- An Actual Job
BUENOS AIRES—The rights of women sex workers are constantly being ignored. I have been denouncing the violations we suffer daily for more than 22 years, and even though there have been steps forward in the way we organize, it’s appalling that we are still discussing basic demands.
In Latin America, only Uruguay has a law that recognizes sex work as work. And it’s not even a good one, since it gives more power to the owners of bars than to the workers themselves. Regulation is the key to gaining access to labor rights, which will directly improve our working conditions.
Regulating sex work will acknowledge it as an actual job; it exists, a lot of us women do it, and we shouldn’t be ashamed or face discrimination and stigma. We are free adults, and our decisions should be respected, whether society, religion, government, or fellow feminist activists like it or not. We own our bodies and should be able to control them.
We deserve legal protections that guarantee decent working conditions, especially when it comes to hygiene, safety, and security. Failing to respect our choices, governments prevent us from improving our conditions. Latin American countries have signed international agreements committing to the protection of women’s rights. Yet sex workers regularly face violence and abuse, and our wishes aren’t being considered or included in public policy decisions—not even when these laws directly affect our lives.
Since being a sex worker is an autonomous decision and we provide a service to customers, we are entitled to labor rights just as any other employed (or self-employed) person. We want to pay taxes and receive the same social security as any other worker. We should be able to have a bank account, rent a house, and access health care and retirement programs. Now, when we go to a hospital, we often face moralistic preaching and treatment that reflects the stigma surrounding our work. Even when we are just suffering from a cold or stomach ache, doctors will request an HIV test.
The current lack of regulation means that we’re arbitrarily arrested and subjected to extortion and threats from security forces that should be protecting citizens. Cruel, degrading, and inhumane treatment, constituting institutional violence, occurs daily, because we’re not recognized as legitimate workers.
We don’t want to live double lives by hiding from people who find our work offensive. We are women. We are part of the community. We have families and friends. We need recognition and access to human and labor rights. We deserve that much.
ELANA EVA REYNAGA is a sex worker and founder of the Network of Women Sex Workers of Latin America and the Caribbean (RedTraSex).