The Improving Lives of Sex Workers in Argentina

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BUENOS AIRES — The lives and livelihoods of female sex workers in Argentina have been under siege from myriad channels over the past two decades. At the urging of activists and advocacy groups, the Argentinean government is making strides, albeit slowly, to ensure the protection and ethical treatment of female sex workers.

Though its legal status varies widely among nations, the sex industry is an inherently tenuous entity due to its clandestine nature and the challenges of its regulation. As in many Latin American countries, privately conducted sex work is legal in Argentina and has been since 1875. Thus, while such institutions as brothels are illegal, individuals can arrange autonomous sex work without being criminalized.

In Argentina, and many other countries in which some form of sex work is legal, corruption, exploitation and violence are cited as highly prevalent concerns for workers. Despite being legal, there exist very few regulatory measures pertaining to the industry, and workers are not protected by the same labor laws that protect the rights of other laborers.

In addition to suffering abuses from clients, in the past, female sex workers were often targeted by law enforcement officials in shakedowns for money. Moreover, police officers’ tendency to arrest female sex workers simply for possessing condoms exacerbated their risk for contracting HIV and other communicable diseases, further endangering their already precarious situation.

The past several decades have seen the foundation of several human rights organizations dedicated to the defense of sex workers in Argentina. One of the most impactful has been Asociación de Mujueres Meretrices de la Argentina (AMMAR), an organization founded by female sex workers in Argentina in 1994. Originally focused on combating corrupt police treatment, these women have subsequently expanded their campaign to include such endeavors as advocating for state regulation of sex work, the creation of job training programs, and effecting a paradigm shift in how society perceives female sex workers.

Today, AMMAR has more than 400 members and has partnered with the larger Network of Sex Workers of Latin America and the Caribbean (RedTraSex), the objective of which is to support and strengthen the organizations of female sex workers in the defense and promotion of their human rights.

Central to AMMAR’s campaign is the desire to effect a societal paradigm shift regarding female sex workers and their relationship to the work they perform. Organizations such as the Alameda Foundation, which campaigns against human trafficking, have advocated for the criminalization of all sex work as a means of increasing the efficacy of anti-trafficking efforts.

The women of AMMAR want the rest of Argentine society to understand that sex work is a situation that they have been forced into out of desperation, but they reject the notion of criminalizing sex work. While they do not celebrate their position, for them, sex work is a necessary means of survival, and the elimination of this recourse would leave them wholly destitute.

Ultimately, these women wish to be treated simply as workers, and rather than being referred to as prostitutes, they wished to be considered “women in a situation of prostitution.” Chief among the organization’s successes is the drafting of a bill that would allow female sex workers to label themselves as “self-employed” and thereby receive the standard legal protections afforded to other, non-stigmatized occupations.

The AMMAR organization’s additional successes include:

  • The launch of La Linea Roja, a phone line for reporting incidents of violence against sex workers.
  • The creation of the Sandra Cabrera Health center, jointly operated by the provincial Ministry of Health and AMMAR designed to serve sex workers in Buenos Aires.
  • Planning and implementation of activities, events and media coverage to raise awareness of the importance of guaranteed rights for sex workers
  • Inclusion as a Workers’ Union

The advocacy efforts of AMMAR seem to be slowly but surely accomplishing the goals of the organization. Sex workers in Argentina remain in a compromised situation, but it is clear that these women have found their voice in society. They will not be silent until their means of survival is truly decriminalized and they are afforded the same protections as everyone else.

Savannah Bequeaith

Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Savannah Bequeaith

Savannah lives in Dallas, Texas. She is an honors graduate from the University of Arkansas with degrees in music and international relations, and a minor in Spanish. Savannah sings opera and plays the harp.

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