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Mexico’s sex workers seek employment rights both online and on the streets

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“I have nothing to account for the last 14 years of work, unlike the rest of the working class.”

Since the pandemic and ensuing cost of living crisis, she has seen a boom in online sex work – but like fellow sex workers, federal laws bar her from social security and other labour rights.

So on May 7, a group of sex workers launched CLaP!, a first-of-its-kind coalition that wants the decriminalisation of sex work, its formal recognition as a job, and access to social security for those working online and in person.

For Lane, one of the founders of the coalition, the recognition of rights is urgent.

“[Sex workers] have the same needs as any other working-class group, but with particular risks … and a series of never-ending violence,” said Indira Solis, advocate for human and labour rights at ProDESC, an organisation backing the new coalition.

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How Japanese women are driven into debt and sex work by host clubs

How Japanese women are driven into debt and sex work by host clubs

Now the group is appealing to potential members online and on the streets of the capital, aiming to create enough momentum for sex workers to win long-sought labour rights.

To date, about 42 workers have joined CLaP!, according to Solis.

“[The coalition] recognises sex work as a life project, as a personal choice from which we don’t need to be rescued,” Lane said.

In Mexico City, sex work was legally recognised as unpaid work in 2013 and decriminalised in 2019 after three decades of protests against police harassment and abuse by organised crime.

But workers say these two legal victories have not brought safer working conditions or any of the standard labour rights.

Sex workers in Mexico City, regardless of whether they work online or on the street, typically encounter discrimination from police, hospitals, prosecutors’ offices and ambulances, according to the latest survey on sex work in Mexico City.

Those surveyed said the recognition of sex work as a job could lessen the daily discrimination, boost access to health services and help cut police violence.

Efforts are already under way in other Latin American countries to win social protections for sex workers.

Take Colombia, where the first initiative regulating access to rights, pensions and healthcare was discussed last week.

Eli, who identifies only by his first name, started creating explicit content for social media platforms and websites such as OnlyFans two years ago.

But without social security, he has missed out on public healthcare, retirement benefits and housing.

“We live under certain censorship. If I’m looking to rent an apartment, for example, I can’t say I’m a sex worker for fear that they’ll deny me access,” said the 36-year-old, who is helping CLaP! recruit new members.

Presidential hopeful Claudia Sheinbaum waves during her campaign rally in Mexico City. Providing digital platform workers with social security is one of Sheinbaum’s campaign promises. Photo: AP

In the past two years, lawmakers have backed a host of initiatives to get social security to gig workers, a fast-growing sector that spans everything from food to sex work.

The efforts, however, have not translated into law.

Providing digital platform workers with social security is also a campaign promise of Claudia Sheinbaum, Mexico’s presidential front-runner. Her plan, however, leaves out sex workers, centering only on drivers and delivery workers.

For members of ClaP!, this is a familiar snub, as their work is generally not considered a real job by fellow workers.

Moreover, they face an uphill fight to be recognised as a workers’ union, due to a lack of contracts or invoices to prove their income.

“Violence lived by other workers are not different from the ones we live. The great difference is that no one will ever question whether what they do is work,” Lane said.

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