Sex workers across India are lobbying candidates in the country’s general election to support their demands for better health and welfare services in return for votes.

“We wanted to see which party accepts sex workers as part of the community,” said Kusum (who goes by only one name), president of the All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW), which is coordinating efforts. “Some express support for us behind closed doors, but never in public.”

The network has 5 million members, who between them have 20 million dependents – yet sex workers have little influence. Indian society and politics are too conservative to discuss sex work openly, much less debate or acknowledge their rights as citizens, said Kusum.

“That is why we are making a special effort in this election to get some visibility and get our voices heard. Our vote is important because we all come to a consensus and collectively decide which party to vote for,” said Kusum, who is based in New Delhi.

In Kolkata, sex workers are taking their demands directly to candidates for the first time. Sex workers have lobbied two-thirds of the 150-plus candidates standing in West Bengal, where Kolkata is located, to sign declarations of support for their demands. Election results are expected on 23 May.

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Indian Sex Workers lobby for pensions and healthcare by Amrit Dhillon

May 16th, 2019