Elvira, the Street Brigade and the Sex-work Network

Elvira the radical feminist on the streets , Elvira the zapatista , the companion of sex workers  (en español abajo)

elvira-en-marcha-

by Gloria Muñoz Ramírez

” Getting to La Merced was a shocking stroke of reality. I watched as the council vans arrived from Cuauhtemoc with a lawyer who signalled who had not paid the bribes. I saw them harrass , beat up and rape the girls ” .

Mexico , DF . Working on the streets is not for everyone . The rawness of the corners and the darkest places would make anyone run away. Exploitation , beatings , drug dealing , excess alcohol, people trafficking, all the underground in your face, but not everyone wants to see or feel it, even less to do something to change things.

Elvira Madrid Romero is one of those few people who came to La Merced to stay.

elvira cartelesHer activism for over 20 years against human trafficking and protection of human and labor rights of sex workers, has earned her many enemies. Complaints against government corruption, police violence and symbolic violence towards workers , not even mentioned by professionals seeking the abolition of prostitution , ” earned her vilification and slander from those who have lived for decades off ‘defending the cause of sex workers’ and ignoring the people trafficking industry”,  said Jaime Montejo, her life partner , bodyguard , activist and member of the Street Brigade , an organization that for two decades has been installed on the streets of La Merced to accompany , defend and denounce .

Elvira came to La Merced via a research university course in sociology taught by Francisco Gomez Jara, who wrote a book on the sociology of prostitution. ” Getting to La Merced was a shocking stroke of reality. I watched as the council vans arrived from Cuauhtemoc with a lawyer who signalled who had not paid the bribes. I saw them harrass , beat and rape the girls .. I also saw that the ‘madrotas’ (female pimp and prostitute managers) were in collusion with the authorities. And then I asked the teacher what we would do to change this situation. He said nothing , he only cooperated with the sociological investigation and he was not supposed to do anything . I said , ah , what a bastard , well then how can sociology make any changes? “

Back then Elvira had three jobs and was studying at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences of the UNAM. The seventh of eight children from a proletarian home , she was 20 years old and decided to spend two hours a day working on the streets , to advise on human rights , HIV AIDS , and anything else that came up” but two hours was like nothing. ” So she spent two years until the course ended .elvira-taller-wirra-

With Jaime Montejo , Rosa Isela and Rodriguez Guillermo, Elvira set up the  collective ” we had no name, just went out to visit the girls , to walk the streets . When we got to La Merced and saw that the police picking up sex workers , the authorities extorting and making fun of them , that gave us a lot of courage, helplessness and desire to do things . We felt that we had to do something, but we were afraid. “

‘We began with the work of making complaints to the Attorney General and then to the National Human Rights Commission because the authorities did nothing to solve the problems . What did begin to work were the complaints to the media’, relates this petite woman with her candid smile that can turn into a rage at any hint of injustice , as Merida , one of many sex workers who find refuge , support and solidarity with the  Street Brigade, explained to us .

It’s a world where trust is earned by actions, because the sex workers always have those trying to take advantage , Elvira recounts : ” When we went into the middle of the police to not let them take the girls, we earned respect . The madrotas didnt let them to talk with us, they brought out ice picks to intimidate us , and we said , – Do as you like , we know how to defend ourselves and you can’t scare us -. It was there we won the respect and confidence of all . “

Elvira Madrid, radical feminist on the streets ..not in the classroom or in the forums , Zapatista supporter since 1994 , is impossible to shut up. She explains better than anyone how the ‘madrotas’ work, taking over the streets and controlling the sex-workers : ” The madrotas are chosen by the authorities. They arm them to extort , intimidate , to beat up and kill . This I know , ” she says , confident as ever.

promotoras zapatistas

- And how do they recruit their workers ?

- They use their own sons to either trap young women into falling in love, or they steal or buy them. It’s the sons who have the direct control over the workers who must always do what they want . First they weave emotional threads, then get them pregnant and take away the children as a way to stop them fleeing , then give them money, and keep them always submissive.

