How Seema Waghmode is giving a new lease of life to commercial sex workers for the past 25 years

Supported by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Seema-led NGO Kayakalpa in Pune is rescuing commercial sex workers and their children by providing them with regular health check-ups, food, education, and shelter.

At a time when India is focusing on economic development and women empowerment, many young helpless women and children from impoverished backgrounds are being drawn into the sex trade.

While some of these commercial sex workers (CSWs) work without problems, most others fall prey and are drawn to sex trade unknowingly.

Compelled by the desire to rescue these women and children, Dr Seema Waghmode started Kayakalpa, an NGO, which is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At present, the NGO is looking after 35 children, and is providing them education and shelter.

Seema Waghmode, source Edex Live

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Since 1993, Seema, who is based out of Pune, has rescued and rehabilitated over 10,000 commercial sex workers and their children, and has given them a new lease of life.

Lending a helping hand

Back in 1993, HIV/AIDS was a huge problem in India and Seema joined the government’s research team. Along with the team, Seema, who started her career as a nurse, conducted various programmes for schools and colleges.

Seema knew that commercial sex workers weren’t treated well in the society and were trapped in the business.

Speaking to Edexlive, she said,

Little do they know that these women do not stay in the red-light area out of their own free will. Once they come here, they cannot run away. I’ve heard with my own ears children of these women saying, ‘Ma, I’m hungry. Why don’t you take in customers?’ With that, I decided I just had to take these children out of here.

Being a changemaker

In the past 25 years, Seema has trained a number of CSWs to take up other professions. She has also taught the young kids about their basic rights and how to protect themselves from strangers.

Seema says, she was aware of the risks and challenges involved in this profession. Hence, in 2014, she decided to provide regular health check-ups to CSWs. She says, they come to our clinics regularly, and we provide counselling, distribute female condoms, educate, and feed their children.

Source Edex Live

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The clinic has also seen a drastic fall in the total number of Syphilis cases. While it used to get around six cases every month earlier, today it has gone down to three cases in every three months.

Speaking about how her organisation is creating an impact, she said,

When Kayakalpa was founded, we had to strive very hard to convince CSWs to even sacrifice half-an-hour of their time for a health check-up. They were very reluctant to use condoms then. Today, after 18 years of hard work, the most satisfying bit is that CSWs themselves come to get checked and ask for female condoms, reports Changemakers.

Recently, Kayakalpa also started work on self-help groups, and is facilitating the procurement of ration cards, PAN cards, and opening bank accounts for them.

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