Mujeres Organizadas: Vanguardia de Mujeres Libres Maria Magdalena

At first glance, the Magdalenas don’t fit the sex worker stereotype, they dress conservatively and rarely look you in the eye. Most of the Magdalenas seem very shy and soft-spoken.  I am lucky to exchange in Q&A with their union thanks to a bi-national course offered at San Diego State University.

 We open up a conversation with a history lesson, the organization and sex workers union was created to protect sex workers from gender-based violence and extortion. In its prime, the zone would double as the black market, becoming one of the most dangerous blocks in the border city.

 With help from the a local non-profit, Centro Binacional de Derechos Humanos, led by Victor Alfaro-Clark, sex workers in Zona De Tolerancia, or Tijuana’s red-light district, were able to set a series of meetings and open discussion with government officials and law enforcement in order to prevent extortion, violence, and corruption against the women.

  The union currently supports 70-80 sex workers from ages 30 and up. The Magdalenas continue to grow and form political and social consciousness through a series of workshops and one on one consultations with Alfaro-Clark. The union also creates a safety and support system. The zone and field of work often allow misogynistic clients to become aggressive during their service, in which the ladies step in to take care of one another.

The union helped sex workers become independent contractors versus having to work for underground pimps. However, they tell us, the government eventually took the role of their pimp while implementing sanctions and fees in partnership with the municipality's health center.

To date, sex workers in Tijuana must report once a month to receive a medical review for sexually transmitted disease prevention. The government also established an introductory program in which they must register as sex workers with official credentials.  The introductory work permit charges women 2,000 Mexican pesos, about 100 US Dollars.

Once in the system, sex workers are expected to pay 680 Mexican pesos for monthly medical check-ins. On average Magdalenas charge about 200 Mexican pesos per 10 minutes of sex work.

Alfaro-Clark explains that most women working in the zone migrated from southern Mexico in search of lucrative opportunities.

 “For the sex workers in Tijuana, having a pimp was hell,” he said. “They were trapped in a world of prostitution with low self-esteem.”

Magdalenas talked about their children, who at many times have no idea what their mothers are doing for a living. This is made possible as their labor takes place within the 9-5 timeframe. Their clientele is built off the hard labor workforce in Tijuana: construction workers, hospitality industry, and those in the minimum-wage-earning bracket.

  Sex tourism provides a high percentage of lucrative traffic for the border city, yet sex workers receive backlash from society. Although poverty and lack of academic opportunity led to their line of work, one of the Magdalenas explains that, "being a whore does not mean losing labor or civil rights."

  In a patriarchal and often misogynistic culture, women are being mistreated and penalized in and outside of la Zona de Tolerancia.

  Alfaro-Clark addresses one of their major arguments as a union, whereas sex workers are required to register and update their medical clearance, the consumer is not required to get checked for sexually transmitted disease prior to their business exchange.

I had the opportunity to meet with some of the union and Victor Alfaro-Clark in an upstairs room of a seafood restaurant in La Zona Norte. As their name suggests the Magdalenas are symbolically tied to Saint Mary Magdalene. Their interaction portrays respect and adoration towards Alfaro-Clark, to them, his help to start the sex workers union saved them.

 
 
A photo saved by Victor Alfaro-Clark, Centro Binacional de Derechos Humanos director. The woman pictured helped Alfaro-Clark organize Vanguardia de Mujeres Libres Maria Magdalena among other civil and human right projects in the 80’s.

A photo saved by Victor Alfaro-Clark, Centro Binacional de Derechos Humanos director. The woman pictured helped Alfaro-Clark organize Vanguardia de Mujeres Libres Maria Magdalena among other civil and human right projects in the 80’s.


 
Victor Alfaro-Clark, Centro Binacional de Derechos Humanos director, leads a group of San Diego State University students through bi-national civil right discussions in Tijuana, Baja California.  Photo by Marlyn Carrillo

Victor Alfaro-Clark, Centro Binacional de Derechos Humanos director, leads a group of San Diego State University students through bi-national civil right discussions in Tijuana, Baja California. Photo by Marlyn Carrillo

 

Mujeres Organizadas: Vanguardia de Mujeres Libres Maria Magdalena

  En un cuartito de un restaurante de mariscos, las Magdalenas nos relataron sobres sus triunfos en contra de imposiciones por parte del gobierno y sociedad. Al contrario de las Barbies y mujeres transgeneros en la zona, las Magdalenas no lucían como el estereotipo de una trabajadora sexual, ni más una aventurera.

Las Magdalenas llevaban un vestimento más conservativo en cuestiones de sensualidad al igual de clase. Por la mayoría, las Magdalenas tienen hijos, cuyos en muchas ocasiones no tienen idea a lo que se dedican.  Esto es posible ya que por lo normal se dedican a trabajar de día.

La organización se creó en apoyo contra las injusticias que ellas sufrían como trabajadoras sexuales.  Aunque llegaron a alejarse de sus padrotes, el gobierno en forma tomo este papel al implementar sanciones y cuotas con parte del centro de salud del municipio.

  Las trabajadoras eran de reportarse una vez al mes para recibir una revisión médica en prevención a enfermedades de transmisión sexual. Ellas nos explican que con nuevas fianzas se introdujeron nuevos padrotes; el costo inicial para recibir permiso de trabajar sexual de 2 mil pesos más 680 pesos mensuales por los servicios médicos y actualización de su permiso.  El costo es alto al comparar sus precios ya que aprendemos que en promedio las Magdalenas cobran unos 200 pesos por 10 minutos de trabajo. Entre otras luchas están otros temas entre un mundo de corrupción.

  Dentro de la organización se apoyan entre 70-80 mujeres de la zona de tolerancia.  En parte de la organización las mujeres forman consciencia política y social. En el transcurso de los años estas mujeres se empoderaron, se educaron y más importantemente se organizaron. En la mayoría las mujeres migraron del sur de México dejando familia atrás para oportunidades lucrativas.

  Para las mujeres tener un padrote era un infierno.  Las tenían atrapadas en un mundo de prostitución y con el autoestima pequeño.  Las mujeres explotadas se apoyaron las unas a otras en el esfuerzo de dejar poco a poco a el fenómeno de los padrotes y el crimen organizado.

  La vida de miseria y pobreza las llevo a este tipo de opción laboral, pero como nos comenta una de las Magdalenas, “El ser puta no implica perder los derechos laborales.” 

  Aunque el turismo sexual brinda un alto porcentaje para la ciudad fronteriza, las trabajadoras sexuales reciben la espalda de la clase social. En una cultura patriarcal y típicamente misógina, las mujeres al fin y al cabo vienen siendo las maltratadas y penalizadas en la zona de la tolerancia. A el consumidor no se le requiere una tarjeta comprobando el no estar infectado con una enfermedad de transmisión sexual.