On some days, the dramatic shifts in the urban landscape of Mexico City are enough to make you feel faint. Traveling back from Santa Fe last week, the visual experience of urban inequality across the southwestern edge of the city was startling. Walking home from near Tacubaya–just two metro stops over from where we got off the bus–a replay looped in my mind of the billions of micro-interactions happening all around me. Impossible-seeming displays of human perseverance are made mundane only by an endless stream of people in situations of extreme poverty. Among those pleading for money you witness the blind leading the blind on the metro, an overweight woman in a wheelchair rubbing a stick across corrugated plastic, a disfigured man in overalls asking for forgiveness. On the street, a sprinkling of men and women in orange jumpsuits sweep the dust-laden D.F. sidewalks, and with an absurd quantity of dirt all around I asked myself what world I have stepped into and out of…what kind of world we have created. All of a sudden all of it seemed like a frenetic, but all around blurry dream.
I had just finished reading “Down & Delirious in Mexico City,” which articulates some of the sensations implicated in living in a city with notorious levels of violence, corruption, and urban problems. “Everything is thrilling here because everything is out of whack. There is a sense of delirious rupture, everywhere” (Hernandez 237). And there is the out of whack-ness that one experiences as a visitor, which is entirely different when you start to understand the way things work here. Water shortages, political scandals, racial discrimination, extreme and violent levels of sexism, over-crowding, organized crime. The city has been termed as la DeFectuosa” (playing off D.F.), “the Defective” City by some, while still others argue that miraculously, “everything still manages to work here.” I would not dare to say that everything works here, especially as one strays further from the center to the north or the west, but there is perseverance here that defies all odds for survival in this monstruopolis.
Of all the topics in Daniel Hernandez’s book, the one that hit closest to home with recent events at the Casa and in the larger political context was the chapter on kidnapping and disappearances. Here in Mexico City, and Mexico as a whole, violence against women is appalling. The aggressively objectifying treatment of women in public, private and institutional settings shows how far there is to go to strive for gender equality. In the last couple of weeks, a report about a prostitution ring funded by the PRI party of Mexico City came out, sparking small-scale protests and demands for reform, but even if they convict the responsible parties, the oppression of women remains wholly entrenched in Mexican society on a much larger scale. This is not just an issue of cat-calls or groping on the metro. Small displays of machismo and misogyny are the condoned and uncensored forms of misogyny which cover a much more sinister reality more often made invisible. It is the same society which condones attitudes and micro-level acts of violence that hides the most brutal and inhumane realities of gender violence. Kidnappings, murders, forced disappearances and trafficking of young girls occur daily in Mexico City, and much more often in the rest of Mexico.
“Between January 1st, 2011, and February 13 of this year , 1,872 girls between the ages of 10 and 17 disappeared in Mexico City, all with similar physical characteristics.” (Universal, March 7, 2012). That’s one girl every five hours that is disappeared in Mexico City alone. This is not counting the outlying State of Mexico, which has among the highest statistics of violence against women in the entire country. In the majority of these cases, human trafficking is implicated as the cause. Just this last weekend a young woman that was close to our partner organization Casa Refugiados, disappeared on her way to a job interview in the Center. They sent out this communication this week:
“CasaRefugiados asks for your solidarity in sharing this information and helping us to find our friend and co-worker Nayelli Drisdell Hurtado Muñoz. It is enraging that things like this continue to occur. Please help us to find her!” (with the following photo):
We are just talking about Mexico City here. The situation is deplorable, so much needs to change to make it a safe, just city for young women. On the up side, I am meeting so many incredible women working for gender equality in my human rights class. We have had guest lecturers on topics of feminism, and just yesterday we heard from a female lawyer who has been working on cases relating to gender violence and international human rights violations in cases of forced disappearance. The important part right now for us as a community is to educate and spread information about the severity of this issue, and provide support within our networks to improve our security and the security of the women we work with directly.