“No single hand can produce claps”: A Feminist evaluate of customers’ liability for availing sexual services under Indian Law

By Prabha Kotiswaran

Sex work debates around the world are saturated with normative questions around the
commodification of women’s bodies and whether selling sexual services is an assault on women’s
dignity and human rights or whether it is merely an expression of their economic and sexual agency
in a world where a range of intimate services is routinely sold on the market.1
For feminists who have styled themselves after the crusaders campaigning for the abolition of
transatlantic slavery (like William Wilberforce) in that they treat sex work as yet another form of
slavery, namely, sexual slavery, the role of the male customer in accessing sexual services is
particularly key. These neo-abolitionist radical feminists have for long argued that sex work is a
manifestation of patriarchal power and that in economic terms, the most effective way for
eliminating sex work would be to clamp down on the demand for sex work. This position is in line
with their consistent critique of anti-sex work laws which are invariably implemented against sex
workers themselves rather than against customers of sex workers. Hence, they make the demand
for decriminalising sex workers while criminalising customers of sex workers, a policy also known
as partial decriminalisation. Sweden was one of the first countries to explicitly operationalise this
position, and thereafter the “Swedish model” as it came to be known, has been taken up with
enthusiasm in several countries including South Korea (in 2004), Finland (2006), South Africa
(2008), Iceland (2009), Norway (2009), Canada (2014), Northern Ireland (2015), Spain (2015),
France (2016), the Republic of Ireland (2017), and Israel (2018).

Book Launch: Gowri Vijayakumar – At risk: Indian sexual politics and the global AIDS crisis

Gowri Vijayakumar is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Her research and teaching use feminist and transnational perspectives to illuminate the trajectories of social movements, the everyday life of the state, and the political economy of globalization.

Her new book, At Risk: Indian Sexual Politics and the Global AIDS Crisis, uses over 150 in-depth interviews and ethnographic research across India and Kenya to show how activist groups of sex workers and LGBTQ people engaged, and often challenged, corporate donors, state agencies, and biomedical experts; became central to India’s AIDS response; and transformed themselves in the process. Moving across the spaces of everyday life, grassroots HIV prevention, NGOs, and state agencies, the book argues that the AIDS response generated a new terrain for articulating Indian sexual identity, both within and beyond India’s borders. It ultimately reveals how gender, sexuality, and nation shape crisis response, and traces the realignments crisis occasions for political and sexual life.

Book Launch: Selma James Our Time is Now: Sex, Race, Class and Caring for People and Planet

For over sixty years, Selma James has been organizing from the perspective of unwaged women who, with their biological and caring work, reproduce the whole human race—whatever else they do. This work goes on almost unnoticed everywhere, in every culture. It is not prioritized economically, politically, or socially, and women are discriminated against and impoverished for doing it.

This much-anticipated follow-up to her first anthology, Sex, Race, and Class, compiles several decades of James’s work with a focus on more recent writings, including a groundbreaking analysis of two of CLR James’s masterpieces, The Black Jacobins and Beyond a Boundary, and an account of her formative partnership with him. Her experience in the movement for Caribbean federation and independence is reflected in her introduction to Ujamaa, the socialism that Tanzanian villagers built, and in her work with Guyana, Haiti, and Venezuela.

Steeped in the tradition of Marx urging the need for a “practical movement,” James recounts the unusual history of how autonomous organizations formed within the International Wages for Housework Campaign and reshaped it. Women of colour, queer women, sex workers, women with disabilities . . . each independent but mutually accountable (including to the men’s network with whom they work) as they confront sexism, racism, deportation, rape, and other violence.

James makes the powerful argument that the struggle for climate justice can draw on all the movements people have formed to refuse exploitation and to end the capitalist hierarchy that is destroying the world. There is one continuum between the care and protection of people and of the planet. The care income she campaigns for prioritizes both. Our time is now.

Class and Social Reproduction: Interrogating Time Use Data for Clues

The literature on agrarian change in India has largely employed class categories based upon data on land, assets and occupational status. Land and asset data tend to exist at the level of households. Indicators of occupation have neither fully counted unpaid reproductive labor nor accounted for diversified livelihood strategies. As a result, categorizations of class in the literature on agrarian change tend to collapse women’s class relations into those of male household heads. The recent completion of India’s first ever national time use survey in 2019 provides an opportunity to address these longstanding gaps. Does time use data lends itself to an understanding of class relations?In what ways does it (i) offer an expanded conception of work as including reproductive labor, (ii) better accommodate the highly diversified livelihoods of rural Indians, and (iii) better grasp the co-constitution of caste, gender and class? Drawing from the rich literature on social reproduction, I compare the class relational mapping obtained from time-use data with other class-related measures. I examine the possibilities and limits of employing time use data to deepen feminist political economy analyses of agrarian change.

Webinar on the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill

couple of hands

We have recently made a submission to the Ministry of Women and Child Development on the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021, on behalf of the Laws of Social Reproduction Project (Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London & IWWAGE, New Delhi). A multi stake holder international webinar to discuss the Bill was held on 17th July 2021. You can find the concept note and recordings here.

From Reproducing Labor Power to Reproducing our Struggle: A Strategy for a Revolutionary Feminism

Speaker: Professor Silvia Federici, Professor Emerita at Hofstra University
Chair and Moderator: Professor Sanita Sen, Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History, University of Cambridge
Via Eventbrite and YouTube live
Held on 13th July, 9-11am EDT, 2-4 PM BST, 6:30-8:30pm IST. For further details please see poster.

Regulating Reproductive Technologies: A Blow to Inclusive Family Forms

The Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2020 was tabled in the Lok Sabha in September 2020. It was referred to the department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare, which submitted its 129th report on the ART Bill, 2020 on 17 March 2021. This article critically engages with the recommendations of this report.

