#ProjectFreePeriod: How Stayfree Helps Women In The Sex Trade Learn New Skills

We always sympathize with women involved in sex work. But what do we do to improve their lives? Stayfree is one of the few corporates that has taken the social responsibility to help sex workers learn new skills during their period with their initiative #ProjectFreePeriod

There is something women dread every month- The arrival of their periods.When Stayfree asked a group of urban and millennial women whether they look forward to their periods; everyone had a unanimous answer- No.

Periods are a hassle for women, especially with mood swings and period cramps. It is indeed a cumbersome time for women, and on top of that societal taboo makes it worse.

But do you know who welcomes period in their lives? Women in the sex trade. It is a boon for them as they can get a sense of respite from their daily work.
Those 3–5 days of period means no work. It implies that they lose out on livelihood.
The feminine hygiene brand understood this gap and saw it as an opportunity to help improve the economic conditions of sex workers by helping them learn new skills in these 3–5 days.

Women in the sex trade are in a Catch-22 situation as they have no time to do anything else. This makes them trapped in this profession.

How is the initiative improving the skills of sex workers ?

Stayfree in collaboration with local Mumbai-based NGO Prerna that works with Sex Workers and Anti-Trafficking, it launched the #ProjectFreePeriod to provide vocational training to the sex workers during their periods and help them develop new skills to generate sustainable livelihood. This would help them to get out of their current profession and sustain themselves.

#ProjectFreePeriod helps women in the sex trade to understand their dream of progress through learning a new trade during their period days.
With the help of Prerna NGO and skill trainers condensed 3-day curriculums were launched to train the women in courses such as candle making, henna art, soft-toy making, and basic beautician courses.

With ‘one-period at a time’, #ProjectFreePeriod is helping the sex workers to improve their economic conditions and be financially independent. It has gathered support for the initiative by setting up stalls in flea markets and malls to display and sell the products made by the participants of these initiatives. It has even leveraged the power of social media to recruit volunteers and partners to scale up the project.

After its pilot in Kamathipura, #ProjectFreePeriod is now a national platform and has even extended beyond the classroom with the launch of easy-learn tutorial videos that are shareable on Whatsapp. It is an initiative that is helping those with less opportunity and education with capacity building and hand-holding to learn a new trade.

My Views
In a country like India, sex workers are the subalterns who face severe economic challenges. This has also become aggravated with Covid-19 with social distancing norms affecting their livelihoods. #ProjectFreePeriod is a much-needed initiative for learning alternative income sources for women who are in the periphery of social margins. It is also great to see how the project is scaling up towards sustainability as it moves towards online-classroom with easy-to-learn tutorials, thereby keeping the learning process consistent in Covid-19. For many women, financial independence is a dream and only limited to those belonging to a certain social stratum. Social initiatives like these bridge the gap existing in society.

The road to improving the lives of sex workers and getting them out of this trading road, but #ProjectFreePeriod is taking the stepping stone in that route of empowerment. The initiative creates a market opportunity for women in the social margins to make their periods productive. This welcome pause is changing the course of conversations around the narrative of period, poverty, and prostitution, As these women learn new skills, they are able to break the cycle of poverty that engulfs them. The initiative mobilizes women to empower other sex workers to join the program and be financially empowered. Social projects like these should be incubated even more often to make women empowerment a socio-economic reality for all. It is now a platform to break the stigma around periods and prostitution.

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