The role of the ‘madrotas’ , Elvira explains , is to control the streets , ” it’s they who say who decide who stays in the street and who can not. Those who disobey disappear, get beaten or killed. They put out the word to prevent them getting into other work elsewhere.” she says.

- In this context of violence , do you have many enemies ?

- Yes , first of all the authorities, who are those at the top and not seen so easily. Then the intermediates , who are the madrotas , and then the pimps , who are direct .

Elvira has been threatened by all these sectors. ” The madrotas constantly following us not to talk to the girls. On many occasions I have been stopped, telling me I can not go out there , I have been threatened with knives, razors , scissors , ice picks . “

An example : ” When we find they have an under age prostitute and register a complaint , the pimp tells us , -You’ll die , I’ll order you to be killed.-    We say , so come and get us , here we are. “

- How can you survive in this environment?

- How do you live. Its difficult. Too much stress sneaking around taking care of all those people , so nothing happens to the person you are supporting . That is the strongest commitment . When we get into an issue we can’t leave until we finished , it is the life of the person that is at stake, it’s a commitment that  you cannot stop halfway , or say I’m tired , I’m sick , because it is the life of the girls.

- And the fear ?

No, I have no fear.  Threats make me stronger and give me courage. Cowardice is  doing nothing . It is not about doing research , but being where we need to be .

When they are asked Elvira and all members of the Street Brigade defend the existence of voluntary sex work , where there are neither victims or victimizers . This definition does not exclude the existence of trafficking operations which they strongly denounce. ” On the streets you realize who is there by choice and who is forced to be there ” .

mujer zapatista

The birth of the Street Brigade

The Brigade members decided in 1995 that ” after three years working as a collective , without a name or legal backing ,  to establish ourselves legally to have our own space to work with sex workers , covering their felt needs , and not ours . From this arises the health program , because the Gregorio Salas hospital refused to attend to the women, after some of them sued Dr. Zavala , director of the comprehensive care program for women , for extortion and abuse of authority. “

At that point, the hospital refused entry to the girls who made the complaint. And from this event was born the first health program of the Street Brigade , doing HIV testing, pap smears and general inquiries .

Then comes the demand for condoms. In 1995, sex workers were selling health sector condoms  for an incredible 25 pesos each. when they should have given them free. ” The workers then asked us to make our own brand. No idea how. We thought we needed a lot of money and we had no idea how to start. We visited commercial companies to see how much it would cost. We started looking at factories and found Jorge Mena , of Profilatex , who advised us and opened the way. He came to La Merced , knew our work and was impressed, convinced that he had to do something. “

Later it was our same association who named the new condom with the name El Encanto (Charm or The Charmer) , and put a wrap with black and red colors , ” the colours of social struggle , but also red for love and black for elegance , plus the triangle symbol of the fight against AIDS. “

So while the health sector withdrew the support of free condoms and resold them in the sexual workplace , the Street Brigade made its own brand and distributed for one peso each until 2011 , when the price went up to up to 1,20 pesos , so that “all the time women were protected and retaking control of their health.”

- What is it you are most proud of in these 20 years?

Contact with working women . They have taught me to look at sexuality from another point of view , and to see the office being well organised, first , with many clients , we already have dentists, psychologists , acupuncture, literacy . And, most importantly, working personnel and employees come from many states of the republic, and they themselves are our calling card .

Jaime Montejo says : ” Compare Elvira Madrid with women leaders who have made ​​money by charging stratospheric fees to sex workers ,..  or ex-pimps who discovered a large vein of gold in the ‘ rescue of victims of trafficking ‘ , nothing but another act of repression orchestrated by the government . However, despite the constant threats of death.. Elvira’s work continues , precautions are taken and life follows its course ” .

translation by  thefreeonline

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Martes, 27 de Agosto de 2013 14:38
elvura taller wirraoriginal article

Gloria Muñoz Ramírez

México. Elvira Madrid, feminista radical en las calles, filozapatista, acompañante de las trabajadoras sexuales

“Llegar a La Merced fue un golpe de realidad. Vi como llegaban las camionetas de la delegación Cuauhtémoc con una licenciada que indicaba a quién se tenían que llevar porque no había pagado la cuota. Vi como jaloneaban, golpeaba y violaban a las muchachas”.

