Sunday, June 27, 2010

"Women Hold Up Half the Sky"

They sat cross-legged on the woven jute mats in the middle of the unpaved cul-de-sac daubed with sporadic flora and remnants of Styrofoam cups and chocolate wrappers. The village women, barefoot and wrapped in humble chiffon saris, recounted how they cared for the orphans and ensured their basic needs and education. With no wealth to speak of, these women had voluntarily assumed the duties of a parent to orphans affected or infected with HIV/AIDS. They are the paradigm of the Chinese proverb, “Women hold up half the sky.” Throughout the past few weeks in Hubli as part of the Frontline SMS team that works jointly with NGOs assisting female sex worker and HIV/AIDS communities, I have seen countless examples of women holding up the sky. Peer educators (HIV positive sex workers) share their knowledge about prophylactics with fellow sex workers in the midst of stigma and discrimination. Female outreach workers, in their attempts to provide access to HIV/AIDS testing and anti retroviral treatment to female sex workers, face incessant gossip. Unfazed, these women persist in their duties of helping vulnerable women in the sex trade live a dignified life. In the largest democracy, these women live with limited freedom, disparaged in the home, workplace or streets. The initiation into sex trade varies with each individual with cases ranging from deception to limited or no alternative economic opportunities. The aftermath, however, is common; the women are mired in controversy and discrimination.

The human trafficking/sex trade is a clandestine operation, eclipsed by the bedlam of society, but these weeks have shown us the vulnerabilities, the oppression, and the strength and courage of these women in facing discrimination.

Combating stigma and discrimination is a gradual path, but we can start by helping women recognize their potential and increasing awareness in the community. By fixing technical issues, employing an effective data collection system, and expanding the project, my team and I aim to empower more women through SMS technology to help them realize that they can hold up the sky.

Village Foster Mothers, Sex Workers, and Orphans

Outreach Workers and Peer Educators