Porteadoras, literally “mule women”. This is how women of Melilla are known as, because every day they carry heavy loads across the border between the Spanish enclave and Morocco.
Melilla is a crucial entry point for goods into North Africa. Most importantly, as long as a porteadora can physically carry her load, it is classed as personal luggage, so Morocco lets it in duty-free.
The women have the right to visit Melilla because they live in the Moroccan province of Nador. But they are not allowed to reside in the Spanish territory.
In the early morning sunlight, under massive bales are Moroccan women – bent double by the size of their loads. Some of them make three or four trips a day, carrying up to 80kg.
Of course they don’t keep all that money – they also have to give bribes to the Moroccan guards.
In Melilla, there is debate about whether this trade should be allowed to continue in its current form. Some recognise the conditions are of semi-slavery and those women are actually risking their lives – there have been deaths as a consequence of this physical labour.
Yet, not everyone agrees. Melilla's business advisor for the local government, Jose Maria Lopez, emphasises the “very positive outcomes of this commercial activity”, since for some of the porteadoras that’s the only chance they have of making a living.
It is estimated that this informal trade is worth about 300m euros to Melilla.
Traditionally, the porters here have been women. However, they face competition is increasing now due to high unemployment in Morocco.
Here is the original article, which also contains some of the shocking stories those women told.