#18 cities
Teresa Incháustegui Romero

Fighting Machismo

Sexual assaults happen daily in Mexico City, and frequently on public transportation. The Inmujeres organization is fighting for women’s rights and safety.

Yakiri Rubio was twenty years old when she was kidnapped. She was walking along a public street when her attackers approached her on a motorcycle, took her to a hotel, and sexually assaulted her. As she was being raped, she managed to grab a knife off one of her aggressors and defend herself. She stabbed a perpetrator, who later died of blood loss. After she escaped, she turned to the police to report the crime, but was thrown in jail on a “homicide” charge and spent the next four months in prison before finally being released. In a recent video called #NoTeCalles (Never Keep Silent), Rubio and two other women talk about experiencing sexually harassment and violence on the streets of Mexico City and then being blamed for fighting back. They are not alone. On April 26, 2016, several women’s organizations took to the streets in 27 cities all around the country. Mexico City was the epicenter of the protests, where women raised their voices to demand more security in public spaces and a change in the machismo (male chauvinism) culture under the #VivasNosQueremos slogan (We Want To Be Alive). The Institute of Women of Mexico City (Instituto de las Mujeres del Distrito Federal – Inmujeres) is one of the initiatives fighting sexual violence and assault and aiming to strengthen gender equality. DDD had an opportunity to talk to its director, Dr Teresa Incháustegui Romero, about the causes of violence against women in Mexico City and possible solutions.

DDD: Is Mexico City a safe place for women?

Teresa Incháustegui Romero: A considerable number of women have been victims of sexual assault in the public sphere and on public transport, especially in taxis and private microbuses, but also on official buses and in the metro. Unfortunately in that sense, Mexico City is no different from anywhere else in the world.

UN Women, (…)speaks of a pandemic of sexual assaults worldwide…

But generally speaking, the situation in Mexico City is better than in a lot of other places in the country. If you look at the crime rate in Mexico City compared to other federal entities, it ranks 17th. If you just look at feminicidos [femicide – sex-based hate crimes involving the murder of women and which generally include sexual violence] Mexico City is also ranked 17th in the country.

UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, speaks of a pandemic of sexual assaults worldwide, pointing out that this phenomenon is visible throughout the world, even in places like London and Paris.

In the case of Mexico, there is a strong tradition of machismo that gives women the feeling they have no means for defending themselves against these assaults, and that sexual violence is natural and normal. This is one reason a lot of these crimes are not reported to the police. The reporting procedure for such incidences is also very complicated.

How do women get justice?

We are now experiencing change, especially for young women who feel more empowered and a lot more determined to defend their liberty, their bodies, and their freedom to move around in the city as they like…

On April 24, 2016, we saw national demonstrations to protest violence against women taking place in Mexico City and 27 other cities organized by a broad variety of organizations. We are now experiencing change, especially for young women who feel more empowered and a lot more determined to defend their liberty, their bodies, and their freedom to move around in the city as they like without being touched or molested. This represents a turning point we are watching with great sympathy, and we aim to support it as much as possible.

I remember that the subway in Mexico City always had cars reserved just for women after 9 pm. What initiatives have proven successful in preventing sexual assault?

We have 100 vehicles only women, handicapped persons and children are allowed to enter. At the moment, we are planning to increase the route frequency of these 100 vehicles. We are also looking at the number of women who use the different subway lines so we can calculate how many cars we need for women on each subway train. At the moment we only have the 2007 estimates to work with, so this new study will give us better data for adjusting the number of cars.

… we have a problem that has to do with the penal code, which defines all forms of sexual assault, even really brutal attacks, as minor offenses.

Immediately following the April 26 demonstrations, the governor kicked off the “Treinta y Cien” (30 and 100) initiative. The name refers to the number of days it will take to implement new measures. The governor promised initiatives to increase safety on public transport within 30 days and a new governmental center for women's justice within 100 days. In the first week alone, five molesters were caught and ten thieves arrested.

But we have a problem that has to do with the penal code, which defines all forms of sexual assault, even really brutal attacks, as minor offenses. The law requires the victim to submit a report from a doctor or psychologist to prove that damage that has been done, which makes it very hard for victims to demand their rights. We are advocating for a reform of this law at the moment.

What is the relationship between machismo and violence?

There is a sense that as a woman, it is part of your role to suffer and to endure sexual assault.

One of the main ideas of machismo is that men cannot control their sexual desires and women exist to satisfy these desires. Linked to this idea is the widespread belief that a woman walking on the streets without a male partner is fair game. They are viewed as obligated to fulfill male desires.

Unfortunately a lot of men in Mexico – and even some women – still hold on to these ideas. There is a sense that as a woman, it is part of your role to suffer and to endure sexual assault.

This is also part of machismo culture: victims that do speak out are attacked again.

There was the case of Andrea Noel, a US journalist based in Mexico, who spoke out against the sexual harassment she suffered in Mexico City and was threatened with violence afterwards in the anonymity of the Internet. She said that she found the assault less damaging than the reactions of machos on social media when she spoke out against it. So she decided to leave the city. This is also part of machismo culture: victims that do speak out are attacked again.

This situation has also made us aware that we have to study what is happening on social networks. You can find a lot of very aggressive photos and videos posted on these networks by young men.

What image does the traditional media depict?

Some of the things you hear are outrageous, because they don't seem to understand the issue nor do they display any sensitivity in their reporting.

TV show content, like the telenovelas, displays strong machismo. News commentators subscribe to machismo as well, as you can see in the way they report on incidents like the demonstration for women rights. Some of the things you hear are outrageous, because they don't seem to understand the issue nor do they display any sensitivity in their reporting. They dismiss women's protests. This happens on a lot of blogs too.

How could this be changed?

The subliminal language used towards women is also a problem.

When talking about women and women's issues, I want them to send different messages. This needs to start with the jokes they make, the programs that portray assault as something humorous. Sometimes it seems like they are celebrating sexual violence and assault. They need to develop a different attitude. The subliminal language used towards women is also a problem.

Are poorer areas if Mexico City more dangerous for women?

We just launched a platform called Vivesegura and we plan to create a smartphone app to gather enough data to make valid statements. Women can use these platforms to report the exact place and time they were attacked and also use them to place an emergency call. The call will connect the monitoring center where all Mexico City's security cameras are evaluated, which will then contact the closest police unit. These will allow us to evaluate better where assaults most frequently occur.

Is the justice system working to guarantee justice for women?

We have seen that many people in the ministries, and judges in the court system especially, are not sensitive to the topic of sexual violence. This is a huge problem with femicidios in particular. Even if we have collected and presented sufficient evidence that a murder was a femicidio, judges still change the charge to homicide. And while this results in the same punishment, it draws attention away from the specific characteristics of femicide, which is motivated by a hatred of women. Judges often do not want to use this term. So I think judges should be better trained in this area because they lack the proper understanding.

Interview by Frederik Caselitz

Photo: “-----/----” by ANGELOUX
2009 - licenced under Creative Commons Attribution (2.0)

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