Being a Woman in Mexico

It starts out when we are kids.

We’re taught that there is no way we can be friends because boys can’t hang out with girls and vice versa. For girls, boys are dumb, and for boys, girls are cry-babies. Later on, it’s not the cooties that divide us, but the ridiculous ideas around gender that society pushes us to believe religiously.

Boys must become ‘macho’. They don’t cry, and they can’t feel anything apart from anger, strength, or arousal. If men make it seem like they are capable of other emotions, like sensitivity or sadness, society immediately admonishes them because they jeopardize our understanding of masculinity.

And at some point, women become objects. Particularly, sexual objects designed for the entertainment of those around us.

According to a study carried out by El Colegio de México on street harassment in Mexico City, about 93% of women declared they had been victims of leering in a public space. The same study unveiled that over 50% of the women interviewed had been touched against their will in a similar scenario. In fact, according to UN Women, 9 out of every 10 women that use public transportation in Mexico City have been harassed during their trip.

And regarding other types of gender-based violence in the country, the numbers don’t get any better.

ADIVAC, a Mexican NGO in charge of assisting sexual-violence survivors, estimates that every 9 minutes an act of sexual violence is committed. In the same report, it is stated that in 2011 over 60% of women older than 15 years-old admitted they were abused at some point in their lives. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that the number of femicides in the country, particularly those in domestic spaces, has remained almost the same since 2007, which pinpoints an unvarying pattern of intimate partner violence.

The fact that many of these crimes go unreported is just as worrying as the rate at which they are happening. The latter is nothing but a direct consequence of our criminal system.

Our authorities and wider society both excel at victim blaming. If you get cat-called it is because you dressed provocatively. If your partner mistreats you it is because you have not been a good companion. If you get raped it is because you paved the way for it to happen. Even if you are murdered, they will find a way to put the blame on you.

Amidst the horrifying statistics, have you ever wondered, “what is it like to be a woman in Mexico?”.

Being a woman in Mexico is familiarizing yourself with the short and vulgar vocabulary of cat-callers and memorizing the routes where you’re most likely to come across them so you can avoid them. It is tweeting #NiUnaMas (not one more) and #SiMeMatan (if they kill me). Being a woman in Mexico is silently hoping you won’t become part of the statistics that tell you that at least five women are killed every day in the country you call home.

But being a woman in Mexico is also finding comfort in people who share your pain or your story. It is going to marches and feeling amazed by how many of you are there. It is constantly discovering new networks or organizations that reclaim women’s rights. It is knowing that for every misogynist comment, there’s going to be a girl who’s got your back and will make sure you don’t fall.

Being a woman in Mexico is people telling you to get used to things you shouldn’t ever get used to because, somehow, it’s always your fault. For women in Mexico, resilience becomes our best coping mechanism and sorority our weapon of choice.

Girls’ Globe is publishing opinions and ideas on tackling gender-based violence from our global network of bloggers and organizations during each of the 16 Days of Activism. We’re also crowdfunding to be able to continue to raise the voices of girls and young women in 2018 – voices like Mariana’s. Donate today and help us to continue building a safer, more equal world. 

Street Sexual Harassment Needs to Stop

In light of the massive unveiling of what may have been Hollywood’s biggest secret, sexual harassment is a topic currently trending in all spheres of social media. Harassment is a reality that most women (and men) have encountered at some stage in their lives. It exists in all manner of forms – in the workplace, at school or even in the streets.

Growing up in Zimbabwe, street sexual harassment was familiar and common within my community. I would often read stories of women wearing what was deemed ‘inappropriate’, and subsequently having their clothes ripped off by complete strangers – gangs of men who were self-appointed morality officers. It was quite horrifying to read about such incidences.

My first personal encounter with street harassment may have been at the tender age of eleven or twelve. As a pubescent pre-teen feeling the awkwardness of my changing body, I would find myself fearful of walking in public wearing anything that accentuated my budding breasts or widening hips and buttocks.  I lived in baggy T-shirts and pants. I would make sure to avoid walking past a group of men, or any male for that matter, as doing so often seemed to be understood as an invitation for unsolicited conversation. I would hear jeers and remarks such as “sister”, “sweetie”, “ baby”.

I feel strongly that no one should have to experience sexual harassment, and especially not on a regular basis. Yet that is the reality for many young African women and girls, especially if they rely on public transport or work in male dominated spaces.

Many young women, myself included, are constantly seeking measures that can be undertaken for prevention and protection. One young Dutch woman used social media to capture images of her street harassers and call them out publicly on a worldwide platform. Though this seems very bold for me in my context, I commended her efforts because it brought a spotlight on what is a global issue for women all over the world. 

Wherever you live, there are steps that can be undertaken to address street harassment (while making sure your personal safety is always your first priority!). For example:

  1. Respond to the harassers in a calm, assertive manner – “Stop it. No one likes it. Show some respect.
  2. Name the behaviour, especially if it’s physical, and make a command – “Your hand is on my leg. Remove it now.
  3. Be an active bystander and intervene if witnessing harassment
  4. Share your experience with others

It’s also important to have men as allies when it comes to street sexual harassment. We need men to realise the damaging and traumatic affect it has on women. We need men to realise that they have no entitlement to female bodies or spaces, and – importantly – we need men to speak out against harassment when witnessed and not to turn a blind eye.

My hope is that very soon, all people everywhere can walk confidently in public streets and spaces without fear of physical, emotional or verbal sexual harassment being inflicted upon them.