A PLACE OF EMPOWERMENT:
In 2009, just four years after starting our literacy program in the women’s work rooms at La Linea, MuJER opened a full-service community center, “the Empowerment Center,” that serves hundreds of female sex workers throughout Guatemala City.
Much of our programming—including semester-long educational and vocational courses as well as short-term self-esteem and anti-violence workshops—takes places at our Empowerment Center. The Center also provides a safe place for the women to spend time, relax, discuss their needs, and build constructive relationships with other women sex workers. For many Guatemalan sex workers, it has become their “home away from home.” The Center is not far from several of the city’s red light districts. Most importantly, MuJER’s Empowerment Center serves as a base from which we can educate women about their rights and help them organize to address their collective concerns.
GENDER VIOLENCE WORKSHOPS:
One of the main issues confronting the women of our community is violence. Whether it is from a domestic partner, a family member, their clients, the police, or the gangs that control the red light districts, every woman we work with has been the victim of both physical and sexual abuse. Our workshops, which are interactive and held at our Empowerment Community, teach women that each person has value and that violence against any woman is never justified under any circumstance. The first step in convincing a woman that she does not have to accept violence against her is to convince her of her own self-worth. We also explain the laws regarding violence, a woman’s rights before the law, and how to file a complaint with the Women’s Anti-Violence Advocate. We also escort women to the Women’s Anti-Violence Office and assist them in filing petitions seeking protection.
We host several anti-violence workshops each year, usually to coincide with March 8 (International Day of the Women), June 2 (International Sex Worker Day) and November 27 (Day of No Violence).
In addition, anti-violence is one of the regular themes for our door-to-door “traveling workshops” that we conduct each week at La Linea, a red light district in downtown Guatemala City (where between 200 and 250 women work). As part of these traveling workshops, the MuJER team goes from doorway to doorway in a red light district, connecting with our community, and providing information on a particular subject.
MuJER’s Sex Worker Leadership Council
We are developing a Leadership Council composed of women who work in the various red light districts in Guatemala City. Our plan is to host a series of workshops to provide future members of the Council with leadership training. The Council, to be about 15 women of various ages, advises MuJER on our current programs, medium-term strategies, and long-term vision. MuJER has long relied on feedback and input from our community, but we would like to create a formal structure to fulfill this role.
The larger goal of the Leadership Council is to serve as unifying base to bring together the women who work in Guatemala City’s various red light districts so that they can work together to address their collective concerns.
DOOR TO DOOR VISITS:
Building personal relationships and promoting dialogue.
MuJER team members (staff and interns) engage in weekly visits with individual women, going door-to-door at La Linea and several other red light districts in Guatemala City. These visits enable us to build trust with the community, meet new woman, and promote dialogue about sex work, women’s rights, and personal well-being.
At MuJER, we are dedicated to building personal relationships with each woman who participates in our program, and door-to-door visits are one way we accomplish that objective. Initially, we used these visits solely to get to know our community and to invite them to participate in our projects. Now, we use them as an opportunity to educate and inform the women as well.
Each month we have a specific theme. Each week during that month we emphasize a particular aspect of the theme and also reinforce the ideas we have talked about in the previous weeks. On our door-to-door workshops, we hand out fliers with information about the theme of the month. We made adorable folders with pockets to give to the women as a way to store the fliers. Many women have tacked the colorful folders up on the walls of their work rooms. On the last session of the month, we ask the women about the themes we have discussed over the last four weeks. If the women have the fliers, we give them a prize (for example, a bag of 10 condoms) and if they can answer questions and explain to us what they have learned about the themes, we award them another small prize (for example, a health or beauty item). On an average day, we speak with between 65 and 75 women.
At the end of the month, we also host a major workshop at our Empowerment Center to coincide with the themes being presented door-to-door. The workshops are interactive and include discussion and role-playing. We provide a meal and small gifts (educational materials, pens and notebooks, inexpensive beauty items) for all the participants. We conclude many of the workshops by having each woman say something positive about the woman next to her, for many of our women, this is something that happens much too rarely.
Some of our monthly themes are: Sex Work and Dignity, Leadership, Citizenship, Trafficking in Persons (many of the women we work with have been trafficked), Violence Prevention, Reproductive Rights, Migrant Rights (about 60% of the women at La Linea are from another Central American country).
These traveling workshops allow us to educate the women about their rights, build their sense of self-worth, and encourage them to make their voice heard in a society that consistently ignores their needs.