Mexican Activists Advance Rights Despite Threats


Attacks and threats of violence on women human rights defenders and their organizations in Mexico have increased at an alarming rate over the past two years. Many report living under constant threat, simply for defending the rights of others.

Violence against women is being used as a means of social control,” said Marusia Lopez Cruz, JASS Mesoamerica’s director. “We’re seeing an increase not only in the number of incidents, but also in the cruelty and brutality with which it’s carried out.

This was the conclusion of 62 women defenders during the 3rd National Meeting of the Mexican Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) Network held in Mexico City January 24-25. Over two days, women from throughout the country shared their personal accounts of the intimidation they face in reprisal for their work and the impact this has on their lives and those of their families. Above all, they shared the determination to find ways to continue their work while remaining safe and sane.

“We’ve had the disappearance of Eva Alarcón, the assassination of Juventina — this is the language of intimidation for all women human rights defenders.” - Defender in Guerrero

It’s no easy task. The defenders reported that their offices have been ransacked, they have received death threats, and colleagues have been murdered or disappeared. Twenty-five women human rights defenders have been killed in Mexico just in the past three years.

Some - like Bettina Cruz who leads the fight to defend her indigenous community against a huge energy project in Oaxaca, and Blanca Velázquez who led a labor rights organization in Puebla - cannot go back to their homes due to the severity of threats. Despite the fact that many have protective measures granted by the Mexican government or the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, these courageous women activists continue to face attacks and the constant threat of violence as they carry out their justice work. As a response and presented during this meeting by the National Network, the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative has created a regional fund for emergency cases of violence against WHRD and a fund to support the wellbeing of women activists at risk (both documents only available in Spanish).

These are women who defend rights to land and culture against development megaprojects that seek to push their families off the land; women who defend labor rights in offshore factories that use women’s labor to produce goods for the global production chain; women who face constant attacks and discrimination in LGBT organizations; women who are opposing militarization, building community defense programs and seeking justice.

In a heavily machista society, many women defenders are breaking with the traditional roles associated with women and as a result, many are isolated and can’t even count on support from their families or communities.

“I am alone, in solitude. I experience bitterness, tears and worry. Who can I talk to? The planet? But there’s no response. I’m a strong woman (chingona), but if you only knew that I´m dead on the inside.”

The meeting ended with a collective statement:

We will continue to work together in the Mexican Women Human Rights Defenders Network, building alternatives for protection, security and self-care that contribute to our safety, to continue our work as human rights defenders so that justice and equality can become a reality in our country.

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