Sampada Gramin Mahila Sanstha


People should believe that they can change things. It is not about a few activists fighting for other people’s rights. Anybody who has imbibed this understanding should be able to go and fight for their rights.

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“Just as I had been wary in the beginning, the women were also scared. But because I was one of them, they slowly accepted my peer services.” Renuka, woman in prostitution and sex work and peer educator, Gokulnagar, Sangli


One settlement in one town. From this small beginning in 1992, the peer education programme has grown to span six districts in Maharashtra and the border areas of north Karnataka. About 120 peer educators drop off 350,000 condoms to 5,500 women each month. These women include devadasis, streetwalkers, and housewives in sex work, ‘flying’ sex workers working in different locations, brothel keepers, PLHA etc.

The locations that the peer education programme spans are as diverse as the women themselves. They range from small hutments to sturdy homes in industrial centres like Karad, where household women turn to prostitution and sex work on market days. They include textile towns like Ichalkaranji, popularly known as the Manchester of India, and truck stops like Pethnaka on national highway no 4, where women from nearby villages work from midnight to dawn. They cover dhabas and cloth cabins, brothels and lodges.

Unlike programmes that view sex workers as carriers of HIV, SANGRAM’s peer education programme sees a woman in prostitution and sex work as an individual who can be empowered to become an agent of change for herself and her community. This vision is based on two underlying premises:

  • Insiders are more effective than outsiders in reaching the community
  • Women in prostitution and sex work can reliably enforce condom use for their own protection

In the early days of the programme, a peer was chosen in every seventh house. Now, a peer works with 40 women in prostitution and sex work. Each peer charts her own condom distribution strategy. Some peers deliver door-to-door, others keep boxes of condoms in their house for women to pick up. Some list their condom requirements at weekly meetings, others directly pick up free condoms from public health centres.

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