By: Silvia Torres Canayo, Iquitos, Peru
For the first time, sex workers have learned to advocate with decision makers in our city. Here in Iquitos, my hometown, different NGOs have always been active and held training workshops to educate sex workers and empower them with viable skills. With the NGO Via Libre, the connection was more than familiar; we maintained a constant communication that allowed us to get advice and support at all times.
I was one of the people who cared little about that kind of work [advocacy]. I saw it as being very difficult since I had to talk and write a lot which was tedious for me. However, as I continued to grow and become empowered I learned to handle an email account and to use other technological tools to strengthen my communication. These skills continue to be useful to me. I feel that it was worthwhile to leave my comfort zone, since now I feel respected both as a leader and as a representative of my community of sex workers.
It’s hard for me to believe that now these workshops are designed and organized to empower sex workers to assert their rights as individuals. Thanks to the success of these programs in Iquitos I have traveled to other cities where I share my experiences. As a sex worker, I learned to accept myself as I am and above all to represent my community, because we sometimes suffer situations of discrimination and mistreatment by bad police for the sole reason of exercising our right to work.
“I feel that it was worthwhile to leave my comfort zone, since now I feel respected both as a leader and as a representative of my community of sex workers.”
Through the advocacy work we meet with authorities, we go out to the media, and now we have a center of reference for the organizations. The sex workers in Iquitos have organized into an association, have legal status, are recognized as community leaders, and we are visible as sex workers. That success has strengthened our ties with the gay community, trans community and people living with HIV.
Our Association of Sexual Workers of Iquitos, “Sarita Colonia,” is growing and strengthening; in the beginning, we were only five members and now we have 50 members, and we have acquired programming space in the Loreto region. As local and national activists, we lead the group of female sex workers of Iquitos.
*Silvia Torres Canayo is a member of the Association of Sex Workers “SARITA COLONIA” - Loreto Region and is a member of the Community Advisory Council (CAC) of the ACSA-Iquitos CRS in Iquitos, Peru.