Mama Cash grantee Asociación Trabajadoras Sexuales Mujeres del Sur reflects on the ingredients for impact
Mama Cash’s grantee partners are doing amazing work for women, girls, and trans people in their communities and around the world. In an eleven part series, we will share some of these inspiring stories of change. This is the story of Asociación Trabajadoras Sexuales Mujeres del Sur.
Founded in 2004, Asociación Trabajadoras Sexuales Mujeres del Sur (the Association of Women Sex Workers of the South) organises and mobilises sex workers, and defends sex workers’ rights. Based in Arequipa, in the South of Peru, the group aims to promote respect for sex workers as workers in both policies and in society at large.
In Peru, prostitution is legal for adults over 18 years of age provided they register with municipal authorities and carry a health certificate. Nevertheless, sex workers experience frequent violations of their rights by police in the form of random and illegitimate arrests, extortion, and violence. Few sex workers report cases of violence and other rights violations because of the stigma attached to their work and their lack of confidence, based on experience, that reporting abuse will lead to remedy. “We are a secular state, but the owner of the government is the church,” explains Mujeres del Sur. “The church owns the university and 170 properties in Arequipa alone. The influence of the church is huge. This does not make it easier to change things.”
Prior to the organisation’s founding, there was no support system in Arequipa for sex workers seeking justice, and sex workers had few allies. It took the organisation four years to become registered because too few sex workers were willing to publicly identify themselves as a leader of a sex worker organisation. When enough women were willing to do so, in 2008, it was the starting point for change. By 2013, Mujeres del Sur had a membership of 55. The number of sex workers who consider themselves part of the organisation and the community that it reaches is even larger.