More than a hundred sex workers and supporters marched in Mexico City on Wednesday, asking the government to recognize their legal status and guarantee access to HIV medication after fears of shortages under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
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Sex work is legal in much of Mexico but states have different rules, and workers frequently operate in legal vacuums without protections – making it an often dangerous occupation.
The activists at the march were also worried about cuts in public funding to nonprofits and changes to the way the government buys HIV medication, a move which public health experts and LGBT+ rights advocates said put thousands at risk.
“We’re fighting now because there isn’t any HIV medication,” said Erika Ivon Villegas, a transgender sex worker and activist at the march, who said many in her group regretted voting for the president.
“Where is the government that said it was going to give dignity to Mexicans?”
Mexico’s government put out a statement last month that there is enough medication for those who have been diagnosed. The Thomson Reuters Foundation has been unable to independently verify the claim.
The march, organized by rights group Brigada Callejera, started near sex work hub La Merced in the east of Mexico City and ended at the central Zocalo square, where thousands of unionized laborers had gathered for International Workers’ Day.
Many of those on the sex work march covered their faces with bandannas or wore baseball caps as they walked in the baking hot sun shouting ‘Total respect for sex work!’ and ‘Who owns the street corner? Whoever works on it!’
In 2014, a Mexico City judge ruled that sex workers had the right to be recognized as non-salaried workers, making their work legal, but activists say the local law hasn’t been updated to reflect the decision.
Brigada Callejera says there are around 800,000 sex workers in Mexico. They live with a higher prevalence of HIV than the general population.
The group’s founder Elvira Madrid, said in an interview earlier this week that the government wasn’t serious about combating human trafficking, and that there was impunity around treatment of sex workers, particularly when they are murdered.
“Everyone talks about femicides of students, housewives… but when its sex work they won’t even call it by name, its made invisible.”
Reporting by Christine Murray; Editing by Jason Fields; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org