México, DF. Trabajar en las calles no es para cualquiera. La crudeza de las esquinas y de los lugares más oscuros haría a huir a cualquiera. La explotación, las golpizas, el tráfico de drogas, el exceso de alcohol, la trata de personas, el subterráneo, lo más debajo de abajo, está ahí, a los ojos de cualquiera, pero no cualquiera quiere ver ni sentir, ni mucho hacer algo para cambiar las cosas. Elvira Madrid Romero es una de esas pocas personas que llegaron a La Merced para quedarse.

Su activismo de más de 20 años contra la trata de personas y la defensa de los derechos humanos y laborales de las trabajadoras sexuales, le han valido muchos enemigos. Las denuncias contra la corrupción gubernamental, la violencia policiaca y la violencia simbólica hacia las trabajadoras, al no ser ni siquiera nombradas por quienes buscan la abolición de la prostitución, “le han valido descalificaciones y difamaciones de quienes vivieron hace una  décadas de la ‘causa’ de las trabajadoras sexuales y ahora viven de la industria de las víctimas de trata”, señalan Jaime Montejo, su compañero de vida, guardaespalda, activista y miembro también de la Brigada Callejera, organización que desde hace dos décadas se instaló en las calles de La Merced para acompañar, defender y denunciar.

Elvira llega a La Merced por un trabajo de investigación universitaria, de una materia de la carrera de Sociología que impartía el maestro Francisco Gómez Jara, quien escribió un libro sobre sociología de la prostitución. “Llegar a La Merced fue un golpe de realidad. Vi como llegaban las camionetas de la delegación Cuauhtémoc con una licenciada que indicaba a quién se tenían que llevar porque no había pagado la cuota. Vi como  jaloneaban, golpeaba y violaban a las muchachas. También vi a las madrotas que tenían contubernio con las autoridades. Y ahí le dije al maestro que qué íbamos a hacer para cambiar esta situación. Él respondió que nada, que él sólo cooperaba con la investigación y que no le correspondía hacer nada. Dije, ah, qué cabrón, pues entonces la Sociología cómo quedaba para hacer los cambios”.

En aquél entonces Elvira tenía tres trabajos y estudiaba en la Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales de la UNAM. La séptima de ocho hijos de un hogar proletario, tenía 20 años de edad y decidió dedicarle dos horas diarias a hacer trabajo en las calles, a asesorar en derechos humanos, prevención de VIH Sida, y a todo lo que saliera, “pero dos horas no nos alcanzaba para nada”. Así permaneció dos años, hasta que terminó la carrera.

Jaime Montejo, Rosa Isela Madrid y Guillermo Rodríguez inician entonces un colectivo: “no teníamos nombre, sólo salíamos a visitar a las chavas, a recorrer las calles. Cuando llegamos a La Merced y vimos que la policía se llevaba a las trabajadoras, las extorsionaba y las autoridades se burlabas de ellas, nos daba mucho coraje, impotencia y ganas de hacer cosas. Ellas nos decían que había que hacer algo, pero que tenían miedo”.

Empiezan con el trabajo de hacer las denuncias ante el Ministerio Público y luego ante la Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, “porque las autoridades no hacían nada para resolver los problemas. Lo que empezó a funcionar fueron las denuncias ante los medios de comunicación”, refiere esta mujer menudita y de sonrisa franca, que puede convertirse en una fiera ante cualquier asomo de injusticia, como revela Mérida, una de tantas trabajadoras sexuales que encuentran refugio, apoyo y solidaridad en la Brigada Callejera.

