Success Stories

Missing But Not Forgotten

red mesa

It’s 5 a.m. in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Young women in their late teens and early twenties are on their way to work at assembly plants, or maquilas‬. Unfortunately, some of them won’t make it, because they will have been tortured, murdered, and abandoned on the way. Hundreds have simply “vanished” yet Mexican authorities have done nothing.

“Every day I wake up and receive text messages, emails, and phone calls about something that happened the night before,” said Imelda Marrufo Nava, Coordinator of longtime Global Fund for Women grantee partner, Red Mesa de Mujeres. Imelda organizes and trains women from Ciudad Juárez‬ to lobby for government policies to protect women’s human rights.

Holding On To Her Passion

Known as one of the most murderous cities in the world, violence against women has been on the rise in Ciudad Juárez since the early nineties when maquilas were popping up everywhere. In 2001, the bodies of eight women were found in a cotton field, prompting Red Mesa de Mujeres to write a report to the International Commission on Human Rights about the situation in Juárez. Since then, 600 women have been killed and at least 3,000 are missing.

Imelda Marrufo Nava, Red Mesa de Mujeres.

"Despite these situations I have kept this passion, this commitment to work for women's rights in Juárez because I love my city,” said Imelda. “My love for the city, the people, and the history is what keeps me here."

Red Mesa de Mujeres dedicates a lot of its efforts keeping women who are fighting for justice safe. Due to increased violence against women in Mexico and other parts of Latin America, Global Fund general support grants cover basic security costs for women’s human rights defenders. In fact, just last year we sent an emergency grant to Red Mesa de Mujeres to help move sisters Olga and Marisela Reyes Salazar to a more secure location after their quest for justice put them at high risk.

"In Juárez, there are some faces such as the Salazar sisters who are very visible because they have lived injustice,” explained Imelda. “But there are also many women who, for their own choice, have not denounced the violence and hostility [directed] at them and their families. They have decided to do this to stay alive so they do not continue to be attacked.”

Changing Faces

Imelda and women like her demand that governments conduct serious, professional investigations into the murders. They march, demonstrate, sit vigil, and spearhead letter-writing campaigns to educate people and foster solidarity with the women of Juárez.

"I know [our work] makes a difference because I see it in the faces of the women we work with,” said Imelda. “Their serious faces and hostile expressions transform into smiles and loving expressions once we begin the process of intervention.”

The untold stories of women who live with the constant threat of violence due to the economic and political interest of a few is why Global Fund supports women’s groups that are challenging governments on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

"I know we are making a difference because we are a part of a movement much bigger than this city or this country, because when we meet with partners from Latin America and with organizations and foundations in solidarity with us, like Global Fund for Women, we know we are making a difference."

Story Behind the Reyes Salazar Family

Olga and Marisela Reyes Salazar come from a family of activists, many of whom have been assassinated for defending their rights. Their sister, Josefina Reyes Salazar, was one of the first women activists to denounce the femicides in Juárez and give support and voice to families of the deceased. She succeeded in detaining a man who raped and murdered two women and after, unknown assailants shot at her house while she and her children were inside. From that point on, the entire Reyes Salazar family became targets. Julio César Reyes was the first of six members of the family to be murdered. In 2010, Josefina Reyes Salazar was assassinated. In August of that same year, Josefina's brother, Rubén, was assassinated, after publicly denouncing her murder. That’s when Marisela and Claudia Reyes Salazar, Josefina's sisters, demanded justice. Later that year, the bodies of their family members were found, all bearing evidence of torture. Since then, family graves have been vandalized. Currently, twenty members of the Reyes family live in exile and other members are dispersed in different parts of the country.


Worth the Risk


Mónica Roa was in a meeting when the power went out in the Bogotá office of Women’s Link Worldwide. Someone fired shots through the window and shards of glass fell on her head. Though Mónica and her colleagues were not hurt, it was only the latest in a series of attacks against Women’s Link Worldwide for their efforts to implement the Colombian Constitutional Court’s ruling on abortion.

"It is very scary to stop and think about what’s truly happening to cause people to target me, to shoot at me and at the office, and to accuse me of promoting genocide in a country in which violence is part of the daily life," said Mónica, Director of Programs at Women’s Link Worldwide.

Mónica was a new lawyer when she decided to use the judicial system for social change and start Global Fund grantee, Women’s Link Worldwide. The death threats started afterwards and the State had to provide her with bodyguards. That was seven years ago, and she’s been living with bodyguards ever since. The Bogotá office has been broken into and computers stolen three times and on several occasions, human excrement has been left outside their office.

Why Is Women’s Link Worldwide a Target?

In Latin America, there is a clear offensive against the rights of women, particularly those related to sexuality and reproductive health. Abortion is still illegal in most places, except under very narrow circumstances. Global Fund supports groups like Women’s Link Worldwide because they work to change laws and policies that hold governments accountable.

“People now think of the law as a tool for change rather than a tool of oppression”
– Mónica Roa, Director of Programs at Women’s Link Worldwide.

In a historic decision this year, the Constitutional Court ruled to protect the right to information of the 1,280 women who, with the help of Women’s Link Worldwide, brought a constitutional challenge, known as a "tutela," against the Inspector General and other government officials. The tutela alleged that these public officials were violating the right to information of these women and girls of reproductive age by producing and disseminating incomplete and distorted information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, in blatant disregard for the verifiable findings of judicial, scientific and legal authorities.

Among such false information was the claim that emergency contraception, or the morning after pill, was an abortive agent, even though scientists from the World Health Organization, amongst others, have made it clear that it is a contraceptive and does not induce abortion. Additionally, the Constitutional Court ruled that because abortion is a right in three specified circumstances, the Department of Health is obliged to take action when institutions fail to provide abortion services. In spite of this, the Inspector General and his deputies denied that abortion was a right and told the Department of Health that they were under no obligation to remove barriers preventing access to abortion.

"As citizens, we have to be able to trust the information provided to us by representatives of the State, and even more so when it comes from the Procuraduría, which is the institution responsible for ensuring the full protection of human rights in Colombia," wrote Mónica Roa in a press release.

While the Constitutional Court’s ruling in favor of Women’s Link Worldwide is a huge accomplishment, Mónica and others experience increased security threats. So much so, that they have to raise money to hire security guards, buy security cameras, and pay for security risk assessments.

Women's Link Worldwide staff in Colombia.

"If women’s rights defenders don’t take care of the threats and don’t manage to vindicate their own rights, then we are sending a message to the women we usually defend that there’s no hope to make this a priority," said Mónica.

A Global Inspiration

The Constitutional Court’s ruling has become one of the most important processes to liberalize abortion laws and test the core principles of the Colombian constitution, according to Mónica. Women’s Link Worldwide now uses the lessons learned in other parts of the world, such as Sub-Saharan Africa. Monica says the activists she meets are learning about her case and questioning how they can do something similar in their countries.

"People now think of the law as a tool for change rather than a tool of oppression," said Mónica. "Most people get recognitions after they are dead. I am able to be proud and witness the impact on my country and in the world."

When Mónica is invited to speak about Women’s Link Worldwide and the importance of human rights law, she sees young people share her same passion. In fact, Women’s Link Worldwide trains young lawyers to be "radical activist attorneys." At 36, Monica is the second oldest lawyer on staff.

"One has to be proud of the work we are doing. There are a few people in the world who are strong enough and brave enough to take these risks for a cause that is greater than we are, and the results are going to effect so many people that it is worth it," said Mónica.


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