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Story Publication logo November 30, 2023

Mexico's Feminist Collectives Are a Voice for Women Who've Lost Theirs


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As the femicide epidemic continues in Mexico, victim’s families turn to activists in feminist...


María Isabel Aguilera (top left), Yadira Cortés (bottom right), and supporters of Red Mesa de Mujeres are shown at a commemorative ceremony honoring the lives lost to femicide over the past 20 years in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, on August 8, 2022. Image courtesy of Yadira Cortés/Red Mesa de Mujeres.

Families of femicide victims in Mexico are often left with little support from government officials. But they are not alone, as feminist collectives help them through grief and the judicial process.

Karina Ruiz constantly finds herself frustrated with the reality many women in Mexico—including herself—face every day. The fear of being the next to go missing and found dead days later.

“We live in a constant state of alert in which we have to think and rethink about what we wear and what route to take home,” Ruiz said. 

In 2016, Ruiz began to question the never-ending state of danger women endure following the femicide of an 11-year-old girl in her neighborhood just outside Morelia, Michoacán. She began to realize that something was wrong. 

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Two years later, the femicide of a five-year-old girl became the catalyst for then 18-year-old Ruiz to act upon the frustration she was feeling. But one thing was clear for the founder of feminist collective Libres Morelia—if she didn’t do anything, she was part of the problem. 

“They are killing us, and they are killing girls. No one is doing anything,” Ruiz, now 24 years old, said. “If we do what everyone else does, which is complain and not do anything else, we are part of the problem.” 

In Mexico, 10 women per day fall victim to femicide—the killing of a woman or girl on account of her gender. Only 27% of women’s deaths are investigated as such. Cases are often misclassified or dragged out, or they remain unsolved due to lack of investigators. Grieving families are left in the dark with no hope of getting justice for their loved one. 

Without support from authorities, mothers are left to conduct their own investigations, thus reliving the death of their daughters. But they are not alone. Feminist collectives, like Libres Morelia, have become support systems for victims’ families. 

“Why do we exist? Because the judicial institutions are not responding to families and they don’t listen,” said Sofia Blanco Sixtos, a psychologist and member of the collective Mujeres Andando Processos por Autonomías Sororales (MAPAS) in Michoacán. 

Collectives help fill in the gaps created by government agencies designed to handle gender-based violence cases. Investigators are not explaining their process to families; nor do they inform them about available resources, Blanco Sixtos said. 

The femicide death of a close friend in 2016 brought Blanco Sixtos to advocacy work. She tries to help families feel less isolated as they grieve their loss. Even if it’s just sitting a few pews away from families during trials, Blanco Sixtos does what she can to help. 

In Mexico, women are treated as second-class citizens, and politicians only care about their votes, instead of their right to live, Ruiz said. 

Families make daily visits to the prosecutor’s office just to remind them of their cases, and without evidence, there are slim chances of the case being heard in court. 

“If the victim’s family is not accompanied by a lawyer or a collective, they are at the expense of the investigator,” said Yadira Cortés of Red Mesa de Mujeres in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. 

Purple ribbons with photos of victims are on display in the office of Red Mesa de Mujeres in Ciudad Juárez. Image by Tania Ortiz. Mexico, 2023. 

When accompanying the family of María Guadalupe Pereda Moreno, survivor of an attempted femicide in 2015, Cortés had only three months to help Pereda Moreno’s family gather enough evidence and witnesses in time for the first court hearing. 

“We were waiting for witnesses until past midnight outside of the factories, and that’s because we couldn’t find them at their houses,” Cortés said. 

Cortés points to the sign on the wall behind her with Pereda Moreno’s picture and information about her and what happened. Just above it, there is another poster with pictures of women and human rights advocates who were killed between 2010 and 2016. The walls at Red Mesa’s office in Juárez are decorated with photographs of victims and posters with feminist phrases—reminders of why Red Mesa does its work. 