En un mundo en el que la confianza se gana con creces, pues de las trabajadoras sexuales no falta quien quiera aprovecharse, Elvira relata su entrada: “Cuando nosotros nos metíamos en medio de la policía para no dejar que se llevaran a las chicas, nos ganamos el respeto. Las madrotas no las dejaban hablar con nosotras y las intimidaban, nos sacaban picahielos para espantarnos, y nosotros decíamos, pues hazle como quieras, nosotros sí sabemos defendernos y no nos vas a chingar. Fue ahí cuando nos ganamos el respeto y la confianza de todas ellas”.redada hotel

Elvira Madrid, feminista radical en las calles y no en las aulas ni en los foros, filo zapatista desde 1994, no se calla nada. Explica como nadie las formas de trabajo de las mujeres que se adueñan de las calles y controlan a las trabajadoras: “Las madrotas son escogidas por las autoridades. Son el brazo de ellas para extorsionar, para intimidar, para golpear y para matar. Esto me consta”, dice, segura como siempre.

-¿Y cómo reclutan a las trabajadoras?

-Son los hijos de las madrotas quienes enamoran a las jóvenes, las roban o las compran. Son los que tienen el control directo para que las jóvenes y adultas hagan lo que ellos quieren. Primero tejen hilos emocionales, luego las embarazan y luego les quitan a los hijos como manera de control para que no huyan, les den dinero, y las tengan todo el tiempo sometidas.

La función de las madrotas, explica Madrid Romero, es el control de las calles, “son las que dicen quién se queda en la calle y quién no. A quienes desobedecen las desaparecen, las golpean y las llegan a matar. Las boletinan para que no les den entrada en otros puntos de trabajo”, refiere.

-¿En este contexto de violencia, se tienen muchos enemigos?

-Sí, primero que nada las autoridades, que son las que están arriba de todo y no se dejan ver tan fácilmente. Luego las intermedias, que son las madrotas; y luego los padrotes, que son los directos.

Y de todos estos sectores Elvira ha sido víctima de amenazas. “Las madrotas constantemente nos están siguiendo para que no hablemos con las chicas. En varias ocasiones me han parado diciéndome que no puedo pasar por ahí, me han sacado cuchillos, navajas, tijeras, picahielos”.

Un ejemplo: “Cuando encontramos a una menor y ponemos una denuncia, el padrote nos dice, te vas a morir, te voy a mandar matar. Nosotras decimos, pues no hay pedo, aquí estamos”.

-¿Cómo se sobrevive en este ambiente?

- No vives. Es difícil. Mucho estrés de estarte cuidando de toda esa gente, para que a la persona que estás apoyando no le pase nada. Ese es el compromiso más fuerte que tiene uno. Cuando nos metemos en un asunto lo dejamos hasta que lo terminamos, porque es la vida de la persona la que está en juego, es un compromiso que una tiene que no puedes dejar a la mitad, ni decir estoy cansada, estoy enferma, pues porque está la vida de las chicas.

-¿Y el miedo?

No, yo no tengo miedo. Cuando hay amenazas me pongo más fuerte y me doy valor. Cobardía sería no hacer nada. No se trata de hacer investigaciones, sino de estar donde tenemos que estar.

A Elvira y a todos los integrantes de la Brigada Callejera les cuestionan que defiendan la existencia de un trabajo sexual voluntario, donde hay víctimas ni victimarias. Esta definición no excluye que sí opera la trata de personas y por eso mismo la denuncian. “En las calles te das cuenta quién está por gusto y quién está obligada”.

El nacimiento de la Brigada Callejera

Cuentan los miembros de la Brigada que “después de tres años trabajando como colectivo, sin tener una razón social ni un respaldo jurídico, decidimos en 1995 constituirnos jurídicamente para tener nuestros propios espacios para trabajar junto a las trabajadoras sexuales, cubriendo sus necesidades sentidas, y no las nuestras. De ahí surge el programa de salud, porque en el hospital Gregorio Salas ya no quisieron atender a las compañeras que demandaron al doctor Zavala, director del programa de atención integral de la mujer, por extorsión y abuso de autoridad”.

