Goa being the tourism hub in the country, hundreds of thousands are dependent on it and since the beginning of 2020 the pandemic has crushed the entire business industry and the tourism sector in Goa leaving thousands unemployed and without any major source of Income, and that led to many to women without any support system to get into the sex trade.
One of the recent articles published by one of Goa’s leading newspapers has put more light on this subject, accordion to them, Adversity caused by the uninvited guest COVID-19 pandemic forced a housekeeping staff in South Goa to plunge into the sex trade.
Roughly a year into dealing with the pandemic, we know the precise count of the number of people infected, recovered, vaccinated, and deceased. However, there exists no approximate measure of the number of lives indirectly affected by the pandemic, especially those of women, for the numbers are so vast.
A recent interview by Hindustan Times brought to the fore, the shocking reality that more and more women in Goa were turning to sex work, owing to the economic adversities caused by Covid-19.
The story accounted for the life of a worker from the hotel industry who owing to the indefinite shut down of restaurants and hotels in the state during the lockdown, had no other option but to risk her life and plunge into sex work.
The story of this woman from Goa is likely to resonate with many other women across the country. Sole caretakers of two or more members of the family, these women also often bear the responsibility of old parents. With no able partner or family member to bear the costs of living, these women have to arrange for ration, house rent, education, clothes, medicines, etc. for the whole family all by themselves.
Their problems are only exacerbated by their relatively lower level of education, which closes the opportunity to work at more “decent” and safe environments, narrowing down their possibilities to either flesh trade, or other menial tasks in the informal sector which are beyond the purview of government regulation.
The result of this is, most women are engaged in employment in the informal sector, working without any labour laws to guarantee them basic pay and rights. They are also much more vulnerable to be sexually harassed at such workplaces.
Women in most developing countries are employed in far lower-paying jobs than men. They often take up petty jobs such as small-time catering, laundry services, and household which are ridden with job insecurity. Women are also overrepresented in the sectors and jobs which are hardest hit by COVID-19 – manufacturing, textile and garments, care services, hospitality, and tourism.
Thus pushing them to the absolute last resort of sex work. But it is anything but a solution to their woes. Sex work bring along its own numerous risks such as infection of Covid, STDs, the threat of rape and violence, and underpayment, among others. “It’s a matter of survival. We have to cover our daily expenses. Yes, we are aware of police raids, risk of contracting the virus but we too are helpless,” the newspaper quoted a sex worker from Vasco.
The ordeal does not end there. Over the past few months, sex work hasn’t been very rife. Clients are very sparse for fear of contracting the virus. This has driven these sex workers to their savings, which are depleting at an alarming pace.
Apart from these more evident risks, the women are also concerned about the effects this can have on their children. Most sex workers who are single mothers are worried that their own daughter might take after them and enter the red-light trade.
NGO Anyay Rahit Zindagi, which has been assisting the police in rescue, rehabilitation, and repatriation of sex workers, has said there is no economic rehabilitation due to the pandemic.
“There is a lack of funds. We are nonetheless doing our best to help the rehabilitated women as well as those still in the sex trade. Personal contributions from our staff, financial help from like-minded people, and funds from our association are being used to help these women,” ARZ Director Arun Pandey said. The NGO that operated a laundry by employing rescued victims of prostitution is closed owing to the pandemic.
The governments refusing to recognize sex work and the people involved in it, while also do little to address the dire poverty face by the economically weaker sections of society, has left women single-handedly struggling this battle for survival. Authorities tend to turn a blind eye towards these sectors of society thereby excluding them from any relief schemes and welfare schemes.
Little is being done for the economic rehabilitation of sex workers, and to prevent other women from forcing themselves into the dark trade for lack of alternatives.