In Spain, Catalonia is preparing for municipal elections in late May and regional elections in September. With that in mind, a new group has been established to lobby candidates on behalf of sex workers.
The Assembly of Sex Work Pro-rights Activists of Catalonia, is made up of sex workers and allies and is backed by the leftwing party CUP, and Barcelona en Comú, a coalition of parties and civic associations putting forward its own candidate for mayor in Barcelona’s municipal elections.
“We are the most stigmatised and criminalised group of women in society,” said Montse Neira, one of the group’s founders, in a statement quoted at El País. “From now on, nobody else is going to speak for us.”
The group cites an incident, which occurred in early March as a catalyst for their formation. A building in Barcelona’s El Raval neighbourhood where 30 sex workers had lived and worked for the past 13 years was boarded up after the city bought the building in December.
This closure of their workplace was part of a trend said Paula Vip from sex worker group, Asociación de Profesionales del Sexo (Aprosex). “The violence we face doesn’t come from our clients, but from the institutions that govern based on the interest of a moral minority. From now on, we prostitutes will be organised, convinced, ready to fight and ready for war. All women who charge for sex must do so freely, because otherwise, it’s not prostitution, it’s slavery.”
The group was formed shortly after a significant court ruling in Barcelona in which a judge said that three women working in a Barcelona brothel had a right to healthcare and benefits contributions from their employer.
Prostitution in Spain is neither legal nor regulated but, in 2012, Barcelona has introduced fines for soliciting prostitutes in the street. Paul Ezkerra from the new group told The Guardian that the law has forced workers into more precarious situations, and in some cases led them to abandon their only means of earning an income. The new group is making it a priority to push the city to drop the 2012 laws.
In a 2007 parliamentary report on prostitution it was estimated there were 400,000 sex workers in Spain. However since then, following Spain’s economic crisis, it is often reported that they has been a large increase in people moving into selling sex in order to make ends meet.
In 2006, a parliamentary commission began exploring the possibility of regulating the sector. The idea was later dropped, partly because of worries about the high number of women trafficked into the sector.
Vip says that, by conflating sex workers and trafficking victims, refusing authorities are failing to adequately address the needs of either group, and relegating sex workers to the margins of society. “Prostitutes do not live in the sewers. We have our lives, we are free, we have our rights and we’re prepared to fight for them.”