migrants arrive in Mexico each year
health advocates received a diploma from the Ministry of Health
Approximately 40,000 migrants come to Mexico from all over Central America each year. Many of them, not attempting to reach the United States, settle in the border regions, particularly in Tapachula, in the south of Mexico.
In the south of Mexico, many immigrant women survive through sex work.
In this town in the state of Chiapas, on the Mexico-Guatemala border, many immigrant women survive through sex work. They operate in places where their activities are officially accepted, such as bars. A regularization campaign enabled them to obtain temporary residence status and allowed them to receive access to care for themselves and for their families. But since 2014, anti-trafficking rescue operations organized by the Mexican authorities have made them much more vulnerable.
In Tapachula and Huixtla in Chiapas State, Doctors of the World has trained a network of 28 female health promotion workers in migrant rights and access to healthcare. They cover 19 “tolerance zones”, sharing health education messages with women sex workers and helping increase their self-esteem. The workers also intervene directly on the streets where the women face a particularly precarious situation.
In 2015, Doctors of the World supported the creation of the Migrant and Mexican Women in Action Against Violence Association (AMMMACV). Recognized as the first association of female migrant sex workers in Mexico, it allows these women's voices to be heard by institutions such as health authorities, the anti-trafficking department and the migration department. It is made up of sex workers but also female victims of violence. This direct dialogue has made it possible to obtain free diagnosis and treatment for HIV-positive people. Finally, the completion of a "diploma" in community journalism enabled the members of the association to use advocacy tools, develop a newspaper and to inform more effectively about human trafficking, prevention and protection.
With the support of Doctors of the World, AMMMACV initiated its first project, The School of Health Advocates, in 2016. It allowed them to train 28 health advocates for 3 months, improving their expertise in preventing violence, in sexual and reproductive health and in harm reduction. The advocates received a diploma that is recognised by the Health Secretary of Chiapas.
Maria, 43 years old
Originally from Honduras, Maria has lived in Tapachula for two years in a tiny separate room. She worries a great deal about her 9 children left behind in Honduras and about her daughters in particular, as the country is becoming so dangerous. There she was a homemaker and was a parent representative at school. Her political awareness had already led her to her involvement in a women’s group that emerged from the “Popular Forces”. But in 2013 she was forced to flee, as her husband had become violent. On arriving in Chiapas, Maria worked in bars. She felt insecure: so many women died on their way home in the early hours of the morning.
Maria got to know Doctors of the World through a health prevention workshop in a bar where she was serving and since then has become a committed health promotion worker. She recently took part in a campaign to promote smear tests – which she herself had not had for the past ten years! Thanks to Doctors of the World, she now has a temporary visa and is looking for a new job in a shop or, ideally, in a sewing workshop.
Jossye and Meliza
In Honduras, Jossye brought up her three children on her own. The youngest was suffering from heart problems and the pacemaker he was going to need was expensive. She was a shopkeeper but had to leave Honduras for security reasons. Meliza, her cousin, obtained her bachelor’s degree in trade but has not found employment. To come here, she had to leave her two-year-old daughter with her mother who, fortunately, is a brilliant grandmother.
Today the two women, who work in a bar, are inseparable. They are here for as long as it takes to save enough to send for their children. In the beginning, they were unused to the familiarity of the vulgar customers: the first time it happened to Jossye, she responded with a blow to his head with a bottle!
Meliza and Jossye suffered harassment by a 35-year-old couple who tried to break the bond between them, a classic tactic in attempted trafficking. Fortunately, they received timely support from Doctors of the World. Today they are diligent health promotion workers, writing and drawing the testimonies of other women.
Teresa, 57 years old
Teresa is the only health promotion worker who has always lived in Tapachula. She works in a bar currently run by her brother. This job allows her to be financially independent and to pay the rent on her modest accommodation. Mother of two children and now with six grandchildren, Teresa joined the Doctors of the World team because “Today women should not have to undergo pregnancy or illness because of a lack of information. There are plenty of ways to protect oneself that didn’t used to exist. As women, we must remind men that it’s important.”
Teresa is deeply shocked at the persecution of migrant women. She supports the women in the administrative process of applying for documentation or directs them towards the competent authorities. She hopes that ultimately the organisation will launch a shelter project for women in transit or on the streets. Her dream: to set up a business – she loves clothes and fashion accessories – anything but a bar!
Glenda, 42 years old
When she was 29, Glenda was working on a production line for an American company in Honduras. She suddenly lost her job when the factory closed down and set off to find work in Mexico. She crossed the border by raft and approached restaurants and boutiques but, as she was without documents, no one wanted to hire her. Obliged to take on bar work, she believes she has been very lucky and that she has emerged unscathed thanks to the mutual support among migrant women. “It’s a dangerous job; customers drink and quickly become aggressive.”
Today, Glenda is happy in her role as homemaker. She helps her partner sell taquitos and the remainder of her time she supports women sex workers, directing them to help. “It’s very important to explain their rights to those newly arriving because of the climate of violent racism and the serious discrimination they suffer”.
Lizeth, 45 years old
When she left Honduras in January 2000, Lizeth did not think she’d still be living in Chiapas more than 15 years later. Separated from her husband, she set off for the United States with her sister. On the way, she worked in a bar in Tapachula, where in the first days she met the man, an architect, with whom she lives today. After 9 years serving in three different bars, she gave up work.
In Honduras, she was aware of the laws, of employers’ and employees’ responsibilities and of everyone’s rights and obligations. “You don’t realise all that you’re about to lose as a migrant. Even as migrants we have rights!” While she no longer feels directly concerned, she gets angry at seeing still too many women with no other choice than to be sex workers. She tries to support those who are new either to sex work or the region. She informs them about their health and their rights and helps protect them if they are abused by their boss or the police.
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