Won the prestigious award for the best run cooperative of West Bengal for 2014
- Providing banking facilities for nearly 23,000 sex-workers
- Ensure economic security, education, career development opportunities for sex workers’ children
Passbook of USHA Cooperative helps to procure voter card, Aadhaar card and other citizenship identity
Disbursing loans to its members and its interest rates are much lower than other public sector and cooperative banks
Empowering people from marginalized sections of the society in backward areas of West Bengal
Since the inspection, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee realizes sex workers’ lives were characterized by invasive economic insecurity due to lack of control over their own earnings. They could not save their incomes as almost all financial institutions use to treat sex workers in a discriminatory manner. Most sex workers kept their earnings with madams who often duped them. The only option for loans was to go to the local money lenders whose high-interest rates mean a lifetime of debt.
USHA Multipurpose Cooperative Society Ltd
was registered in the year 1995 by the Deputy Director of Cooperative Societies, Central zone, Kolkata, having Registration no. 6/Cal dated 21 June 1995, exclusively for the sex workers and managed by themselves. The Bye-Laws of the society has lastly been amended on 14/09/2009.
In the early 1990s, the sex workers, working in Sonagachi, did not have access the facilities to save money in the banks. Since the sex workers did not have address and identification proof, it was impossible for them to open an account in banks. Even, landlords did not want to give rental contacts as an address proof. Sex workers also faced humiliation when banks insisted that they bring their ‘husbands’ along. Bank employees behaved with them in a derogatory manner as a result of which most of the sex workers were less interested to go to the bank or other financial institutions.
In order to address economic concerns of sex workers, it was decided to setup a financial institution exclusive for sex workers. In August 1995, DMSC succeeded in persuading the Government of West Bengal to remove the relevant clauses from the Cooperative law get registered as cooperative society. Sex workers wanted to register this co-operative as co-operative of ‘sex workers’ rather than being passed off as ubiquitous ‘housewives’. USHA hopes to use the fact that a state institution has formally recognized sex work as a legitimate profession to bolster the campaign for social recognition of sex work and establish sex workers’ rights to self-determination.
Goals of USHA
- To ensure Sex Workers and their families economic security.
- To establish dignity and citizenship rights of sex workers community.
Economic services provided through USHA
- USHA functions as a credit cooperative and gives loans to account holders.
- Conducts social marketing of condoms & sanitary napkins in order to make condoms available and accessible to sex workers who are at most risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS.
- USHA runs a ‘daily collection’ scheme which involves daily collectors visiting members door to door. In addition to that, there are several products of USHA that members can avail based on their needs and priorities. USHA offers members several options to save money. There are Savings Deposit, Recurring deposit scheme, Monthly Income Scheme, Fixed Deposit Scheme and others.
Social services to sex workers community
- USHA provides financial grants to run the hostel for the children of sex workers at Rahul Vidya Niketan, Baruipur and also financial grants to Durbar Sports Academy to build skills and offer career building opportunities for them.
- USHA provides financial support for various activities (advocacy and activism) conducted by Durbar with an objective to promote sex workers’ rights.
Impact of USHA
- Overall increase in standard of living and quality of life of the sex-worker population
- Condom usage rate has increased from a base 3% to a promising 93% which in turn has reduced the risk of STIs and HIV among sex workers
- Improvement of economic security has bolstered confidence levels within the sex-worker community in dealing with other stakeholders such as client, police, local goons, etc.
- USHA indirectly has helped to address stigma and discrimination attached to sex workers and their children member.
- USHA has contributed in increasing school enrollment, retention in schools, completion of Secondary and Higher Secondary schooling among children of sex workers as well as improving their access to higher education and other career building opportunities.
- The Pass Book of USHA has helped to procure Voter Card, Aadhaar Card, Passport etc. what has helped to establish the citizenship identity and sex workers’ access to social entitlement.
In 2016-2017, the bank gave out about 7.62 crores in loans to 7,231 sex workers, most of it for children’s education and housing.