“El Silencio es el Principal Enemigo de la Justicia” (Silence is the Enemy of Justice)
By Casey Gwinn
This week I was reminded of a profound truth: Silence is the enemy of justice. Our team (Gael Strack, Brenda Lugo, and I) spent three days in Monterrey, Mexico as part of an historic kick-off conference sponsored by the Mexican federal government, USAID, Management Systems International, and the National Family Justice Center Alliance. As we met the amazing women of Mexico’s movement to stop violence against women and girls, and the men that support them, we were sobered by the stories of rape, kidnap, abuse, and murder. We heard of the hundreds of women killed in Ciudad Juarez in the last fifteen years. We viewed a powerful video by the Avon Foundation about the impact of domestic violence on children. We heard that 8 of 10 women who report violence, sexual assault, and other forms of abuse later recant their story in the face of a criminal and civil justice system that does not provide adequate support. We heard that between 1999 and 2005, more than 6,000 women and girls were murdered in Mexico. We heard of the recent police raids of refuges for battered women and children in Monterrey, Cancun and Ciudad Juarez in 2010. We heard of the pain, fear, and intimidation that regularly faces victims, women’s advocates, and political leaders who attempt to speak the truth. We heard of the shelter director who resigned after being kidnapped and threatened. We heard of public officials assassinated for speaking out. We heard of advocates being sued by abuser’s for representing battered women.
The power of the darkness was obvious. Justice is so often denied to the battered and abused women of Mexico. Justice is so often sacrificed on the altar of male privilege and entitlement and too often condoned by the Catholic Church and the social structures that shape the foundations of Mexican society. But the silence of women, the silence of the abused, the silence of the oppressed is ending in Mexico. Dr. Martin Luther King said in 1963, “we must repent not only for the words and deeds of the ‘bad people’ but for the appalling silence of the ‘good people’.” The good people are repenting and are raising their voices in Mexico – led by courageous women.
As I write in the early morning hours of June 30, 2010, my heart is full of hope because we heard the voices of those courageous women of Mexico for the last two days. Powerful voices like: Dr. Laura Carrera, the National Commissioner to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women; Martha Lucia (“Malu”) Micher, the General Director of the Institute for Women in Mexico City; Monica Maccise Duayhe, the Coordinator for Gender Equity Programs for the Mexican Supreme Court; Aixa Alvarado, the Director and Co-Founder of the Centro de Justicia Familiar of Monterrey; