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MEXICO: The women of Casa Xochiquetzal, a unique shelter for elderly sexworkers

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Canela, a resident of Casa Xochiquetzal, takes a visiting dog on a walk at the shelter in Mexico City, Mexico on March 7, 2009. Canela is from Oaxaca and is 77. She has lived at Casa Xochiquetzal since the shelter opened its doors. She suffers a number of illnesses and has Down’s syndrome. Her mother died when she was 12 and she came to Mexico City at a very young age and a sex worker rescued her. At age 13, she became a sex worker herself.  Later, she met her husband, Rafael, who was an alcoholic. He died six years into their relationship, and Canela went back to prostitution. She is the only resident at Casa Xochiquetzal who never had children. She arrived at Casa Xochiquetzal with several illnesses and very bad eating habits, and she was given six months to live. Today, 12 years later, she is still here, thanks to better nutrition and the medical and psychological care provided by the shelter. Canela is well known and respected in the neighborhoods that surround Casa Xochiquetzal. Casa Xochiquetzal is a shelter for elderly sex workers in Mexico City. It offers its residents refuge, food, health services and a place to learn about their human rights, as well as courses to help them rediscover their self-confidence and deal with traumatic aspects of their lives. Casa Xochiquetzal provides a space to age with dignity for a group of vulnerable women who are often invisible to society at large. It is the only such shelter in existence in Latin America. Photo by Bénédicte Desrus