Not exactly one of the most glamorous demographics to cater to, sex workers symbolize so much of what can be described as structural or systemic poverty. The squalor of the red-light districts in the urban areas of India do not provide much opportunity for the daughters of sex workers to escape the cycle of oppression and most end up following in their mothers’ footsteps.
Sangini Women’s Co-operative Bank aims to help these women break that cycle by providing savings accounts to the sex workers that can then be passed down to their children. As one sex worker laments:
“But earlier there was no way to save money. Even if you gave it for safekeeping to a shopkeeper or brothel manager, they would never return it.”
One of the interesting outgrowths of this newfound ability to save is that it provides the women a means to say no to clients that are unwilling to use or do not have condoms. Accordingly, these savings accounts give the opportunity to the women to protect themselves from HIV.
Right now the bank has over 1700 accounts and recently started disbursing loans based on these funds. In order to make sure that the bank is accessible to their clientele, different strategies needed to be taken:
With its collection workers going from door to door to collect the cash, the bank is a hit with the sex workers of Kamathipura.
The total amount of money deposited at the bank, including at its newly-opened branches of Vashi and Bhiwandi, is well over 2m rupees ($49,000). With no minimum deposit clause, one can put as little as 10 rupees ($0.25) in the bank.
A similar project has been done in Calcutta some years back.