Aastha Parivaar Empowers Sex Workers to Prevent HIV AIDS and STIs
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A key innovation of the Aastha project has been the formation of the first and largest sex worker federation in India. Called the Aastha Parivaar (family), its purpose is to facilitate the meaningful involvement of sex workers in planning and implementing programs to prevent HIV and STIs among them and other high-risk groups. Over 30,000 sex workers in the Mumbai and Thane districts are represented on the Aastha Parivaar.
Through the federation, sex workers are
 empowered to band together to ensure their needs are met. All sex workers have a voice, regardless of religion, race, background, language, or sexual orientation. They are members of smaller self-help groups (there are more than 1,000), while elected representatives hold leadership positions on local-level community based organizations (there are 15) that report up to the district-level federation's managing committee. Members have gradually taken on greater responsibility for overseeing and implementing project activities. Their work has focused on improving health-seeking behaviors among sex workers and increasing the uptake of community health services.
In the Aastha Parivaar's second election in June 2009, 105 community-based organization leaders voted for the members of the managing committee. As sex workers, federation leaders understand the risks that they and other members of their community face on a regular basis, and are well-equipped to provide program direction. One day, leaders of the Aastha Parivaar hope to be able to manage and implement their programs independently.
PHOTO: A woman votes in the Aastha Parivaar 2009 election. (FHI/India)