A partir de ese momento, el hospital niega la entrada a las chicas que hicieron la denuncia. Y de ese acontecimiento nace el primer programa de salud de Brigada Callejera, haciendo pruebas de VIH, papanicolaou y consultas generales.

Luego surge la demanda de los condones. En 1995 a las trabajadoras sexuales les vendían a 25 pesos el condón del sector salud, que debería darlos gratuitos. “Las trabajadoras nos solicitan entonces sacar nuestra propia marca. Ni idea de cómo hacerlo. Pensábamos que necesitábamos mucho dinero y no teníamos ni la menor idea de cómo empezar. Visitamos empresas comerciales para ver en cuánto nos lo dejaban, pero conforme íbamos comprando nos iban aumentando. Empezamos a buscar fábricas y encontramos a Jorge Mena, de Profilatex, quien nos asesoró y nos abrió el camino. Fue a La Merced, conoció nuestro trabajo y se fue impresionado, convencido de que había que hacer algo”.

Posteriormente fue el mismo gremio quien bautizó al nuevo condón con el nombre de Encanto, y le pusieron una envoltura con los colores negro y rojo, “que son de lucha, pero también el rojo del amor y el negro de la elegancia; además del símbolo de la lucha contra el sida”.

Entonces, mientras el sector salud retiraba el apoyo de los condones gratuitos y los revendía en los lugares de trabajo sexual, la Brigada Callejera crea su propia marca y la distribuye a un peso, hasta el 2011, año en el que lo suben a 1 peso con 20 centavos, logrando que “cada vez las mujeres se protegieran y retomaran en sus manos su salud”.

-¿Qué es lo que es lo que más te enorgullece de estos 20 años?

El contacto con las mujeres trabadoras. Ellas me han enseñado a ver la sexualidad desde otro punto de vista; el ver cómo está el consultorio bien montado, de primera, con muchas usuarias; que ya tenemos dentista, psicólogas, acupuntura, alfabetización. Y, lo más importante, es que vienen trabajadoras y trabadores de muchos estados de la república, y ellas mismas son nuestra carta de presentación.

Dice Jaime Montejo: “Pretender comparar a Elvira Madrid con lideresas que han obtenido ganancias estratosféricas por cobrarles derecho de piso a las trabajadoras sexuales, o con quienes fueron las primeras damas de tratantes como el bombacho y el conquistador, o con exproxenetas que descubrieron una gran veta de oro en el ‘rescate de las víctimas de trata’; no es otra cosa que un acto de represión orquestado desde el gobierno. Sin embargo y a pesar de las amenazas de muerte que retumban desde el Reclusorio Oriente, su labor continúa, las precauciones se extreman y la vida sigue su rumbo”.

Origins of the Street Brigade

The alliance between Zapatistas, sex workers, and transvestites shows the power of social change in a key cultural way—when it’s anchored to daily life. In Mexico, one of the strongest and most overbearing enclaves of patriarchy and machismo, Subcomandante Marcos  opened the doors to debate about discrimination in a controversial area.

What purpose is there, in classic revolutionary logic, in covering thousands of kilometers to meet with a handful of ”whores and crossdressers”? What can such alliances offer to strengthen the “accumulation of power,” any professional politicians’ central task? It seems obvious, from a cost-benefit analysis, that this type of effort should be useless. However the Zapatistas committed to this kind of meeting under the auspices of The Other Campaign (La Otra Campaña), with the understanding that it meant looking for new ways of doing politics.

Brigada Callejera de Apoyo a la Mujer (Women’s Supportive Street Brigade) is a Mexican collective that has managed, in the last 20 years, to weave a wide net of social work with prostitutes and transvestites, called the Mexican Sex Work Network. This has meant transcending the “victim” role and becoming people who want to be recognized as workers by their peers, not seen as beings who have “fallen” into the world’s oldest profession through ignorance, poverty, or submission. A quick look at what they have tackled so far reveals a deep work of emancipation.