Attempts at regulating assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), including one of its more controversial applications, namely surrogacy, are nearing fruition. Guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research in 2005 and subsequent bills on ART (2008, 2010, 2014) all covered ARTs, including surrogacy. However, in 2016, amidst growing concerns over women’s exploitation as surrogates and in light of a public interest litigation (PIL), namely Jayashree Wad v Union of India (WP [C] No 95/2015), filed before the Supreme Court to ban transnational commercial surrogacy, the government banned foreign commissioning parents from accessing surrogacy in India through administrative fiat. It announced a separate bill on surrogacy, extracting it out of the larger domain of ARTs.

Sneha Banerjee (snehabanerjee@uohyd.ac.in) teaches at the Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad. Prabha Kotiswaran (prabha.kotiswaran@kcl.ac.uk) teaches law and social justice at the Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London, United Kingdom.

Schemes that offer zilch relief to workers

Domestic workers are amongst the most exploited in India’s unorganised sector. Performing poorly paid and laborious work with little recognition from their employers, who often refer to them as ‘help’, and with no benefits from the state, they have suffered immensely during the series of lockdowns. Many were not paid salaries, lost jobs or faced reduced incomes. Increased precarity has translated into food insecurity and inability to meet basic needs such as making payment for rent and and children’s education.

Amidst this, the announcement by the Karnataka government to disburse a one-time payment of Rs 2,000 to 11 categories of unorganised workers, including domestic workers, under the Seva Sindhu Scheme appeared to be a welcome move. The reality of its implementation has, however, been disastrous, making a mockery of the scheme’s intentions.

Social reproduction as method: pandemic neoliberalism, and reproductive crises of work, life and death

June 2021 – Dr Alessandra Mezzadri is a Senior Lecturer in Development Studies at SOAS and holds degrees in Economics from La Sapienza, Rome, and in Development Studies from SOAS

She writes and teaches on issues related to inequality and trade; global commodity chains and production networks; labour informality, informalisation and labour regimes; global labour standards, CSR and Modern Slavery; feminisms in development; gender and globalization; approaches to social reproduction and reproductive labour; and India’s political economy. Dr Mezzadri has actively engaged with international organizations and NGOs such as the ILO, ActionAid, Labour Behind the Label, War on Want, SEWA-India and Anti-Slavery International on issues related to gender and work, global labour standards, anti-sweatshop campaigning and tackling modern slavery.

SEMINAR SERIES: This social reproduction seminar series is part of the Laws of Social Reproduction project led by Prof. Prabha Kotiswaran, and based at King’s College London and IWWAGE Delhi.

Feminist scholars have long demonstrated the invisibility of women’s reproductive labour, with feminist economists striving to get international agencies and national governments to redraw the “production boundary” to ensure the recognition of women’s unpaid labour. Today mainstream international institutions acknowledge that women’s unpaid labour hinders their participation in the formal economy, particularly in the Global South. Nonetheless, there remains an absence of commitment from states and international institutions to such systemic reforms. Anchored in the context of India, our project thus conceptualises women’s reproductive labour to include unpaid domestic work, but also abject forms of labour performed by women outside of the institutional domain of marriage and for the market, namely, sex work, erotic dancing, commercial surrogacy and paid domestic work. Drawing on feminist legal theory and deploying methodologies ranging from doctrinal case law analysis to ethnographies of women’s labour markets, this project problematises law’s jurisdictional boundaries over women’s reproductive labour and critiques the varied, even contradictory, legal regulation of reproductive labour as well as the misguided law reform initiatives that undermine women’s economic agency. Given the current interest, nationally and internationally, in unpaid care work, our project offers a timely intervention by proposing a holistic understanding of reproductive labour and exploring prospects for an alternate regulatory matrix to further women’s economic justice.

For more information about the project or to join the network, please email Prabha.kotiswaran@kcl.ac.uk. The Laws of Social Reproduction project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (under grant agreement No. 772946)

Universally Invisible: Domestic Workers in India

May 2021 – Avani Chokshi is an Advocate and a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation.

SEMINAR SERIES: This social reproduction seminar series is part of the Laws of Social Reproduction project led by Prof. Prabha Kotiswaran, and based at King’s College London and IWWAGE Delhi.

Feminist scholars have long demonstrated the invisibility of women’s reproductive labour, with feminist economists striving to get international agencies and national governments to redraw the “production boundary” to ensure the recognition of women’s unpaid labour. Today mainstream international institutions acknowledge that women’s unpaid labour hinders their participation in the formal economy, particularly in the Global South. Nonetheless, there remains an absence of commitment from states and international institutions to such systemic reforms. Anchored in the context of India, our project thus conceptualises women’s reproductive labour to include unpaid domestic work, but also abject forms of labour performed by women outside of the institutional domain of marriage and for the market, namely, sex work, erotic dancing, commercial surrogacy and paid domestic work. Drawing on feminist legal theory and deploying methodologies ranging from doctrinal case law analysis to ethnographies of women’s labour markets, this project problematises law’s jurisdictional boundaries over women’s reproductive labour and critiques the varied, even contradictory, legal regulation of reproductive labour as well as the misguided law reform initiatives that undermine women’s economic agency. Given the current interest, nationally and internationally, in unpaid care work, our project offers a timely intervention by proposing a holistic understanding of reproductive labour and exploring prospects for an alternate regulatory matrix to further women’s economic justice.

For more information about the project or to join the network, please email Prabha.kotiswaran@kcl.ac.uk. The Laws of Social Reproduction project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (under grant agreement No. 772946)