The National Human Rights Commission of India is mandated by the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 to promote the human rights of all in the country. Hence, the commission in its Human Rights Advisory on Rights of Women in the context of Covid-19 dated 7th October, 2020 recognized Sex workers as “Women at Work”. Further, it directed the State Governments to provide assistance and relief to them by taking inspiration from Maharashtra government’s resolution dated 23rd July 2020. Sex Workers can be recognized and registered as “informal workers” so as to avail workers benefits. Moreover, temporary documents can be issued for them to access welfare measures since many of the workers don’t possess citizenry documents. Even migrant sex workers can avail benefits of migrant workers. Further it directed the Protection Officers to act on reports of violence against women. The advisory went on to ensure free access for testing and treatment for Covid-19 along with providing sanitizers and masks and ensure health services for prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and treatment for the same.
The lockdown had an unprecedented effect which led to the loss of assorted jobs particularly within the informal sector where there’s no availability of food, source of cash and shelter and the disproportionately affected women cover a considerable proportion of such workers. The financial problem of those involved in work that’s already stigmatized like sex work increased rapidly. Sex work needs physical contact, which is restricted considering the COVID-19 outbreak, this hampered their wages. HIV-positive sex workers cannot use the antiretroviral therapy they require for his or her survival and various sex workers don’t seem to be within the scope of state schemes because they do not have identification documents. Access to health care is commonly challenging when one belongs to a marginalized community. Hence, the advisory introduced came as a relief amid the pandemic.
The National Network of Sex Workers (NNSW) consider the advisory as a welcome step and great milestone in the journey of attaining maximum rights for sex workers in the country. It will also help bring about a change in the behavior of police and other law enforcement agencies towards them. It indeed is a moment of celebration for all the sex workers that are fighting every day to strengthen their identities and achieve their right to live and earn by providing sexual services without stigma, discrimination, and violence.