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The Sex Truck, and women on the move

johanna duran_sex truck
Johanna Duran, director of Fundación Mujer y Futuro, at the Sex Truck, a mobile clinic focused on reproductive health and on the rights of women to make their own decisions about their bodies. Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

A mobile reproductive health clinic in Colombia is delivering more than birth control.

The Sex Truck is a clinic with an attitude. It’s big and bold, and so is its mission: protect not only women’s reproductive health but also their rights.

If its bright colors don’t draw enough attention to itself, the truck’s name—emblazoned across the back—surely does.

Secrecy and shame begone. Women have the right to create sex lives of their own choosing, and that’s something to shout about.

Toward a life free of violence

The organization that got this show on the road—Fundación Mujer y Futuro (FMF)—runs a project known as the Protection Route that helps Venezuelan women and their families make the journey from the border city of Cúcuta, Colombia, across an Andean mountain range to the city of Bucaramanga and beyond. From the FMF shelter in Bucaramanga, the migrants have access to the Sex Truck, a mobile clinic where nurses provide free medical care and access to birth control of every description.

“The Sex Truck also provides assistance to women who have survived gender-based violence and need legal and psychological help,” says Johanna Duran Gomez, director of FMF. Not only to migrants but to underserved populations in the city of Bucaramanga and its environs.

“We travel to rural towns and settlements around this department, offering the same services,” says attorney Judith Vanessa Gomez Higuera. “If the truck can’t reach a community, we put our supplies in backpacks and hike in.”

Marcela Rios Castillo is a mental health professional who works on the Sex Truck project. “When a woman has experienced recent sexual violence, we take her to the hospital and to a police station to file a report.” If the woman lives in Bucaramanga, she says, “we may pick her up at her home and drop her off at a secure location afterward. When I accompany a woman, it can give her the confidence she needs to do it on her own in the future.”

“We don’t just focus on providing health services,” says Gomez Higuera. “We focus on a woman’s sexual and reproductive rights.”

A migrant from Venezuela chats with a nurse in the mobile clinic. Elizabeth Stevens

Empathy and solidarity

On a rainy morning in March, a Venezuelan woman named Yuleidi arrived at the truck for a birth control implant. She had just made her way to Colombia in hopes of earning enough to feed her children back home. Her source of income: selling cups of coffee on the street from a thermos. While traveling, she was often sleeping rough, bedding down wherever she could find a hidden spot by the roadside. When she appeared at the clinic, she said, “I was worried about how I was dressed. The women said not to worry—just to come inside. They were friendly, and they let me talk. Sometimes people don’t let you talk.” Paying for health care is not an option for her. “If there was no Sex Truck,” she says, “I don’t know where else I would go for this kind of help.”

“The staff gave me really good medical attention and cleared up all my doubts,” a Venezuelan woman named Emily reported later that morning. “They were very kind and attentive.”

FMF staffers see the women they serve as agents of change, and as partners in the fight for women’s rights rather than as beneficiaries, says Duran Gomez, and that perspective reveals itself in the tone of the interactions in the truck. “The staff bring solidarity and empathy to their relationships.”

Partners in emergency

FMF’s ongoing work has focused on ending violence against women, ensuring women’s sexual and reproductive rights, promoting women’s political participation, and achieving equal distribution of care work, explains Duran Gomez. The Protection Route is its first project focused on a humanitarian emergency.

“Migration is much more dangerous for women than men,” says Gomez Higuera. “In the case of the Venezuela crisis, the situation for women required an immediate response.”

Oxfam Colombia has supported FMF’s new direction.

“It’s very important for emergency responses to include women’s-rights organizations,” says Oxfam Colombia director Carlos Mejía. “And FMF is a tremendous partner. They bring deep knowledge and caring to all aspects of this work.”

“Our experience with Oxfam has made the Protection Route and Sex Truck possible,” says Duran Gomez. “Oxfam encouraged us to engage in humanitarian work, and they have accompanied us on that journey. Oxfam also helped us develop policies and protocols that strengthened us and made it easier to attract other funding.”

When local organizations receive just enough money to support their projects and not enough for overhead expenses like rent, computers, and trainings, they can’t possibly thrive, so Oxfam Colombia is making sure FMF has funds to cover key organizational costs.

“For every grant with Oxfam, they set aside a percentage to support and strengthen our organization,” says Duran Gomez. “Now, we require that of all our donors.”

“There are some partnerships where the donor is at the top and the local organization is at the bottom,” says gender specialist Karen Mejía. “At Oxfam, we are at the same level. We work together to make decisions about the project.”

FMF’s role in the emergency has given the organization national stature.

“We are a local organization, but because of our work on the Protection Route, we have been able to amplify the voices and experience of migrant women and influence decisions made at the national level related to reproductive and children’s rights,” says Duran Gomez.

“We used to be experts,” she says. “Now we’re leaders.”

I can make my own decisions

FMF wants women to walk away from the Sex Truck with more than just a method of birth control. They want them to understand that they are people with rights—and to know how to exercise and enjoy those rights.

“I feel proud when I see these women learn to demand their rights,” says Gomez Higuera, “and when they teach the women around them to do the same.”

There’s something important that women deserve to say and believe, says Duran Gomez: “I can make my own decisions about my body.”

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