Day after day, Marisol visits one of the most popular places in Cochabamba known for its sex work. On this occasion, a group of about twenty women, some were getting ready to work and some others just chatting, received the training.
As the sheets on the flip chart were flipped, there were questions, laughter and faces of concern, but the attention and trust prevailed. Marisol spoke of sexual transmitted infections (STI), HIV and AIDS; she gave clear examples and taught the use of the male condom.
Marisol gave out condoms and snacks while hearing complaints and writing them down. She also told the girls about the last meetings with the authorities.
Dr. Micaela Nava, sexual health specialist, says that Peer Education “improves knowledge and changes the way people react about HIV. It teaches to choose safe activities and how to protect yourself.”
According to UNAIDS (1999), among peers means among equals (people that share some characteristics of identity). This education aims to prevent HIV transmission and addresses discrimination and self-discrimination.
“We, as sex workers, are discriminated because they see us first as prostitutes, then as women. This training teaches us our rights in order to defend ourselves”, says Ana, a sex worker who received the training.
In this case, peer educators are respected sex workers who devote a part of their time to conveying information to others.
“I am PEP because my colleagues need to know their rights; they are harassed by public officers and local owners”, says Marisol, member of the initiative of the Organización Nacional de Activistas por la Emancipación de la Mujer (ONAEM).
Every PEP earns the trust of the groups without access to doctors. Marisol says that “the girls are more confident with a sex worker than with a professional trainer; they feel ashamed… I am happy to be PEP, I am a human right activist and I love my job.”
She may not receive either appreciation or economic benefit, and few people may know about her, just like others peer educators around the world that do this silent but necessary work.