The Fighting Sex Workers of Bolivia’s Red Light District

There is no doubt that 2020 was not a good year, and it’s not over yet. People struggle all over the world, but it seems that some countries are having more troubles than others. In Bolivia, El Alto red light district has seen many changes in the past couple of months, and the pandemic sparked a sex workers’ strike in March.

However, this is not the only type of protest that has happened in Bolivia, and it seems that the Covid-19 pandemic was the last drop for people in this South American country.

El Alto

El Alto is the second biggest city in Bolivia. It is adjacent to La Paz, which is the de facto capital of Bolivia. The reason why we started with this city is the red light district in El Alto. As you might know, prostitution is legalized and regulated in the country. Brothels in Bolivia need to be licensed, and all sex workers are registered. While this type of regulation works almost flawlessly in other countries, in Bolivia, there are numerous problems that come with it.

Here, the most visited location is Calle Siete, which is located in Ceja’s red-light district. Here, you can find numerous bars, strip clubs, and brothels. The prices are quite low, and the working conditions are terrible. On average, a twenty-minute session will cost between $6 and $8. You can find all types of people in this dangerous red-light district. 

The most worrying thing is that the average age of entry into the sex industry is sixteen, and people say that there is always a minor you can find in a brothel. The safest way to find them is to see which line is the longest.

The View of Bolivian Society

Firstly, Bolivia is a country that honors tradition, and people love to focus on religion and “traditional values.” This is the main reason why hundreds of sex workers were attacked in 2007, and numerous brothels and bars were burnt to the ground. People believe that prostitution and alcohol are major problems in the country, and they tried to solve it on their own. A number of women and children were hurt during this “intervention.” The angry mob forced them to strip, and they beat them.

They believe that prostitutes are to blame for the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, broken homes, the number of HIV infections, and everything else. And yet, things still remain alarmingly dangerous. Needless to say, sex trafficking and child prostitution are major problems in Bolivia, but society still blames the victims.

There are numerous organizations that are trying to fight for the rights of sex workers in the country, but people still believe that they are trying to expand the business. Children coming from low-income houses and broken families are often forced into prostitution. They don’t get many options to focus on education and escape this dangerous lifestyle. Needless to say, all of these people would rather do anything else, but for some, this is the only way to feed their families.

How They Coped During the Pandemic

If you think that prostitutes in Bolivia can’t have it any worse, you are wrong. When the pandemic started, the country decided to adopt safety measures, which led to brothels being shut down. Sex workers demand reopening of brothels. They had no other option and had nowhere to go, so they took to the streets.

In March, the Bolivian government decided to shut down everything from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. And after that, the curfew extended into a full two-week lockdown. At the time, the entire country had only twenty-four cases of Covid-19, and sex workers weren’t happy with the new measures.

One of the workers said that they would be forced to go on the street, which would make the whole situation even worse. The protests continued in the upcoming months, and even in September. They were asking for ease of restrictions, so they can continue earning a living.

Of course, sex workers weren’t unreasonable, and they still wanted to follow all possible safety measures as long as they were able to go to work. A few months ago, protesters marched to La Paz, demanding new ways of fighting the pandemic that would help them earn at least something.

Bolivia is already one of the poorest countries in South America, and the whole pandemic situation has made everything even worse.

Health Advocates

All of this is just a part of the problems that are happening in Bolivia this year. In May, teachers went on a hunger strike as a way of fighting the government and decisions related to the pandemic.

One of the primary reasons for the strike was the desperation caused by Covid-19. More precisely, by government measures. Teachers said that they lacked food, drinkable water, and other types of aid. It all started when the Minister of Education decided to fire over 800 teachers and leave them in an undesirable situation in the middle of the pandemic. To make everything even stranger, the government decree states that they should continue to pay out salaries and that any type of unjustified dismissal is highly prohibited.

At the same time, Evo Morales was accused of electoral fraud and has spent a whole year in exile. However, Morales’ supporters also protested since the elections were postponed twice due to the pandemic. Most of the liquid oxygen comes from Santa Cruz, and protesters have blocked roads preventing transport. According to the interim government, over thirty people have died due to oxygen shortage, and the situation seems quite desperate.

It remains to be seen how the situation will unfold and whether the elections and the victory of Luis Arce will make a difference. Hopefully, the pandemic will soon end, and the situation in Bolivia will improve.