The Association of Female Sex Workers, "Colectivo Flor de Azálea," was formally created on the 14th of February, 2002 in Machala, Ecuador. Their goal is to provide sex workers with the tools to organise and empower themselves in order to stop the stigma, violence, and discrimination they face.
How did this organisations start?
This association was created by and for female sex workers who decided to break the silence in which they had been living for many years. They chose to organise – to make themselves heard and denounce violations to their rights by the authorities, institutions, community, customers, owners of establishments and sometimes even their own families.
At the beginning it was very difficult to organise because it was a new oganisation and sex workers did not trust them yet. It was thanks to the workshops that were offered to sex workers that sex workers finally decided to trust the organisation. They became aware of how their rights were being violated and began to speak out to denounce these situations. Now sex workers involved with the organisation recognize that they are women, mothers, and friends working to have their human rights fulfilled.
When Collective Flor de Azálea received legal recognition in 2002, it joined protests organised by other organisations of sex workers. The organisation started to do media work and also formed the Bureau of Human Rights and Sex Work in Machala, Ecuador. The Bureau made statements when the rights of female citizens and sex workers were violated. Sex workers participated in panels speaking out about different issues regarding the needs of all sex workers, including male and transgender sex workers.
What does the organisation do?
The organisation works mainly on the following priority areas:
- Human rights;
- Empowerment and building the capacity of new sex work leaders;
- Prevention of violence against sex workers;
- Advocacy to generate changes in public policies that affect sex workers;
- Comprehensive health services, including HIV/AIDS and STI prevention that is rights-based (free of stigma and discrimination, and where confidentiality is respected);
- Strategic alliances with other women's organisations with common goals;
- Programme management and strengthening of sex workers.
The Colectivo Flor de Azálea has its own office and the services provided are in collaboration with a sexual health clinic. Some of the services provided are:
- Workshops on the new guidelines for health aimed at key populations, including sex workers;
- Hygiene and sanitary recommendations are made for indoor workspaces. Demands are channeled to the Ministry of Health and the government to improve the working conditions of sex workers;
- Research is conducted on stigma and discrimination towards female sex workers, to advocate and denounce to the State Attorney the non-compliance of the Comprehensive Care Model.
Advocacy on priority issues has led the organisation to speak out on behalf of sex workers publicly: "we do not want more laws or policies, we want those that already exist to be reviewed with our participation, and we want our priorities and needs to be reflected in them," said Karina Bravo, a founding member of the collective.
Meetings are held with state authorities, health authorities, the Ministry of Interior, as well as with the Delegate of the People's Legal Representation to coordinate actions to benefit sex workers. “We also try to explain the events of violence and insecurity sex workers experience,” said Karina Bravo.
What are some of the achievements of Colectivo Flor de Azálea?
One of their most important achievements was in 2008. In 2008 the Assembly was drafting a new constitution in Ecuador. Colectivo Flor de Azálea made several proposals to the Assembly to ensure the human rights of sex workers were protected in the new constitution.
In 2004, the organisation developed the first guide for sex workers’ rights.
The Colectivo Flor de Azálea includes sex workers of all sexes and genders. All of its participants are informed of everything that happens in the group and are invited to participate in decision-making. All members are sex workers and all of them are involved in the different campaigns of the organisation including:
- "We are not the problem, we are part of the solution," campaign to raise awareness and train peers about HIV/AIDS and STIs;
- "First my health, first my life," intense empowerment campaign to transform public health policies into inclusive ones;
- "Citizens with Rights," campaign to demand inclusive Health Services, free of discrimination and stigma.
What are some important key moments in the organisation?
The most important events of the organisation were as follows:
- "We are more than sex," project funded by the International Treatment and Preparedness Coalition Latin America and Caribbean. The project advocated for access to retroviral medication. The project also advocated to develop strategies and proposals that are rights-based. It was intended to strengthen partnerships between sex worker-led organisations in Brazil, Peru, Costa, and the Chimera Foundation.
- On the 24 of December, 2015 50 sex workers decided to surrender themselves to the police. They were sent to prison. This action was recorded on video. There was a press conference in which every detail was reported. Letters to the Ecuador’s President were sent with the demands of the collective. Sex workers reported how their human rights were violated and it resulted in the punishment and dismissal of those policemen who committed these crimes.
- In collaboration with the Chimera Foundation, round 2 of the project for The Global Fund on HIV/AIDS was executed, to work on HIV/AIDS prevention with sex workers. “We collaborated with various associations (Chimera Foundation, MMO, Sembrando Futuro, GLBT, and Abracemos sin Miedo), so that a Clinic for HIV/AIDS is established in the province of El Oro,” said Karina Bravo from the collective.
