It’s not #MeToo, but ‘WeToo’ in Odisha

Campaign in migration-prone areas seeks to sensitise workers about sexual exploitation

At a time when the #MeToo fire rages on with several women unmasking their harassers, a campaign is under way in Odisha’s migration-prone districts to sensitise migrant women workers about sexual exploitation.

Sexual exploitation of women migrant workers from Odisha is widely regarded to be pronounced.

ordeal mostly remains under wraps. They often suffer silently with no one to back them or confront their tormenters.

Now, 300 women are undergoing an orientation programme in the State that seeks to empower them to raise their voices against any type of sexual exploitation and ensure the safety of accompanying vulnerable adolescent girls.

As a three-lakh-strong workforce is getting ready to travel to other States, women in six targeted panchayats of Balangir, Nuapada, Bargarh, Kalahandi, Subarnapur and Boudh districts are being sensitised about the precautions they need to take at their workplace.

The Western Odisha Migration Network, a civil society organisation, with support from organisations such as Aide et Action, Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women and Aaina are working on a database of women migrant worker leaders. They have also created a list of potential migrant women and adolescent girls. A register is being introduced in all these six panchayats to track migration of all age groups.

No one to hear complaints

“There have been a number of legal instruments to deal with sexual harassment in the informal sector. But workplaces in which poor workers work have no such complaint committee where grievances can be redressed,” said Umi Daniel, head of Migration Information and Resource Centre, Aide et Action, South Asia, and a prominent expert on migration issues.

“If anything happens to women, they would suffer silently and come back. From discussions with migrant women workers, we came to know that every third woman has experienced some kind of harassment, including sexual assaults,” he said.

“Now, we have started training 300 women. When these women go back to their workplace, they will talk to their peers. Important helpline numbers are being circulated among women workers for intimation in the event of an exigency. Women as dignified workers have the right to work in a non-exploitative environment outside the State and come back,” said Mr. Daniel.

Of the hundreds of migrant women workers and adolescent girls, only a few have recently raised their voices and taken their sexual harassers to court.

Around this time of the year, more than three lakh people from western Odisha districts migrate to Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and major towns of Odisha to work in brick kilns and the construction sector.

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