Sex work is a path that dozens of women around the country have been engaging in for some time now. While majority of the population is aware of the activity, it remains taboo for many and unacceptable for most. With a first glance at prostitution in Belize, we join Renee Trujillo.
There are several forms of prostitution; there is the transactional prostitution where you trade sex for an item or service; there is commercial prostitution where you give sex in exchange for money and there is the intergenerational prostitution commonly referred to as the ‘sugar daddy’ phenomenon. In either form, the repayment is in sexual favors but according to Elisa Castellanos of the Tikkun Olam Belize advocacy group for sex workers, there is more to it than just sexual intercourse.
“I was an advocate before I became a sex worker or before I engaged in sex work and when I engaged in sex work I wanted to understand that moment that you transition from taking payment for an activity that you usually do for Love; well I used to do out of Love with a boyfriend, with a partner. But it really taught me a lot about myself as a woman, my power and that there are very wealthy men out there willing to pay me for my company because of my intellect and that intellectual stimulation that I can provide. We provide him with a stress relief service or sometimes it’s a sit and have a conversation he cannot have with his wife. Sometimes we feel like therapists talking about how they feel about how they should bring up certain issues with their wife and there are men who are willing to pay for that service and that companionship and then that gives me power over my life and what work I do because NGO work and the work of a social activist, let’s say we can’t be riding around in Pradas.”
While many have frowned upon sex workers or prostitutes, Castellanos says there is a certain empowerment that it gives to the woman engaged in that activity. She elaborated on the forms of empowerment that it brings including economic freedom.
“We as sex workers, we want a woman to be empowered. We don’t want sex work to come from a place of desperation. It needs to come from a place where you own your body, you own your choice, you know your power as woman and you love that and nobody can take that away from you. I am not saying that a woman needs to be a sex worker to be empowered but what I am saying that when you discover that Love for yourself and you discover your balance, your power as a woman and your ability to use your womanhood to pull yourself forward; now I am not saying that sleeping around with people is to move yourself forward but that sense of power coming from knowing who you are as a human being; having a clear vision of where you want to go in your life, that is empowerment and so we really want young women to discover that; women, sex workers to discover that and so the reception has been amazing. Belizeans are at this time waking up. I think that as a nation people are waking up and realizing that when it comes to economics and there are children to be fed, there are young women who don’t have high school degree but need to sustain themselves that sex work is a viable action. In other developed countries we’re looking at sex work grossing over eight hundred billion dollars. I really believe that if sex work is regulated in Belize we can deter trafficking.”
With Castellanos leading the organization to support and improve the quality of the life of sex workers, her outreach to individuals and other agencies has been ongoing.
“We’ve been in contact with the National Women’s Commission. We met Ms. Williams at a function in Belmopan when we participated in the validation workshop for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights under the Foreign Ministry and so we have been doing a lot of that networking, a lot of that introduction and the reception really has been overwhelmingly positive.”
With all this said, there are many questions that come to mind including what the factors are that contribute or motivates a woman to engage in sex work.
“Some of the younger women who are engaging in sex work are really truly engaging in sex work to be able to pay for their university fees, some of them are trying to have access to the internet so they have an internet bill but these young women are working to really just sustain themselves and to push themselves forward. I know a young lady who I really just met and it really impacted me that she has been working to save for a laptop computer so that she can then launch herself on social media to put her products out there, to put herself out there as a model. Another young woman is working very hard towards saving because she has children. She wants to finish her university so these are the reasons Renee, these are the reasons. Of course there are some women who are in sex work because it’s a more viable option because it’s lucrative, if done well, done with the right clients, in the right ambience, it’s very lucrative, very empowering but predominantly I would say a lot of women in Belize engage in sex work because it is a viable economic option.”
In our feature to follow on sex work, we will look at the clientele that pays these women; we’ll look at the legal aspects as well as the public’s opinion on the issue. Reporting for Love News, I am Renee Trujillo.