secrecy of midnight
I met her in broad daylight.
I met her outside,
I met her within.
I met her everywhere.
I saw her in her totality
I saw her in me.

Abhaya, which literally translates to ‘fearless’ in Hindi, is a project that focusses on female sexual and reproductive health issues as faced by female sex workers (FSWs). As a key population, FSWs are highly vulnerable to HIV infection and often face significant social stigma. Common words for ‘sex worker’ in many languages (in India and beyond) reflect the low status attached to sex work and deeply held contempt for women in this profession. Yet many women and families depend on sex-work as a source of livelihood, a reality that cannot simply be wished away.

Women in sex work need basic protections of the rights to which every person is entitled as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With this in mind, Abhaya promotes the sexual and reproductive health under a broader human rights framework to reduce vulnerabilities by raising awareness and improving access to services. Our research and observations have shown that sexual and reproductive health is a major concern for women in sex work. These health issues directly relate to the work they do. Without proper care, harm is frequent and often even fatal from high rates of unsafe abortion, unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and HIV.

Abhaya has been working in Ahmedabad since 2013 through our partner organization Sakhi Jyot. The project has been able to impact the lives of FSWs we reach by raising their awareness of sexual and reproductive health issues and increasing their uptake of related services. One of the big achievements of this project has been creating a pool of doctors a who are sensitised to the specific sexual and reproductive health concerns of FSWs and readily provide them with medical assistance. The patients who come to these doctors for care include FSWs living with HIV. With these doctors, they are also able to get surgeries and delivery services that are frequently refused by too many health professionals even today.

I wrote the poem above after my first field visit to Sakhi Jyot when I met several members of the CBO team and attended hotspot meetings, which are held in and around areas of commercial sex work conducted by outreach workers to educate FSWs on health and rights. Many of the FSWs I met are also working as peer leaders and helping each other out. My inspiration is the courage of these women in the face of adversity from all sides: social stigma, absence of family support, contempt from the local community and violence from partners, pimps, police, and even relatives.

Our society can be ruthless and unforgiving to all women but even more so towards women in sex work, branding and brutalizing them, using and abusing them. Yet these women can rise as warriors and survivors, not only overcoming their ordeals but actually emerging as brave leaders of their families and communities.

_______________________

The author of this poem and post, Nandini Mazumdar, is Programme Officer: Sexual & Reproductive Health at India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi.

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