by Isabelle Johnson, LACIS Communications/Social Media Assistant
What have you been doing/working on most recently?
In the past months, I have been teaching courses on Literature and Gender Studies. I have also done some research on the way some newspapers covered two cases of human rights violations to examine differences and to find out how official publicity may have influenced this coverage.
What accomplishment in your career are you proudest of?
I think my teaching has given me a lot of fulfillment. I guess I am proud that I started studying violence against women, especially femicide, when few people did, and persisted even if many in Mexican academia saw my involvement in this topic as “mixing activism with academic work” since studying this problem also entailed supporting or making demands for justice. Being a feminist scholar was not always easy.
How were you inspired to begin focusing on activism and women’s rights?
I was sensitive to the inequalities women face since I was a teenager, and as young person, I participated in demonstrations for abortion rights and other. But I got more involved in activism when I came back to Mexico from the US and started working on femicide. I think that when you study violence or topics related to human rights, you cannot just watch what is going on. Research has to be rigorous but that does not mean one cannot also work with other people to push for changes in society. I co-founded and still belong to two small collectives of academics or people related to academia which work on women’s rights and against violence. We have organized rallies and written open letters or participated in campaigns with other organizations. Our impact has been limited but we still believe in supporting the cause of justice.
How do you think COVID-19 has impacted women’s activism in Mexico?
It has impacted it very strongly. Before the health emergency was declared in Mexico, there was a huge women’s demonstration on March 8th and a women’s strike on March 9th. The 8th demonstrations were not massive and this was also the first strike and it was very successful. This was made possible through the work of many organizations. Unfortunately, the pandemic put a stop (not necessarily an end) to public manifestations. However, it has led to new forms of activism, mainly to work on collecting data on women’s conditions and making them available on the web, thus to counter government statements that “everything is fine” or that violence against women is not so serious. There have been virtual campaigns to support women’s shelters and to deal with the rise of domestic violence. Also, some things have not changed so much: female students occupied some buildings of the National University and small activist groups occupied one of the buildings of the Human Rights Commission, in both cases to protest violence against women and the lack of response from officials. It is harder now to do activist work that is widely visible, not only because it is risky to meet because of covid-19 but also because Mexican women are overwhelmed with care work: taking care of the home, family, sick or old relatives, and dealing with less or no income since many have lost their jobs or depend on the informal market to make a living. It is worrisome since conditions are worsening and the government is not interested in women’s needs at all. Women are resisting and maybe next year we’ll see the consequences of all these trends.
Please join us for Professor Melgar’s lecture entitled, “Women’s Voices. New Approaches to Mexico’s Human Rights Crisis” on Tuesday, 10/27 @ 12:30. You can join us HERE.