Sex work in Peru is not a crime, but sex workers are often treated as criminals. Ana Mamani and Norma Diaz from Arequipa, Peru share their struggle to combat the conflation between sex work and human trafficking with NSWP’s Latin America Regional Correspondent.
Our society was built by men. Women are excluded, particularly those who chose an activity that stands outside of preset moral schemes like sex work. We are judged and devalued, which generates loneliness, isolation, and sadness. Those are just some of the feelings that come from living in a violent, discriminatory and unsafe area designated for us sex workers. We are women who one day took the decision to exercise autonomous work different from that benchmarked by society.
Sex workers experience daily social stigma. It weighs on us and on those who exercise this activity. This places us in a context of extreme violence, whether by the police, municipalities, prosecutors or by society itself – to the point of being socially rejected – discrimination and marginalisation are evident in inhuman and cruel acts of physical and psychological violence, torture, extortion and police violence that converge in our community.
Local authorities consider all sex work to be human trafficking (sexual exploitation by pimps). This denies us our right to freely choose this work. Therefore, we have grouped and legally formalised our union as MUJERES DEL SUR (Women in the South), in order to learn to defend ourselves and to advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work. Nowadays, we have become part of the Red de Lucha contra la Trata de Personas y Tráfico Ilícito de Migrantes (Network Against Trafficking People and Smuggling of Migrants) run by the regional government of Arequipa, to make sure that sex work is not conflated with human trafficking and to make sure that anti-human trafficking initiatives do not negatively impact sex workers.
We have an important challenge: to fight the conflation between sex work and trafficking. To accomplish that, we participate in campaigns against trafficking where we express the differences to the general population and the authorities. It is not easy because most people do not see sex work as work. However, the spaces for debate and dialogue that we promote give us a position to support why it is work for us.
The authorities still resist change. Nonetheless, there have been slight changes in attitude towards sex workers that we have noticed. That is why our advocacy is steady to raise awareness about sex work, broaden peoples’ consciousness and demand respect for our rights.
We are convinced of the importance of working together, along with multiple social sectors, with the inclusion of government and where alliances with other organisations, local, national and international lead us to weave networks of support. We are happy to be a part of PLAPERTS and NSWP as a global network to improve our community activism, consequently improving our quality of life.
We reject any intolerant attitude towards our community. We refuse to accept expressions berating us as incapable of making decisions about our own bodies and that degrade women by any mean.