News & Current Affairs

July 20, 2009

Lessons for Karachi sex workers

Lessons for Karachi sex workers

Zeba Raman is a 28-year-old Pakistani sex worker. Born into the profession in Karachi’s red light district of Napier Road, she plies her trade all over the city.

nadia
I did not know that precautionary measures should be taken during sex
Nadia, sex worker

She is celebrating the launch of an initiative to promote health awareness among sex workers.

“We are now revealed to society,” says Ms Rahman.

But prostitution remains illegal and anathema to many in Muslim-majority Pakistan. It is an ever-present fact of life, but never really acknowledged.

The last two decades, given the increasing Islamisation of Pakistani society, have further reinforced stereotypes about such women.

But the profession has only grown.

Karachi alone has at least 100,000 female sex workers, according to data gathered by local welfare organisations.

Lahore has 75,000 sex workers while the military garrison town of Rawalpindi has at least 25,000.

‘Spirit of openness’

Pakistan’s first workshop on health awareness among sex workers has contributed to a new spirit of openness in the profession.

“Earlier we were doing our jobs secretly, but now we can raise our voice for our rights,” Ms Raman says.

ghulam murtaza
It was very difficult to gather sex workers under one roof. Many were simply afraid of being arrested
Dr Ghulam Murtaza

The three-day event was recently held in Karachi by Gender & Reproductive Health Forum (GRHF) – a local social welfare organisation – in collaboration with the United Nations Fund for Population (UNFPA).

“I am very happy that a number of sex workers attended the workshop,” says Ms Raman.

“This has provided us an opportunity to gather and exchange views and experiences.”

She is not the only one to have benefited.

“I became a sex worker five years back,” says Nadia, 26.

Nadia said that she learned about safe sex measures at the workshop.

“I had heard about HIV/Aids, but I thought that it could only be transmitted through blood transfusions.

“I did not know that precautionary measures should be taken during sex as well,” she said.

Before the workshop, most of sex workers who attended did not know about measures for safe sex, Nadia added.

Dr Ghulam Murtaza is the head of the GRHF organisation and the man behind the workshop.

Ziba Raman

Ms Raman said she drew a lot of confidence from the workshop

The man behind the workshop, GRHF head Dr Ghulam Murtaza , said the organisation was working to create awareness of safe sex among female sex workers.

“It was very difficult to gather sex workers under one roof. Many were simply afraid of being arrested,” he said.

“We offered several incentives and assurances and paid them 1,000 rupees ($20) per day for their attendance,” he said.

“Finally, we succeeded in gathering almost 100 sex workers at the workshop held at a local hotel”.

Most of the sex workers who attended avoided the cameramen there., saying they were afraid of being exposed to their families.

Many said their husbands or family members did not know they were sex workers. They told their families that they work for private firms.

Despite these barriers, Dr Murtaza said the workshop had been successful.

“We have trained some female sex workers. They will now go to their community to create awareness among their co-workers.”

‘Reinvigorated’

The international participants at the workshop were of the view that Pakistan was still relatively safe as far as HIV/Aids was concerned.

I can now continue with my profession with more confidence
Zeba Raman

The UNFPA representative, Dr Safdar Kamal Pasha, said at least 100 HIV- positive sex workers had been found in central Punjab. But the number of HIV-positive women was not high among female sex workers in Pakistan.

“It can be controlled by creating awareness about the disease among sex workers and about usage of precautionary measures,” he said.

The workshop was widely considered to be a success and Dr Pasha said they were considering organising a national convention for sex workers next year.

The sex workers themselves were moved by the workshop.

“Having attended the workshop, I feel reinvigorated,” Zeba Raman declares.

“I can now continue with my profession with more confidence.”

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January 24, 2009

Obama lifts ban on abortion funds

Obama lifts ban on abortion funds

US President Barack Obama has lifted a ban on federal funding for foreign family planning agencies that promote or give information about abortion.

The US is one of the biggest supporters of family planning programmes globally, but former president George W Bush blocked funds for abortion services.

Powerful anti-abortion groups in the US have criticised the lifting of the ban.

But aid agencies welcomed the move, saying it would promote women’s health, especially in developing countries.

A White House spokesman said Mr Obama signed the executive order without asking for coverage by the media late on Friday afternoon.

The issue of abortion services remains controversial in the US, pitting pro-life conservative groups against more liberal, pro-choice Americans who back a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

This may be why President Obama signed the order with so little fanfare.

Highly contentious

Organisations that had pressed Mr Obama to make the abortion-ban change were jubilant.

They called the funding ban the “gag rule” because it cuts funds to groups that advocate or lobby for the lifting of abortion restrictions.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America hailed the president for “lifting the stranglehold on women’s health across the globe with the stroke of a pen.”

“No longer will health care providers be forced to choose between receiving family planning funding and restricting the health care services they provide to women,” the organization said in a statement.

But anti-abortion groups were quick to criticise the reversal of the funding ban.

“President Obama not long ago told the American people that he would support policies to reduce abortions, but today he is effectively guaranteeing more abortions by funding groups that promote abortion as a method of population control,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.

A 1973 decision by the US Supreme Court legalised abortion.

A Gallup poll conducted last year showed that 54% of Americans think abortion should be allowed under certain circumstances, 28% believe it should be legal under any circumstances, while 17% back a total ban.

See-saw issue

The policy has become a see-saw issue between Republican and Democratic administrations.

Former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, repealed the policy when he took office in 1993 and George W Bush reinstated it in 2001.

The ruling is also known as the Mexico City Policy, because it was first introduced at a UN conference there in 1984 by former Republican President Ronald Reagan.

In a move related to the lifting of the abortion rule, Mr Obama is also expected to restore funding to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in the next budget, the AP news agency reported.

The Bush administration contended that the fund’s work in China supported a Chinese family planning policy of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilisation, claims the UNFPA has vehemently denied.

In a separate move earlier on Friday, US regulators cleared the way for the world’s first study on human embryonic stem cell therapy.

While the decision of the US Food and Drug Administration is independent of White House control, Mr Obama is widely expected to adopt a more pragmatic and science-oriented approach to stem cell research.

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