- Colectivo Flor de Azálea participated in the Andean University Congress. “Our collective attended the Assembly where the new Constitution of our country was being discussed. We, as a women's organisation, were presenting our proposals as citizens for the recognition of sex work,” said Karina Bravo.
- Colectivo Flor de Azalea also participates in a round table for Human Rights and Sex Work at the FLACSO University. The organisation takes a holistic view of sex workers’ health and the changes that need to occur to the health system to ensure the sexual health and reproductive rights of sex workers are protected.
- A protest was held in the city of Machalain in 2015 after a the press accused sex workers and advocacy leaders of being linked to the mafia. Female sex workers did a ‘sit-in protest’ forcing the mayor to engage with 80 of them.
- There was another ‘sit-in protest’ outside of the President's residence. Letters were delivered to the President of the Republic in opposition to new curfews to brothel, which affects theincome earning ability of sex workers.
What are some of the challenges faced by the Colectivo Flor de Azalea?
Colectivo Flor de Azálea’s main challenge is the same challenge faced by many other sex worker-led organisations. They want to create a space for debate and analysis on sex workers’ rights, where the experiences of sex workers are accurately reflected. They also want the full recognition of sex work as work.
“We need enjoyable sex spaces that provide security for women and customers: making places where sex work is exercised spacious, clean, pleasant; where customers can walk around and see all the women who are in their rooms; where there are dining areas, bars and music with moderate volume; where there are security guards watching and asking that customers have their documents on them and do not enter with weapons; and where there are female security guards watching around for the safety of our colleagues,” said Karina Bravo.
Another big challenge faced by sex workers in Ecaudor is the accountability of the Ministry of Health to sex workers. Colectivo Flor de Azálea demands answers to the new provisions in the Health Care Act that decentralize services for sex workers. There is also a shortage of clinics for confidential testing and treatment access. Colectivo Flor de Azálea wants the creation of a new Health Policy.
“We also want to repeal the curfew imposed by the Ministry of Interior and Security. Curfews [for brothels] were imposed because the Ministry considers brothels and areas where sex work occurs as bad. This stereotype negatively affects sex workers nationwide,” said Karina Bravo.
Do you have a message for those outside of the sex workers’ rights movement?
“We call for unity, not only to the colleagues in our organisation, but to all organisations in Ecuador that are committed to fighting for human rights. Organisations include: Asociación 22 de Junio, Asociación 1 de Agosto, Asoprodemus, Mujeres de la Plaza de Santo Domingo, 21 de Agosto, Asociación Mujeres de Milagro, Asociación de Ambato, Asociación Nuevos Horizontes de las Compañeras Trans, Sembrando Futuro, Asociación Caminando al Futuro de Sandra Quintuña, Asociación de Manta, Asociación de Cuenca, Las Mujeres de Loja, Asociación de Quevedo and other allied organisations.
We call for unity, to walk together in our struggles for recognition of sex work as work!
As female citizens and sex workers, we do not want more speeches on human rights, but actions that will allow us to live free of stigma and discrimination. Actions that will guarantee that sex work is recognised. We want actions that will produce national laws that protect our human rights.
‘We prefer to die standing up fighting, than to live kneeled begging.’”
Do you have a message for other sex workers?
“In our struggle for the recognition of sex work we have to recognise ourselves as citizens with rights. We need to know that our struggle is for all women in sex work, even though they are not part of our organisation.
We must continue our struggle for the full recognition of sex work as work by the nation and to create policies that will protect our rights.
It’s urgent to work together, to take immediate action on the issue of violence. Violence towards sex workers is increasing, and people often think that imposing more rules and laws to prevent sex work can stop it.
People think that by not dressing too provocatively or by not staying so late at night on the street, or not letting young girls in sex work, violence will be prevented. No! Those are sexist and misogynist perceptions, misogyny working for patriarchy. The state and its institutions must work together and give us protection and guarantees. Every woman should be able to feel safe and free to be in different spaces and be treated with respect, without violence. As our colleagues in the UN said: ‘the day that women can walk freely on the streets late at night, without fear we will be talking about gender equality.’
Please participate in the "RESIST-RESIST" campaign! We will not get tired of fighting, of speaking out, of shouting if necessary: NO the criminalisation of sex work, NO to policies that violate our right to work, NO to stigma, marginalization and discrimination!”