Sex work is the main source of income for many transsexual women in Barcelona. This economic activity is not recognised and as a result the collective is in a vulnerable situation. The Carolines programme has been conceived to improve the lives of these women and protect their basic rights.
Carolines consists of a set of measures focusing on the defence of transsexual women’s basic rights, with training and labour insertion programmes for those wanting to broaden their job prospects. The programme includes tools for citizen awareness and training workers who are in regular contact with the collective.
Legal support and advice for transsexual women working as prostitutes, as well as information on their basic rights as citizens, such as the right to housing, justice and health, form the basis for the programme. Work is also planned on the empowerment of trans women through meeting spaces, with mutual support groups where they can share their experiences relating to their transition process and their work.
The Councillor for Feminism and LGBTI, Laura Pérez, stressed the importance of collective psychological work. “We have to understand the singularity of each story, of each woman, but the sense of belonging to the group is central in looking after their self-esteem”, she noted.
Training and information on basic rights will allow these women to improve their situation while they are sex workers and to access other work opportunities if they wish. According to Pérez, it’s about “having alternatives” to be able to make decisions. “We respect and support women who choose to carry on as sex workers, but we want to offer quality and real solutions for others who want to get out, and to find a place in the labour market”, noted the Councillor. To this end, a plan to improve job prospects for sex workers will be put in place next year, helping women to seek other work options, and the collective will be included in municipal job programmes for vulnerable groups.
Training for public servants
The Carolines programme also includes improvements to training for staff in contact with trans women, particularly the police, health workers, labour insertion and social services professionals. “We need to prevent transphobic violence, as well as the ‘slut’ stigma attached to these women”, insisted Pérez.
‘Carolines’ was the name used to refer to transvestite women in the Raval neighbourhood in the 1930s. The name aims to pay homage and at the same time serve as an act of historical memory relating to the struggle for sexual and gender freedom in Barcelona over the decades.
The municipal services responsible for implementing the programme are the Agency for the Integral Approach to Sex Work (ABITS) and the Office for Non-Discrimination (OND). The measures in the programme have been designed by the University of Vic and the Spora Sinergies consultancy. The labour insertion plan is operated by Barcelona Activa, along with third sector entities. “Entities and the City Council need to have a joint approach, providing integrated support, and that means changing the focus of labour policies”, noted Pérez.