21 November 2011
By Karthika Gopalakrishnan
Rehabilitating sex workershaslong been a vexing issue for concerned citizens and policy makers. A successful pilot programme by Y R Gaitonde Centre for AIDS Research and Education (CARE) that has benefited over 75 sex workers in Chennai could be a model. “The project could be explored for scaling up,” said Shanthanu Chatterjee, a member of a panel set up by the Supreme Court to recommend possible ways towards sex workers’ rehabilitation.
Termed the ‘Pi Bags’ programme, the YRG Care venture trains sex workers and women from vulnerable backgrounds to stitch a variety of bags, which are then exported and marketed in the US. Each bag maker benefits as a percentage of the proceeds from the sale goes to them directly. The productsincludetotebags, yoga mat bags, lunch and wine bags.
“We began the project in 2005 in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University which provided us technical expertise and also ensured a continuous market. We have a mission statement attached to each bag that states the proceeds go to the women who make the bags,” said C Sethulakshmi, manager, community outreach services, YRG Care.
The group zeroed in on the idea of each woman owning her own enterprise from exit surveys conducted during the conclusion of an earlier project to empower HIV-positive women.
“We wanted to understand their interests and how to arrive at a sustainable livelihood option.If they wereengagedin making candlesor soaps,there would not be a ready market for it,” shesaid.
The programme is helping to supplement sex workers’ incomes so that they could choose to have lesser partners and reducetheir riskon a daily basis. With the potential to earn up to.200to.300 a day,the women would be able to say no to prostitution in thelong run.
“Currently, we work flexible hours as women come in at timings that are convenient to them, depending on the requirement for products. We have trained a core of about 75 women and intend to scale up. We are now trying to sell the products in India,” said research manager A K Sreekrishnan.