Sex Workers Unionize in Guatemala

Samantha Carillo, executive director and president of Mujeres en Superación (OMES), a sex workers union based in Guatemala City (Photo by Katie Schlechter).

After years of organizing, the women of Mujeres en Superación (OMES) tried to get their union officially recognized by the Ministry of Labor in 2015, but they couldn’t get sufficient support for their bid. Nevertheless, with backing from Congressman Maldonado Lux, they increased pressure on the Guatemalan government. One year later, on June 1, 2016, the Ministry of Labor officially recognized OMES as a union.

Samantha saw this as a major step toward getting both the government and the general public to recognize sex work as legitimate work. It also gave her and fellow sex workers more power in the face of police and exploitative working environments. “Before, fleeing from the police was part of our life, from the owners in charge of businesses, who only exploit you,” she said.

Today Samantha and OMES continue their work, creatively funding their various projects, like pushing for the regularization of their industry and responding to individual complaints of abuse. They sell homemade popsicles and cater events around Guatemala City with food they cook in their office kitchen. The second floor of the building has been transformed into a hostel for visiting students and nonprofits. They even host biannual same-sex wedding ceremonies in the small garden behind the office. The nuptials are symbolic, since same-sex marriage is not legal in Guatemala, but they provide communal moments of levity and a small income stream for the union.

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