Beyond providing legal insight to families, collectives provide emotional support through workshops. They don’t work on a set schedule when it comes to helping mothers and families, said María Isabel Aguilera of Red Mesa de Mujeres. Mothers are calling and texting them as early as 3 in the morning in search of someone to talk to.

“Mothers tend to contact me when certain dates are approaching, like their daughter’s birthdays, the date they disappeared, or when they were notified,” Aguilera said. “They’re tough days for them.” 

The five team members of Red Mesa de Mujeres are dedicated to fighting for justice and helping mothers find their strength again. Although they receive help from volunteers, their schedules are stretched thin, and they have little time to catch their breath before having to visit a family or go to the prosecutor’s office. 

As mothers, Cortés and Aguilera often bring their teenagers to the office after picking them up from school. Their children also help out at Red Mesa de Mujeres. Aguilera’s daughter helps run the group's social media pages, and Cortés’ son often lends a hand in making posters for demonstrations. 

It’s a balancing act as they juggle the chaos of their personal and professional lives. But they give it their all, Cortés said. 

“At first it wasn’t easy, now I say, how easy it was for me to go to Chihuahua [the state capital]. I mean, easy on the logistical aspects. Other times, I get stressed,” Cortés said. “What are we going to do? And what are we going to say?” 

The activists are sometimes the only advocates these families have. They are the ones helping share case updates, denouncing assaulters, or calling out the government for its lack of action via social media platforms. Their most effective method of bringing attention to these cases are public demonstrations. 

A bright yellow sign with the phrase “We are the voice of those who are no longer here” hangs on the walls of Red Mesa de Mujeres’ office in Ciudad Juárez. Image by Tania Ortiz. Mexico, 2023. 

Yet, despite bringing more focus to femicides and being a voice for women who’ve lost their lives, these groups are classified by the Mexican government as a threat. In September 2022, leaked documents from the National Defense Secretary deemed feminist collectives a danger to the country at the same level as organized crime. 

Collectives have become opponents of the government because they’re the ones resisting and questioning, because their lives depend on it, Ruiz said.

For years, Mexico’s women have realized that being silent is no longer an option, Ruiz said, and the government is uncomfortable with collectives and women realizing the power they have. 

These activists are mothers, university students, business owners, nurses, and teachers. Comparing feminist collectives to cartels and organized crime says more about the government more than anything, Blanco Sixtos said. 

“It’s ridiculous to compare Mexican cartels that kidnap, kill, and rape the social fabric to feminist groups,” Ruiz said. “The only thing we’re saying is let us live in peace, to be free and happy.” 

Activists now have a target on their backs, placing them in a vulnerable position as authorities increase their presence at public events they hold. The classification reinforces an already present negative sentiment toward collectives, said activist Reyna Leaño Galvan. 

In Tijuana, authorities are keeping tabs on activists and their whereabouts, Leaño Galvan said. At protests, activists and colleagues find different ways to distance themselves from police who are following their every move. They bring a change of clothes and break off into smaller groups to take different routes in the city, she said. 

“But even with a change of clothes, [the authorities] already know who is who. And it’s become dangerous for us,” Leaño Galvan said.  

Dealing with the authorities are not the only challenge feminist collectives face. Online, collectives’ social media pages are being hacked and activists’ personal information is being taken. If there is any hint of who the account administrators are, opposing parties will directly send threatening messages to activists. Even following or being followed by a collective’s social media account has become a safety issue, said Leaño Galvan. 

“I’ve experienced people sending me threats,” Leaño Galvan said. “I’ve had to become more private. My name is nowhere on my social media.” 

In the past three years, Mexican women have been organizing in large numbers, frustrated and angry with the governments’ attempts at handling the country’s gender violence issue. Activists are still fighting for change.

“I think we’ve managed to get many women to wake up from the patriarchal reality in which we’ve been living for so many years, and to begin to organize to fix this system that wants us to be submissive,” Ruiz said. “We’re achieving it little by little, with slow but firm steps.”





Three women grouped together: an elderly woman smiling, a transwoman with her arms folded, and a woman holding her headscarf with a baby strapped to her back.


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