Written by Rosalind Tan
Edited by Amra Naidoo
There is a tendency to sometimes oversimplify the evils of human trafficking and prostitution as an evident universal evil, and by extension, conclude that communities are supposed to evidently scorn it. The stark truth is that some women are trapped in situations where these issues are normalized; prostitution, economic deprivation and trafficking simply become a way of life. For lack of a visible alternative, many of the women of Kamathipura, Mumbai have come to accept these beliefs.
“Kamathipura is home to some of the most marginalized and vulnerable women in Indian society,” explains Ms. Namita Khatu, a Programme Director at Apne Aap Women’s Collective. “Here, the birth of a girl child is welcomed here as an asset where she can be a viable source of income in the future.”
The Apne Aap Women’s Collective where Ms. Khatu works is an anti-human trafficking organisation that has grown to be a well-known name in Kamathipura. The organisation focuses on breaking the cycle of disempowering attitudes perpetrated by a predominantly patriarchal society. Since its foundation in 1998, the AAWC has successfully worked with over 3000 women, 450 girls and 300 children.
Their Udaan (“Fight”) program focuses on empowering the daughters of women engaged in brothel-based prostitution. It aims at a holistic development of these girls by providing them safe shelter, an education and life skills such as computer, financial literacy courses and self-defence. By showing them an alternative future and equipping them with the tools to pursue it, the Udaan program seeks to put an end to the communal ‘norm’ of inter-generational prostitution. “These girls are lacking the notion of role model and absence of any positive future aspiration to live life with dignity,” notes Ms. Khatu.
Ms. Kathu emphasizes the need for change to come from within: from these Udaan girls taking a stand to build a better future for themselves and also for their mothers. This is the true transformational power that the Udaan program enables: these girls become role models to their own mothers who have been socially conditioned to accept their lives as prostitutes and the victims of economic deprivation, religious tradition and trafficking, and in turn are able to be role models to their own children.
Results and the AAWC team keep Ms. Kathu going in the face of funding concerns. The message of hope is strong: “In spite of all the discrimination and various exploitation that our Udaan girl beneficiaries face, many of them have not only become financially independent, securing jobs at multinational companies, but they have also sensitively helped their mothers to move out of the profession,” affirms Ms. Kathu.
Taking this a step further, the Udaan program encourages women and girls to not only know their rights and opinions, but to be vocal about it. Even if the girls of the Udaan program get educated and start earning well, they are stigmatized and usually questioned due to their mother’s profession. Udaan equips them with the strength and courage to fight against the neglect and discrimination from the greater society. “It take continual hard work and dedication,” says Ms. Kathu, “it’s about building a community whose response to us is exactly the opposite to what the other part of the society thinks or has assumptions about these women and girls.”
AAWC has been selected as a Project Inspire 2016 semi-finalist and is currently competing in the crowdfunding stage of the competition for a spot as one of the 10 finalists. Every donation, big or small, counts as a vote to their project. Support them at www.projinspire.com