Nowhere to go: helping vulnerable women in India

Bina is 40 years old. She started injecting drugs to escape her depression of being a sex worker. She had originally worked as a small-time fish dealer in Imphal, Manipur but started sex work so she could look after her four children after her husband married another woman. She was introduced to drugs by a female friend, after which she began injecting. She left home and cannot return because of the stigma surrounding her drug habit but she regularly sends money to her children.

Mina is 37 and a good friend of Bina’s. She was divorced at 23. To make a living she joined a friend in selling alcohol but gradually starting drinking herself and from there she progressed to taking drugs and then to injecting heroin.

Both women were earning good money from sex work and had a pimp who provided them with a place to live and food to eat but as their health deteriorated they were unable to earn the same and were asked to leave their accommodation.

Llife on the streets for women who use drugs is harsh and frequently violent.

Neither of the women had anywhere to go. They spent their day taking shelter in any empty space available or at the roadside. But now both women visit a drop in centre supported by Alliance India in Imphal, in the northern province of Manipur. The centre is a haven for some of the most vulnerable women.

It was not until Alliance India’s partner SASO became involved that attention was paid to the needs of women who inject drugs. Many of the women fund their drug habit through sex work. Their life on the streets is harsh and frequently violent and to have a centre where they can rest and receive support is particularly important. It gives vulnerable women a sense of security. They can relax in a safe environment, share their problem with peers and find people who actually care for them.

There are also healthcare facilities at the centre so the women are sick less often and can receive understanding and appropriate medical treatment. It’s a place they can watch television, read newspapers, chat with friends and bathe; activities many of us take for granted but until recently it had been a world away for Bina and Mina and many other women like them.