Kolkata is one of the most densely populated cities in all of India. It is noted for its colonial buildings, museums, and the “intellectual prowess” of the population (Incredible India). However, there is another side of Kolkata that can get overlooked behind the extravagant architecture and other marvels of the city - the red light districts. According to Her Future Coalition, in these red light areas, there is a “cycle of violence and marginalization” in which women and girls face “inhumane conditions, violence, and oppression”, including no access to education, severe domestic violence (which impacts an astounding 98% of the women in this region), sex trafficking, sexual harrassment, rape, discrimatory social constructs, and even bride burnings and honor killings (Her Future Coalition). The red light districts are also home to many large multi-story brothels. Since the kids who grow up in these brothels have limited or no access to educational opportunities or other forms of support, intergenerational trafficking has become a pervasive issue, even attracting filmmaker attention in 2004 with the Academy Award winning documentary “'Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids'”(Mahapatra, 2010). Despite the barriers, there are survivors who are rescued, but must spend “several years in a rescue shelter” (Her Future Coalition). The shelters are a safe space but “rarely have the resources for higher level education, vocational training or life skills training, which are key to long-term self-sufficiency” (Her Future Coalition).
What needs to be done
Through my previous discourse it has become clear there are a multitude of issues in the red light districts which need to be addressed. One pivotal step is ensuring women and children have access to adequate resources to help them reintegrate into society. This includes education, which may include teaching basic literacy skills, human rights, mental health awareness, and other life skills needed to have a healthy transition into society; additionally, victims should be provided the time and support needed to heal physically and emotionally.
How Her Future Coalition (HFC) is Tackling the Issue
Her Future Coalition is setting a solid foundation (literally and figuratively) to tackle
these issues by launching the Her Future Learning Center. As per HFC, this center will provide a “safe, nurturing, creative, and positive environment...where women and girls can get the tools they need to succeed in education or in the job market, to manage their finances and increase their personal and family financial and thus physical security, to heal from trauma and gain confidence, and to break the cycle of poverty and exploitation” (Her Future Coalition). This will be an all-encompassing building which can be used as a study-space by youth, especially the girls whose mothers are working in the brothels, allowing them to have a comfortable environment to focus their mind and energy on their ambitions. Additionally, in the building, students will have access to computers and Wifi, allowing them to gain the tech skills necessary to compete in the 21st century labor market. The space will also be available to women and girls who are not in school so they can receive “non-formal education, literacy classes, and workshops to improve their lives and increase their knowledge” along with access to literature “centered around women’s rights, self-help, social justice and human rights literature” (Her Future Coalition). Furthermore, guest speakers and local staff will have enriching discussions and lead workshops, such as “therapeutic arts, yoga/meditation, and trauma recovery workshops to specific groups of women according to their needs” (Her Future Coalition).
Some additional services which may be provided include “vocational training in data entry and programming, home health care/practical nursing, retail, yoga teacher training, and other careers.” Additionally, training in basic computer skills, spoken English, and financial literacy will be provided to all participants (Her Future Coalition). HFC’s goal is for participants to come out with both specialized skills and practical life/work skills.
Lastly, HFC will be using the center to launch a series of programs to support the mental wellbeing of survivors; this includes “social work assessments and counseling” along with “art therapy workshops, play therapy, mind/body workshops, yoga, dance and other courses and workshops” (Her Future Coalition). These workshops have been designed to aid these victims’ recovery from trauma, boost their self-esteem, develop social skills, and form “healthy identities” (Her Future Coalition).
Overall, there is a clear need in the red light districts for a safe haven. Her Future
Coalition is performing groundbreaking work by creating the Her Future Learning Center which will act as this safe haven, whilst allowing women and teens to find the support/resources to learn, heal, and build a better future. If you would like to support Her Future Coalition or learn more about their initiatives, please feel free to check out their website at herfuturecoalition.org. Additionally, Our Future of Change, being the youth-led chapter of Her Future Coalition, donates 100% of raised funds to HFC. Hence, if you are interested in donating to support the Her Future Learning Center, click on the link in the @ourfutureofchange Instagram bio and click donate or go to ourfutureofchange.org and click donate.
Her Future Coalition. “Her Future Learning Center Overview.” Her Future Coalition.
“Kolkata.” Incredible India | Kolkata,
Mahapatra, Shraddhaa. “United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.” India: My Life in the
'Red Lights' of Sonagachi, 2010,