Sex workers strike for rights in El Alto, Bolivia


(1)To reopen the closed brothels and bars and (2)To demand rights and respect for sex workers

Time period

17 October, 2007 to 27 October, 2007



Location City/State/Province

El Alto, Bolivia

Location Description

This campaign centered in an impoverished district of El Alto called the "Red Lights" district or "zona 12 de Octobre."
Jump to case narrative


Lily Cortéz


Bolivian sex workers

External allies

El Alto legislator Guillermo Mendoza, Global Network of Sex Work Projects

Involvement of social elites

Legislator Guillermo Mendoza


(1)Parents and students opposed to El Alto brothels, bars, and sex workers
(2)The El Alto municipal government

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Parents and students began a hunger strike in response to make sure that the El Alto government did not take action to reopen the brothels and bars.

Campaigner violence

not known

Repressive Violence

The nonviolent campaign of the El Alto sex workers was catalyzed by a violent rampage of El Alto brothels and bars.


Economic Justice
Human Rights



Group characterization

Sex workers

Groups in 1st Segment

El Alto Association of Night Workers

Groups in 3rd Segment

Global Network of Sex Work Projects

Segment Length

about a day and a half

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

1 out of 6 points


0.5 out of 1 points


2 out of 3 points

Total points

3.5 out of 10 points

Database Narrative

On 14 October 2007, citizens of El Alto, Bolivia demanded that all bars and brothels facilitating sex work be located at least 3,200 feet away from schools, because they believed that the establishments were facilitating crime in the area. They then began a three-day rampage of the bars and brothels in the impoverished red-lights district of El Alto. These El Alto citizens, primarily parents and students, burned or destroyed at least 50 brothels, burned sex workers’ belongings, and beat sex workers. The police monitored the events but did not take action to stop the violence or reprimand the citizens who had attacked the sex workers.

In response to the mobs, the El Alto Mayor Fanor Nava and the El Alto  municipal government closed all brothels within 1,600 feet of schools. In the week following the closing of these brothels, prostitutes were forced to seek work on the streets rather than inside of establishments. On the streets, police harassed sex workers both physically and verbally, threatening to arrest them.  

The El Alto Association of Night Workers led by Lily Cortéz demanded that the mayor reopen the closed brothels and bars. Starting on 17 October 2007 35,000 sex workers went on strike across the country of Bolivia by refusing to attend medical checkups. The strike began with a core group of about 30 sex workers in El Alto and then spread across the nation. The Bolivian government required prostitutes to report for these medical checkups every 20 days in order to legally perform their work. The sex workers continued their work without health certification, however, which raised public health risks for sexually transmitted diseases. 

On 22 October 2007, over fifty sex workers occupied an alteño medical center and began a hunger strike to demand rights and respect for sex workers. On 24 October 2007, at least 10 prostitutes had sewn their lips together with thread to raise awareness of the hunger strike and the need to protect sex workers’ rights. They were successful in drawing the attention of multiple area news sources, including La Republica, as well as more widespread ones like Reuters, The New York Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, and the BBC. 

Cortez and the sex workers of El Alto used the publicity to announce two more threats of action if the El Alto government did not re-open the brothels or allow sex workers more rights by the following day - marching nude down the streets of El Alto and burying themselves alive. “We are fighting for the right to work and for our families’ survival,” said Cortez. “Tomorrow we will bury ourselves alive if we are not immediately heard. The mayor will have his conscience to answer to if there are any grave consequences, such as the death of my comrades.”

On 27 October 2007 legislator Guillermo Mendoza intervened with the El Alto municipal government on behalf of the sex workers, and the sex workers suspended their strikes and the threats of further action. On 29 October 2007 the El Alto government agreed to work on legislation that would protect the rights of sex workers, forming  a mediation committee committee on the issues in the El Alto House of Representatives. On 15 December 2008 the Federación Iboamericana del Ombudsman, a Latin American human rights defense organization, filed a report on Bolivian prostitution with the government in La Paz, further asking for specific reform in the Bolivian sex industry. No documentation showed that this report was received favorably by the La Paz government.  


Influenced later Bolivian sex workers strikes for sex workers' rights.


Anon. 2007. “Bolivian Prostitutes Suspend Protest.” The Sydney Morning Herald, October 27. Retrieved April 28, 2015 (

Anon. 2007. “Jornada De Furia En El Alto.” Diariocrítico de Bolivia, October 17. Retrieved April 28, 2015 (

Anon. 2007. “Parents, Students Ransack Bolivia Red-Light District.” ABC News, October 18. Retrieved April 28, 2015 (

Anon. 2007. “Prostitutas De El Alto En Huelga.”, October 25. Retrieved April 28, 2015 (

Anon. 2015. “Prostitutas Suspenden Su Protesta En Bolivia.” La Gaceta, October 27. Retrieved April 28, 2015 (

Anon. 2007. “Prostitutes Sew Lips Together in Bolivia Protest.” Reuters, October 22. Retrieved April 28, 2015 (

Azcui, Mabel. 2007. “‘Somos Madres Desesperadas.’” El País, October 29. Retrieved April 28, 2015 (

Federación Iboamericana del Ombudsman. 2009. “Defensoría del Pueblo de Bolivia - Resolución sobre mujeres en situación de prostitución.” Federación Iboamericana del Ombudsman, October 25. Retrieved May 16, 2015. (

Friedman-Rudovsky, Jean. 2007. “Prostitutes Strike In Bolivia.” Time, October 24. Retrieved April 26, 2015 (,8599,1675348,00.html).

Global Network of Sex Work Projects. 2011. “Riots And Protests in El Alto, Bolivia.” NSWP, February 26. Retrieved April 28, 2015 (

Reuters. 2007. “Bolivia: Prostitutes Sew Lips Together In Protest.” The New York Times, October 25. Retrieved April 28, 2015 (

Vaca, Mart. 2007. “Huelga De Prostitutas y Bares En El Alto.”, October 24. Retrieved April 28, 2015 (

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Erica Janko 28/04/2015