It’s nearing midnight in an unadorned bar on a backstreet off Sükhbaatar Square, and 31 year-old Minjuur rubs her hands to shake off the cold.
Speaking in a whisper, she explains her average evening. Men pick her up from the park by the Central Tower office building, then they go to a nearby hotel for an hour of sex.
Minjuur has a small scar on her right upper cheek that is visible despite her makeup, and she counts on her fingers the number of friends who have died in her line of work. It is minus 20 degrees Celsius tonight, and Minjuur has a chest-rattling cough. Vodka helps her ward off the chill. She says the winter is hard.
Mongolia’s capital presents grim working conditions for the city’s prostitutes. Ulaanbaatar is often overlooked as a centre of prostitution, but – despite increased activity in border areas – it remains the hub for the country’s sex work and sexual trafficking. But as the city’s prostitutes experience violence and social stigma, some are navigating riskier working environments beyond the city.
“Most of these women working in this field are very poor and need cash,” said outreach officer Erdenesuren. “They are driven by necessity.” Erdenesuren – who like many Mongolians only uses one name – works for the NGO Perfect Ladies (In Mongolian: Tugs Busguichuud), which promotes prevention of sexually transmitted infections among prostitutes and helps them leave sex work.