MEXICO CITY – Just the mention of La Merced, a neighborhood located in central Mexico City, conjures up the idea of a zone where crime, business and prostitution converge.
Many of the 3,000 women working in the area’s sex trade have devoted the greater portion of their lives to selling their bodies, thus damaging their physical, emotional and mental health.
“The majority of them have been the victims of abuse, exclusion, marginalization, discrimination, exploitation and identity theft, all of which have had serious consequences for them,” social worker Paulina Flores told EFE.
Currently, estimates are that there are approximately 70,000 women immersed in the sex trade in Mexico City, a figure that includes women being held in slavery-like conditions or in sexual servitude.
But it was in La Merced where Flores, along with a group of students and a female professor from the National School for Social Work (ENTS) at Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM) were seeking a way to reduce the psychosocial damage caused among the women who sell their bodies.
“Out of that arose Lady Meche, a project consisting of creating social intervention strategies and projects with these women,” said Natalia Martinez, another of those involved in the effort.
Via community strategies, following cases and art, health and creative workshops, the experts managed to make contact with many of the women with an eye toward understanding and attending to their main problems.
“We found that one of the main unknowns was their work future. In ... La Merced, when they were just 25 they were already considered old for their work, and at age 35 they were considered non-productive,” Martinez said.
In response to this problem, the two specialists, along with Karina Lopez and Maria Elena Garcia, the latter a professor at ENTS, decided that – via Lady Meche – they could offer the women the chance to have “real” jobs based on preparing and selling cosmetic products.
“We wanted to have a social company to create financial utility, but above all to offer them a real alternative. We didn’t plan for them to abandon their (sex) activities, but rather for them to be able to choose where they wanted to be,” Martinez said.
And it was the women who got involved with the project who told them of their desire to have something of their own, a business, something formal and established, rather than their informal street work.
So, the experts came up with the idea to create homemade lipstick under the Lady Meche brand, which they hope to bring onto the market during the second half of this year.
“We want this product to symbolize part of the history and identity that they’ve build in the La Merced district and thereby transform this social group into businesswomen,” Flores said.
The lipstick line will come in three “flavors” – sweets, flowers and fruits – and it will be homemade right in the neighborhood.
So far, Lady Meche has not been able to obtain financing to develop the idea, although the University of the Valley of Mexico (UVM) recognized it with its UVM Award for Social Development 2017.
However, the social workers feel that the project has already had an impact on the women who have worked with it.
“They have exercised their memory, have learned to socialize, because one of the characteristics that they have is that, because of their reality, they are accustomed to forgetting and move on,” Martinez said.
The plan is – in the future – for the women to be able to acquire beneficial social and psychological habits and to develop a tolerance for frustration.
Ultimately, they acknowledge that the main objective is to establish the project as a company that has a social impact.
“We want to be a platform for formal work. If they don’t like making cosmetics they could go somewhere else with a letter of recommendation, but (it’s) for them to know that they can do something else and to stop thinking that they’re only good for prostitution,” Flores said.