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Outside the shacks, a few men loiter, waiting and smoking; on the other side of the doors, women engage in the dangerous business of selling sex for money. Those who cannot pay are likely to be strangled. Although a police station is located in the same neighborhood, the authorities have turned their backs on the area, leaving these criminal networks to run the show, and is theirs whose presence weighs heavily in the air.
This makes them extremely vulnerable. It is this stigma that denies them protection from the law, that grants the men who kill them impunity and which isolates them from family and friends.
While stamping over the sparsely weeded earth of La Linea, it feels like the dust kicked up falls upon a land forgotten. To assume that this is a place devoid of hope or strength would be a mistaken idea. Set up in , four years after two undergraduate students started a literacy program on La Linea itself, the MuJER Empowerment Center is home to a small grassroots organization and a handful of permanent staff.
Over the course of now almost a decade, the NGO has been engaged with the slow process of building a relationship of the trust with sex workers across nine different districts across the city, providing vocational training and workshops on self-esteem, human rights and anti-violence. Paula Hernandez used to make her living on La Linea as a prostitute. According to an approach where women and girls are positioned as a savvy large-scale investment, who hold the potential to transform the reality of not only their own lives, but also the lives of entire communities, initiatives such as MuJER fall off the agenda: they simply do not offer the right type of results.
But empowerment is not about a saleable quantity. If it were, a character like Daniela Suarez becomes completely one-dimensional. Another regular at the empowerment center, Daniela was thirteen years old when she started as a prostitute, turning to sex work when her mother died. She spends her mornings making money on the streets, sometimes locally and other times travelling further afield to Escintla, a city south of the capital.