Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate
We were on the road by about 5:30 am. It is about 3½ hours or so by bus through the mountainous land of Guerrero on our way to the capital of the state, Chilpancingo. We got to see a red ball of a sun rise over the mountains. It’s beautiful. The situation in Guerrero isn’t and hasn’t been for much of the last forty years.
We meet with more than 20 indigenous women, from four different language groups who came from different parts of the state to talk about indigenous women’s struggle for rights. If women are victimized, the situation of indigenous women is worse, if one can imagine that.
As before, their words say it best:
“We are persecuted by the state, by the police, by the land barons. When we try to defend out rights, we’re made fun of and humiliated because we don’t speak the dominant language and speak in our mother language.”
“Because of the complicated process of reporting a rape, women are re-victimized four times.”
“Women suffering domestic violence have little recourse. The closest shelter is in Acapulco, but a woman can only enter if she has absolutely no support network.”
“Juana, 27, was giving birth and had complications. We tried to get doctors to see her but they wouldn’t. Finally she died in the ambulance during the seven-hour ride to Acapulco. They don’t like to deal with indigenous women.”
“The theme of women’s rights has no visibility here.”
“We are widows of two men who were human rights defenders. She [doesn’t speak Spanish] feels alone and abandoned. It is hard for her to re-live the moment; for me too. I have two kids but she depends on me because she has no one…
…When I was twelve, my mother told me not to bother to study. Women have no rights, only men do. But instead, I kept asking why. So I pushed ahead and at 14 I left. I wanted to work and I wanted to know about women’s rights. I only made it through fifth grade, but I am a strong woman. I married at 20 and I have two children. Three years ago they killed my husband, but I persevere.”
“My friend and I are part of our indigenous radio station and we’ve been on the air for seven years. This radio station has been a means of support and of communication. We’re illegal but we’ve defended the station against attempts by the state to shut it down. If it weren’t for us women, it wouldn’t survive for another year. It is mostly our generation [young women]. Our radio station is a place where women have a voice.”
“Our organization was born out of the needs of the women of our community. We fight for the rights of women, human rights, education and to defend our culture. We also defend our environment. We have been shut out and we demand our rights. We have no rights. Our husbands dominate us and so do our in-laws. The only place we have decision is when we make our huipil [elaborately embroidered blouses].”
“In my community many have no idea about rights. I want to be able to help women learn about our rights.”
“I started out as part of an environmental group that was mostly men. My husband was part of it too. In 2001, with 12 women I started a group for women because we need to learn to be able to teach our children. There was a lot of machismo. Men said we had no business outside the home…
…In 2003, my husband joined our women’s group. He was held prisoner in 2004-2005 and after he was freed he was killed by a van. We don’t know if it was an accident or deliberate. We had been receiving many threats. Now our women’s environmental organization has 100 members in 13 municipalities and we are a legally registered NGO. I’m proud of the organization because we’ve had success as women. We’ve learned how to speak in public and how to organize. The group has helped me through all my problems.”
“Supposedly we’ve had freedom of choice for some time now. But it is only legislatively. Reality is very different.”
“In 2004 the military started ransacking our homes, killing our animals, raping us. We didn’t know how to seek justice so we organized ourselves. We are human rights defenders, which is not an easy thing to do because the government doesn’t want us to know our rights. Every year the government issues reports about what they have done for our communities. But nothing has really been done. We’ve asked for justice so many times that some people just give up. When women try to make claims against the military or the state, the one who is investigated is the victim not the perpetrator.”
“I spent ten years working outside the country and sending money back home. I finally decided to return and became a police officer. Then my boss told me he’d fire me if I didn’t have sex with him. So I did. I didn’t want to but I did. Then, finally he decided to fire me for some ridiculous reason. For four years now I’ve been seeking justice. I beg shouting to this government for justice.”
“I work with internal migrants who go to northern Mexico to work in the fields. Indigenous women are already super-marginalized and are extremely vulnerable to abuses. Their situation is one of modern slavery; one with invisible chains.”
“In 2004 was in New York. Talking about this is reliving it. I have children and was 4 months pregnant. My husband came home for a while but then went back north where he had an accident. They sent his body back to me. When my son saw his father’s body he started to drink and then he left. What was I going to do; I’d never left the house. I had a daughter in middle school and it was hard for her to keep studying. At some point I had no food at all for my kids. My son lent me 15 pesos to buy some food. I was humiliated. Finally I started leaving the house, selling things to survive. I felt like everyone was looking at me. I was ashamed. My in-laws said I was a “woman who liked the streets.” But I got strong. I continue to work because I want my children to be able to study.”
They are brave women. Living with many layers of victimization – as women, as indigenous women, as survivors of violence, of attempts to move them off their traditional lands.
We got back in our bus and began the 3 ½ hour trek back to the capital. They returned to their communities. Many were setting out on trips home that were more than twice as long as ours. We returned to the hotel, to dinner and comfortable beds. They returned to their communities and to uncertain futures in a country of violence, impunity, and with no recourse to justice.
To be continued…