The Freedom Group

‘Las trabajadoras sexuales no agachamos más la cabeza. Algunos dicen que ejercer el trabajo sexual no es digno. Nosotras les decimos que indignas son las condiciones en las que tenemos que ejercer el trabajo sexual.’

Elena Reynaga, Secretaria General RedTraSex
XVII Conferencia Mundial de SIDA
Ciudad de México, Agosto, 2008

The “Freedom” Group: Female Sex Workers in Cochabamba, Bolivia”


Bolivia, 2011. The project aims at according visibilization to both sex work (SW) and female sex workers (FSW), in order to stimulate critical debate around the theme. The invisibilisation and the ignorance concerning FSW’s life and working conditions is directly linked to the reproduction of prejudices, stigma, discrimination, stereotypes, marginalisation, violence, precariousness, lack of a proper legal protecting mechanism (human rights, women’s rights, labour rights, etc.). This work has developed between the months of January and June 2011, in the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia. The work documents, in particular, a specific group of FSW, those who back in the 90s formed the group called “Freedom”; in 2009 this historic group incorporates itself in the “ONAEM” (National Organisation for Women’s Emancipation), which represents today the network of organised FSW in Bolivia (and composed entirely by FSW), born to defend and promote rights for the whole sector.

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The necessity to accord visibility to FSW appears today as a priority in order to develop worldwide organised social movements, able to efficaciously stimulate serious confrontation around the issue as well as able to shape and influence public policies, so that on both nationals and internationals agenda the debate around SW can enter with greater strength. Prejudices and misconceptions still dominate the patriarchal perspective normally adopted towards FSW, and not just in Bolivia; FSW are not perceived as persons, as women (with rights), but as bodies, goods, services, fun, distractions, games, “disposable matter”, inferior and subaltern people. They are not respected nor considered, and commonly, when thinking about them, we imagine them as different persons, dirty, embedded in sin, perverse, lost, as if we were talking about a different world, a parallel and far away universe, that we all know well, but that no one wants to speak openly about. The profound hypocrisy of our societies leads to utilisation and exploitation of the sector, for then being discriminated and criminalised in many different ways, from the institutions as well as from the society as a whole. FSW, nevertheless, are, first and foremost, persons and women, just like any other; many have a families, husbands, children, nephews, all of them have responsibilities, values, problems, doubts, desires, dreams and emotions. They are persons and they are women. Women brave and with dignity.

I do not steal, I do not hurt anybody, why should I feel ashamed for what I do?”. Sabina used these words, among others, the day she decided to inform her children about her job as a sex worker. Obviously it has been very difficult telling them, very painful. But this belongs to the past. Today Sabina is 55 years old woman, she is a mother, a grandmother, single, with 5 children. Sabina is a working woman. Next year it will be 20 years that she is “the environment”. As soon as her nephew will finish school Sabina will try to retire, and dedicate herself to bakery…

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