Colombia’s sex workers forced to adapt to coronavirus lockdown

By Ernesto Guzmán Jr.

Cali, Colombia, Apr 23 (efe-epa).- Wearing a golden bikini and black high heels, Carolina Gutiérrez does her hair in front of the mirror as she gets ready for another day at work.

It will be a different kind of shift for her, though, as the quarantine in place in Colombia has forced sex workers to change the way they earn an income.

Gutiérrez, 23, shares accommodation with two friends in Cali, the largest city in southern Colombia.

Since the government implemented a lockdown on 25 March, forcing most of the population to remain indoors, she has turned to making money through erotic video calls with her clients.

“This is very sporadic, but at least it’s helping us support ourselves because I have no idea what would happen to my life right now if we didn’t have this small income,” she tells Efe.

“(The lockdown) has affected me a lot because I’m a person who depends on my daily work, and everyone in the sector has a lot of really big responsibilities to cover,” she says.

“Nobody on a domestic or international level was ready for this situation,” she adds.

Despite the difficulties she faces, Gutiérrez cannot just lock herself away in her shared room waiting for the confinement measures to end. She needs to pay her own bills and provide for her eight-year-old son and her parents.

Her backstory is one shared by thousands of Colombian women who, faced with a lack of opportunity and poverty, turn to sex work.

“It’s a bit of a complex story. In my family, we didn’t have enough to feed the family because there are many of us. So, when I turned 18 I simply wanted to be able to contribute to my family,” she says.

It was then she decided to move to Cali to do sex work.

She said she travelled far from her hometown because sex workers are stigmatized in Colombia and she wanted to keep her means of income secret from her family.

“I hope this is over soon so that our lives can get back to normal because our income is so low in this season,” she says, adding that she hopes to leave sex work behind by the time she is 25.

Gutiérrez says she wants to save up toward opening her own business.

The spread of Covid-19 has dramatically altered the way of life and, in many cases, wiped out income for the women and men who earn their living through sex work in Colombia, according to the founder and president for the Colombian sex workers union, Fidelia Suárez.

“The government is preaching things but not applying them. There is talk of subsidies but nothing has arrived yet, there is talk of opening markets in certain locations, but there has been nothing,” Suárez tells Efe.

Prostitution is not illegal in Colombia but the union leader laments the lack of legal protection for sex workers.

“The crisis generated by the coronavirus is more worrying by the day given that there is no safety net, no guarantee of our rights as women and men working just another job in the country, the job of sex work.”

According to Suárez, the average income of a Colombian sex worker had already taken a hit before the coronavirus crisis thanks to the arrival of migrants from Venezuela.

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