The pandemic led to the loss of livelihoods, and with the lockdown, sex workers, unable to practice their livelihood, suffered. Community-based organisations connected women in sex work to government programs and facilitated the distribution of rations, which was immense to women struggling to make ends meet. Dhanalakshmi found her family in dire straits and lost her livelihood during the pandemic. The need to reach out to her and others from the PLHIV community and connect them with aid tailored around their peculiar context was never more urgent than during the pandemic.
For one, women in sex work have seen a drastic loss of livelihood from the COVID-19 situation in the country. In Bengaluru city alone, nearly 25,000 sex workers and their children were affected during the lockdown. Business slackened. And there was a fear of contracting COVID-19 and the extant social distancing norms. Dhanalakshmi, a sex worker, earned around ₹2000-3000 per day before the pandemic.
With the pandemic, her clientele was reduced to a trickle, and she took up a part-time job as domestic help. The sole breadwinner of her family, consisting of her two children, and her mother-in-law, Dhanalakshmi’s meagre income of ₹500-1000 per day from domestic work was not sufficient. While high-volume sex workers (typically servicing more than ten clients per week) may be lucky to find a client or two in these uncertain times, the young sex workers and new entrants in the job are distraught: “We do not have any other means to earn our daily bread.”
The community outreach offered by SMS has been tremendous. For instance, Dhanalakshmi was unaware of government programs supporting marginal communities, but she received COVID-19 protection kits from SMS- supported camps or local police stations and dry ration kits from SMS. PLHIV members who don’t have ration cards had been provided dry ration kits through Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP).
SMS also helped women aspiring to diversify their livelihoods to become financially independent by giving top-up loans (worth INR1.3 crores) over and above their existing loans. Sathyaprema, an SMS member working as a dog breeder, says, “the lockdown period was very tough for me as my own dog breeding business had encountered a full stop. Thanks to SMS’s business loan, I could keep it afloat and support my family.”