On 8 March 2011, the centenary of International Women's Day, I was very honoured to be invited to address the Sydney Latin American Social Forum. This blog is a record of the speech I gave on the day.
My name is Pilar Angon. I’m 33 years old and I’m Mexican. I came here today to talk about something very sensitive happening in Mexico: Femicide in Juarez City.
I’ll talk about this issue while I’m sharing my story.
When I was 17 I got pregnant, and that changed my life. Unlike other pregnant girls in my school, my parents didn’t hide me or kick me out of the house, they didn’t obligate me to marry my daughter’s father; and they always asked me what I wanted to do.
This didn’t happen all that much in Mexico. Most women in my situation would stay in their houses and cope with their unhappy husband (if they had one) whom, with time, would probably beat them, drink and cheat on them. And other women or their family would tell them, "ni modo mi’ja es la cruz que te toca cargar" (sorry sweetie this is the cross you have to carry in your life).
Around the time my daughter was born the Mexican government signed a free trade agreement with USA & Canada. I remember there was a lot of opposition to the signing. Some of the changes coming as a result of this agreement directly affected disadvantaged people and the peasants (campesinos).
Lots of factories were built along the border, between Mexico & USA. They came with the promise of development, jobs and American goods. The agreement let owners establish new factories without paying taxes. It was part of the bargain: they would bring development; we would provide resources and people.
The border became that grey zone where nothing really matters, where anything could happen. By the time I went to Uni (my daughter was 5 years old) lots of people were leaving their towns & were trying the “American dream”.
Networks of people smugglers became established all along the border of the country, targeting young indigenous men and their just started families. The "lucky" ones found a pollero (smuggler) but lots of them were deported. Others either stayed in the border cities awaiting their chance to cross or become part of the black market, growing as much as the legal one.
It was different for women though, they could stay in the maquilas (sweat shops) working their life out of it and being bullied, sexually harassed and with very little choices. During 2001 an email started circulating among the students. This letter was written by Malu Garcia Andrade, sister of Lilia Alejandra, who disappeared 14 February and whose body was found on 21 February in 2001. This is a part of that letter:
"I want you to imagine your daughter, your sister, your cousin, your girlfriend or your wife. Imagine that she is leaving her home to go to work or school. You can picture how beautiful she looks as she walks, with an angelic expression. She reflects her passion for life through the sparkle in her eyes, which reveals her happiness. Imagine that on her way home, a car blocks her path, and three men get out. One of them grabs her by the hair, the other by the feet, and they force her into the car to kidnap her. Imagine that they get to a house and they enter one of the rooms. There they throw her to the ground while the three men look at her face, which now reflects terror. Imagine one of the men goes to her, binds her hands and lays her on the table. She tries to defend herself; he lifts his arm, closes his fist, and punches her in the nose. Then he extends his arm again, to punch her in the mouth, so she’ll stop yelling: Stop. Please! Mama, papa: help me. Help me. Someone please help me! God, why me? Please, no more! No, no, no".
The letter goes on and on with details of the tortures, rape and mutilation this young woman suffers and at the end claims for justice for her and any other woman killed in this way.
I know, it’s tough.
It is tough enough just to imagine it. That’s what made me join the Sydney Action for Juarez group (SAfJ).
By the time I received SAfJ's email my daughter was almost 15 years old, the age of most of the young women killed. I wanted to do something about it. This is why we, SAFJ, ended up here. We are here to talk about all these killings, the result of a patriarchal culture and lack of political will; whether or not the law or the society can or will stop the killing of women, just because they are women.
We received an email on December 2009 calling people to organize events raising awareness about Femicide in Juarez, under the flag: A prayer for Juarez. We’ve been working hard to spread the word for a year. In 2011 we decided to keep on going, among other reasons because this year Marisela Escobedo was killed in Ciudad Juarez on 16 December 2010. She was one of the mother’s organising the main NGO looking for justice of the murdered and disappeared women and she is now dead.
The letter I read before has also been incorporated to a play called Women of Sand (Mujeres de Arena) written by activists, academics, artists and mothers of the victims. It has been put together as a screenplay by Humberto Robles. SAFJ is working hard to put this play on the stage and we welcome your help to make it happen. The first reading is on Tuesday 15 of March, 6:30pm Toxteth Hotel Glebe, Sydney.
You can keep in touch with Sydney Action for Juarez through our Facebook page.
Pilar Angon is an organising member of Sydney Action for Juarez. She is currently working with the Ethnic Communities Coucil NSW as a Spanish speaking educator and also as an environmental educator with The Watershed, a joint initiative of Marrickville and Sydney City councils. Pilar holds a Masters degree in social anthropology.