Education, Clinics, and Condoms

A differentiating characteristic of the Network is that its members don’t want to depend on the State, although they are constantly criticizing it. Street Brigade began its work nearly 20 years ago, its base a group of sociology graduates from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). The small initial nucleus—Elvira Madrid, Jaime Montejo, and Rosa Icela—began to weave a net that now reaches 28 of Mexico’s 32 states. Over time they chose to work in a horizontal form. “The government co-opted many state coordinations, a habitual practice in the political culture of this country, so we saw that the best way to work is horizontally, in an assembly style, and trying not to have representatives,” Elvira points out.

The Network encouraged women to form cooperatives to avoid dependence and to make themselves the bosses of their sources of employment. They rented hotels and shared the profits among the members. The first were the transvestites who formed the cooperative Angeles en Busca de Libertad (Angels Searching for Freedom).

A Question of Charm…  EL ENCANTO

The sale of condoms is the main source of financing for the diverse projects of the Mexican Sex Work Network. Choosing the type of condom alongside design and name becomes a form of claiming ownership of the instrument of work and protection, and was left up to the ideas of prostitutes and transvestites.

“When we began the AIDS-protection program,” remembers Elvira, “we realized that price was one of the main problems. For older ladies, to spend 25 pesos on a condom was to invest almost everything they had charged the client.” Firstly they looked for donations from the State, which through CENSIDA, the organization dedicated to the fight against AIDS, donated them 60,000 condoms a month. “But when we began to report cases of corruption they reduced that to 3,600 condoms.”

They began to visit various distributors and factories and found that, in exact opposite to what market laws should indicate, buying in bulk raised the prices. They got in contact with a manufacturer who agreed to sell to them at the same price as to pharmacies and other distributors. “We nearly fell over in shock. He sold us condoms at 75 cents (about US$.07) each but in the pharmacies they’re 12 pesos ($1), that is 15 times the price of the cost,” Elvira says.

The Network began to distribute condoms at the price of one peso each, and with that profit they managed to subsidize almost all the projects, but particularly the clinics that consumed the bulk of their resources. “Before putting them on sale we spoke to the compañeras, we did workshops to see what they wanted, because some condoms smelled very bad or irritated because they contained harmful substances. They themselves suggested the name “El Encanto” (The Charm) to the three-month long debate process in which hundreds of sex workers chose between 20 brands.” The brand had to be attractive for both the client and for themselves. Currently, they sell three million a year.

But the transvestites decided not to use the chosen condom because it wasn’t suited to their needs. “They said it’s very thin and they were right, because it was designed for vaginal use and it would break when they used it.” They found a stronger and more lubricated condom and started the same debate as the women had had. In the end they decided to print the rainbow of sexual diversity on it, and a pink triangle. “They chose the name Triángulo (Triangle) because that’s the symbol with which the Nazis stigmatized homosexuals, so in that way they adopted it as a tribute,” says Elvira.

They failed with the female condom. A few years ago they began to import it from England until a multinational company realized that the Mexican market was growing and withdrew the Network’s permission to distribute. In effect, the market is very monopolized. “While in the world there are 67 condom factories, there’s just one for female condoms. We have to wait for there to be more competition,” says Elvira, with irony.

Subcomandante Marcos is El Encanto’s most famous supporter. In Mexico there is a long history of “condom fairs.” In November 2005 the 50th National Condom Festival was celebrated in Mexico City’s central plaza and in various states local annual fairs are held to raise money for organizations linked to sex work. Recently the first “virtual condom store” made its debut on www.elencantodelcondon.com.

the Street Brigade are closely linked to the horizontal Zapatista way of organising
the Street Brigade are closely linked to the horizontal Zapatista way of organisation

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