The International Sex Workers’ Day, observed every year on June 2, is a symbolic event aimed at making the lives of sex workers easier the world over. Our Supreme Court recently ruled that prostitution is a legal profession. And now it's up to society, both Indian and global, to get used to the idea.
The Supreme Court of India recently pronounced a landmark judgment, recognising prostitution as a profession, a long-awaited step aimed at improving the lot of Indian sex workers. Often described as the oldest profession in the world, people engaging in sex work continue to face hardships irrespective of geographies. To raise awareness and give voice to these uncounted millions across the world, June 2 is observed as the International Sex Workers’ Day.
According to estimates from the United Nations, since 2009, over 40 million individuals have been working as sex workers. Other jobs like that of pimps and sex content creators are also in the category of sex workers but they face much lower risks in their jobs.
It all started in Lyon...
The movement started in 1975 on June 2 when nearly 100 sex workers occupied the Saint-Nizier Church in Lyon. The women occupied the church for eight days, demanding an end to police discrimination against sex work and asking for decent working conditions. The protest by the women was sparked by sex workers facing increasing violence. The movement brought the plight of sex workers to national attention.
Inspired by the occupation in Lyon, other sex workers occupied churches in Paris, Marseille, Grenoble, Saint-Étienne and Montpellier.
Despite having popular support from political, union and feminist organisations, including the priest of the church in Lyon, the police removed the occupiers from the church on the orders of the government and no legislation or reform followed.
Theme and significance
Every year, the theme of the International Sex Workers’ Day remains the same — ‘Access to Justice’ for sex workers across the world. Sex workers face significant hurdles when it comes to accessing justice as they often face criminal charges and harassment despite being victims.
With the recent Supreme Court judgment of recognising prostitution as a profession, Justices L. Nageswara Rao, B..R Gavai and A.S. Bopanna set out six directives to improve and protect the rights of sex workers.
Situation of sex workers in India
Despite not being illegal, the rights of Indian sex workers are poorly defined. As a result, sex workers are unable to enjoy many of the rights that ordinary citizens expect. Since they do not have any permanent ‘residences,’ they often lack identification documents like Aadhaar and PAN. This prevents them from opening bank accounts, applying for ration cards, voting, or receiving any other form of aid.
So, the harassment comes at all levels — from society, authorities and even those who are paying for these services. The first step in the right direction may be for the general population to see it as a job, like any other job, and take the Supreme Court for its word.