Work, Re‑cultured: A Sex Worker Trying to Standardize Pandemic Safe Sex Protocols
In Work, Re-cultured, The Swaddle brings you a snapshot of what work-from-home culture looks like for Indian professionals across industries. In this installment, a 30-year-old sex worker and coordinator at the National Network of Sex Workers, Ayeesha.
Before the pandemic, I used to earn Rs.500-1,000 every week. I’m 30. But with this business, there’s never been a guarantee of how much you will earn. In comparison, now, my situation is very different. We started off not knowing what this pandemic was, how long it would last. When it first started, I had absolutely no income from sex work. Until June, there was nothing. Now, I get one to two clients per week. Income has gone down to Rs. 200-400, barely.
I work in a brothel and most of my clients came from neighbouring regions, sometimes those traveling from other states. After lockdown, all the borders were closed. We still talk to the clients, but honestly, video and phone sex is scary. We found out about a case in which a customer was blackmailing a sex worker. I can’t trust the medium. I’m already a migrant sex worker, so I’m at relatively more risk. I don’t want to disclose my identity online.
Being a migrant, there are added concerns. I’m constantly worried about how to run my household, how to feed my children. If something happens back home, I can’t go there. If something happens to me here, they can’t come to visit me. Plus, having to keep up with house rent, water bill, my baby’s school fees — it’s all just so difficult. We’re taking loans to manage the expense.
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I’m also the coordinator for the National Network of Sex Workers. The most important thing we had to handle after lockdown started was hunger, because income stopped across the board. We didn’t know how to work Zoom, but we figured it out to be able to do conference calls and talk to NNSW members across the country. We got together to discuss how to mitigate hunger. We can only work if we’re alive. We gathered data; we distributed resources. In total, we have successfully done three rounds of ration distribution to our members, including trans and male sex workers who weren’t getting enough support. Except for those in Kerala, where the state government is handling things.
Through the advocacy work, we’re also demanding social protections. We can’t move around but we’re still managing to do lots of calls every day. We’ve reached out to the Global Fund for relief packages. They’ve gotten back to us and promised they’ll help. Let’s see.
Another thing we’re trying to standardize on Zoom calls is how to protect ourselves and our clients in the pandemic, and what precautions we should take. We’re insisting our clients wear masks and use sanitizers along with us, and we’re also giving them information about the best precautions to take. For example, when a client comes to me, I ask them if everyone in their family is healthy or if they have had contact with someone who was infected. Then I wash my hands and legs outside the brothel. I have to take that info from them and give them the same info from my end. We have to save their family and keep ours safe too.
But sex workers have always been considered vectors for disease, be it HIV or Covid19. But in the past decade, we have made progress on the HIV front. We are fighting Covid just as we fought HIV. We are trying our best from all sides.
As told to Rajvi Desai.