|Rooted in San Diego, California and Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Via International works across borders, engaging leaders to promote sustainable development in under-resourced communities. Their process is participatory, where people identify their needs and take individual and collective action to improve the quality of life.|
A high proportion (about one-third) of women working in sex work in Tijuana were initially trafficked. Many came to Tijuana in hopes for better economic opportunities to care for themselves and their children and are now joined by many more women fleeing violence and poverty in southern Mexico and Central America. Some of the new arrivals are deported mothers from the United States. Most are the sole financial caretakers for their children but have had few opportunities for education and employment. Both groups, women in the sex trade and those who have recently migrated or been deported, are disproportionately affected by poverty, lack of educational or employment opportunity, poor health outcomes, and having experienced violence, trauma, and other human rights violations.
WE funds two programs with Via International, ESTIMA and Via Migrante, which both assist particularly vulnerable populations of women in the Mexico border region of Tijuana. The ESTIMA program (which translates to “valuing myself and stands for Economic and Social Empowerment To Increase Upwards Mobility Among Women), seeks to enhance social and economic empowerment among women working in sex work or at risk of entering the trade in Tijuana, Mexico. ESTIMA assists the women in identifying and pursuing alternate income-generating activities to increase their safety and well-being. To participate, women must show a strong motivation for entrepreneurship and change, be able to form positive relations with other women, maintain control of their own income, and be free of drug or alcohol dependence. Participants meet in groups of eight to twelve women, participate in training, elect group leaders, receive microcredit loans, and start small businesses of their own choosing. Trainings provided to the women educate on nutrition, financial literacy, self care, women’s issues, and gender-based violence.
The Via Migrante program serves women who have recently migrated into the area or been deported to Tijuana. They first go through Via’s integrated community development program on family health and food security, addressing the needs for adequate nutrition and to build community. Graduates of the nutrition program are invited to form a “solidarity group,” in which participants agree to take collective responsibility for a microloan fund supporting entrepreneurial initiatives designed by each individual. Payments are made weekly. Each participant makes weekly repayments and contributes to a savings pool. The later contribution amount is determined by the group and at the end of a cycle, the savings can be gifted to a member by lots or held for an annual savings pool, as determined by the group.
In both programs, WE provides funding for the loan pools that are administered through Via International. Women are trained on business topics including savings, cash flow, inventory, financial/legal documentation, and insurance. Businesses started by loan clients include: retail sales of clothing, shoes, makeup, and other household goods; enterprises involving food, food carts, and restaurants; and, services such as childcare and cleaning.
“Economically, it is better for me. Being in the group, you learn things…to value yourself as a person. ESTIMA did help me, it helped me to…start over. “
~ ESTIMA participant
These programs have a combined goal to build a movement of women, among sex workers and those affected by the trauma of migration, that provides economic empowerment, as well as tools for strengthening their ability to resist and/or exit patterns of violence. Additionally, the programs aim to improve health outcomes for women and their children through preventative knowledge and addressing mental well-being.