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Sex workers in India combat stigma to demand rights and health care

Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha (SANGRAM) is an HIV/AIDS organization that works primarily with sex workers. SANGRAM is based in the Sangli district in Maharashtra state. 

The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), an international advocacy organization for women’s health and rights, has partnered with SANGRAM since 2006 and produced a documentary about their work called “SANGRAM: Sex Workers Organizing in India.” Paradigm Shift, a feminist organization in New York, screened the documentary during an event on sex work and human rights in March.

Audacia Ray, program officer for IWHC visited SANGRAM. She told MediaGlobal about SANGRAM’s approach to reproductive health care in Sangli: “The organization puts sex workers into leadership positions…it’s an organization that builds up the strength, knowledge, and abilities of people from within the community to make changes for themselves. The sex workers are empowered to claim their rights, especially the right to health services and the right to be free from violence.”

SANGRAM takes a unique approach to public health and HIV prevention, as the organization focuses not only on service provision, but also on empowerment for marginalized groups to stand up for themselves and demand the services to which they are entitled. Meena Saraswathi Seshu, founder and general secretary of SANGRAM told MediaGlobal by e-mail: “It is the randi [whore] stigma that pushes women-in-prostitution outside the rights framework, effectively cutting them off from privileges and rights supposedly accorded to all citizens irrespective of what they do for a living.”