Ecuador: Sex Workers Organize, want to be included in social security

Posted on April 21, 2015 • Filed under: Ecuador, Latin America Womens Issues, Social Issues reported sex workers are looking to be incorporated in the social security system under the recently passed Law for Labor Justice and Social Security. Lourdes Torres has been working as a sex worker in Quito for the past 30 years. She was driven to create the Pro-Defense Association of Women after suffering abuse at the hands of police, exploitation by pimps and violence on the streets. The association works with other organizations and national authorities to ensure greater rights for sex workers. “Today, things aren’t like they were before. Before, they would arrest you in the street, just for being a sex worker. Your documents were worthless. We were criminalized just for being there,” Torres told teleSUR English while accompanying sex workers at a health clinic in central Quito. “I was raped by the police. They would find me somewhere, in a restaurant maybe, and they would take me out and put me in the police car under arrest, because they already knew who I was.” For Torres and other sex workers, things have changed. “It’s not like this now. Now there is an emphasis on protecting our rights. Now we are taken into consideration. I have my ID card. I am Ecuadorean. I am a women. I am of legal age and I have the same rights as anyone else. It doesn’t matter if they find me in a night club. Why don’t they judge the men that are in a night club? Why am I judged? So we have to defend our rights.” Sex worker organizations have experienced significant gains in their fight for adequate healthcare. Before with just one health center serving the entire metropolitan district of Quito, in half a decade seven centers have been built throughout the city with the capacity to serve a total of 150 sex workers daily. These women take monthly and annual tests for sexually transmitted diseases as well as general checkups, and they are now able to receive psychological care. Today, the organizations in defense of sex workers rights are fighting for their work to be formally recognized in the recently passed Law for Labor Justice and Social Security, so that they can be incorporated in the social security system. “We are working so that our situation and the process is brought to the fore in the National Assembly, as sex work has already been recognized. From there we need to be recognized as autonomous actors. It is a process. There are various processes that are underway. And after this our goal is to be affiliated into the social security system, and be seen in a different way by society,” said Torres. “It is protection for the workers in their old age. The workers have adapted so much to this way of life, so what will happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow when they are not able to work?” Members of the National Assembly have created ongoing commissions with the sex workers to better define their rights. They have also sought their input as to how they would like to be incorporated in the Law for Labor Justice and Social Security. The National Assembly has also looked to countries such as Spain and Uruguay, where sex work has become regulated by the state. “This is a reality. We have women who do sex work, and these women need rights. They are exploited in the labor market and exposed to sexual violence, and, I would dare to say, they are subject to various issues. Drug trafficking, arms trafficking, microtrafficking of drugs in the streets,” Legislator for the governing PAIS Alliance, Paola Pabon told teleSUR English. “So, confronted with this reality, I think it is the obligation of the Ecuadorean state to give them protection under the law, and guarantee them the same rights as all other women in the country.”


Sex workers are a mobile population, traveling internationally and internally between provinces. Foreign sex workers are often drawn to Ecuador by it’s dollarized economy and the desire to remain anonymous in their profession. Sofia, a sex worker from Colombia, said that she felt like it would not be possible to protect her privacy if she worked within her own country. “Well, I came to Ecuador through a friend I met,” she told teleSUR English. “In my country I cannot work. Because I have a family, you know? And there is still a lot of discrimination in my country, like here and in other places. They discriminate against us a lot. So you look for other places where your family will not know.” An estimated one third of these women in the sex trade have not received their high school diplomas. “A lot of mothers that work in this sector are in it to support their children. Because we do not have sufficient education to change professions. I have two sons who depend on me. Other people depend on me. I think we have rights and we need to be taken more into account,” Sofia said. An estimated 81 percent of the more than 50,000 sex workers in Ecuador are single mothers. They work on the streets, in strip clubs and in brothels, some of which are run by women of the sex worker organizations. Others are controlled by pimps who often demand 40 percent of earnings. Ecuadorean sex worker Valentina told teleSUR English that while improvements have been made under the current government, there is still a ways to go. “There is not a lot of protection for sex workers. With this government there is a little more, but before there was not. We were forgotten,” Valentina said. “I think rights should apply not only here in Ecuador, but in all countries. This is a job, and we are paid for it. All jobs have rights, and this should too. The women that work here should have rights, many rights. Just because we work in one of these places does not mean that we are not good people.” Sex workers have organized throughout the country, joining forces for their work to be formally recognized as an economic activity, so that they can work autonomously and be incorporated in the social security system. The worker-run organizations will continue collaborating with national authorities in the hopes of receiving the protections under the Law for Labor Justice and Social Security, and experience greater acceptance by society. Read Article

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