Sex workers have been one of the most invisibilised of the workforce in the country. Coming from poor households, most sex workers hardly have proper documentation, let alone awareness about social security schemes and how to avail of them. Moreover, there is always a social stigma that follows and discourages workers from seeking assistance. Already at the margins, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed sex workers further from the center to such an extent that many had to avail of informal loans that have to be paid back with very high-interest rates.
In a small one-room structure, Fiona has her walls lined up with sarees and nightgowns. Two women wait as she pulls out her newest collection. She lines her 4×6 foot bed with a myriad of colors and designs and the women try on a few and pick the ones they’d like to buy.
Just about two years ago, Fiona a sex worker living in one of the red-light areas of Theni, was left penniless. The COVID-19 pandemic had left her with no source of income or access to essentials. Our partner, Swasti, who Fiona has been associated with since 2018, came in and provided financial support through a revolving loan. Fiona wasn’t just a beneficiary of Swasti, she is also a community leader in her own right. She has been a great source of support to the field teams, assisting her community to avail documentation support and other social protection benefits all while trying to make a living for herself.
Today Fiona is a small business owner, living off her earnings and simultaneously paying off her loan. She has been working hard, running pillar to post sourcing clothing from local markets in Madurai all while trying to grapple with the fact that some of her customers are unable to pay for their purchase at one time. She continues to persevere, to her, this is an opportunity to build a better and more sustainable life.