By Lydia Holden, Communications Lead for Grassroots Girls Initiative. Photo credit: Lydia Holden
Frida Kahlo’s house, now a museum, pops with periwinkle blue, neon yellow and orange marigold. Paintings, traditional Mexican peasant attire and remnants from Frida’s many illness and accidents fill the rooms. Visitors are treated to equal measures of joy, pain, life and death—themes that I see embraced throughout Mexico City. Viewing Frida’s paintings beside her husband’s, Diego Rivera, I’m reminded of their tumultuous relationship and specifically of Friday’s painting “A Few Small Nips,” that was produced during a profound time of sorrow following the revelation that Diego was carrying on an affair with Frida’s sister. The painting illustrates a newspaper article about a man who stabbed his girlfriend 20 times on a cot in a fit of jealousy. When interviewed later, the man protested his innocence, saying, “But I only gave her a few small nips.” The painting is one of Frida’s bloodiest, frankly displaying the spectrum of violence women suffer in Mexican society from the continual “small nips” that leave women weakened to murder.
“If you are a girl in Mexico City you are always finding men yelling at you and sexually harassing you in the street and subway,” says Gloria legorreta Navarro, 23, as we chat on the top floor of the Elige office. “It is a power thing: They want to show we can’t protect ourselves from them.”
Founded in 1996 by a group of young feminists, Elige seeks to empower youth through the promotion and defense of reproductive and sexual rights in Mexico. Elige knows their peer training activities have an impact on the lives of young women, but they also strive to move these issues forward to have a sustainable impact on politics and the wider community. During a recent six-month training, 25 young women, ages 16-27, participated in weekly workshops to understand the historic background of the feminist movement in Mexico and the world and were trained as leaders to champion campaigns decrying violence against women and other political initiatives.
Dirce Navarrete Perez, 23, sees Mexican women as having two main problems: “She should stay at home and she should not be allowed to participate politically.” While Dirce’s parents have always encouraged her education and support her studies in university, they were less enthused about her foray into feminist politics. “Some of my family members were persecuted and harassed in the past for their political views,” explains Dirce. “And since I am young and a woman and these political activities involve me being in public, they worry.”
Undeterred, Dirce completed the Elige training and is now working with the non-profit on a project about the criminalization of women in political participation. “In December, when the new President of Mexico took office, there were protests and social struggles stopped by the police. There were many instances of police harassment and violence and being taken to jail without cause, which is a violation of human rights,” Dirce explains. “And in this process women were the most vulnerable because of the added sexual abuse and harassment that happens at the hands of the police and in the jails. Women are hardly participating in these political protests and when they do they are being detained, assaulted and labeled as criminals.”
To address this problem, Dirce and others at Elige are creating a group of objective observers to follow the protests and record how young women are being treated during the protests, in jail and how they are represented in the media. The purpose, Dirce tells me, is to see how the government is criminalizing the process with a feminist perspective and to develop knowledge and recommendations on how young women can safely participate in political protests.
“Before Elige I hadn’t had the chance of meeting young people like me with a feminist perspective. Elige reinforced that my thinking wasn’t wrong and I wasn’t the only person who thought this way,” says Dirce. “Elige is very important because we are thinking beyond theory and implementing our ideas in the community.”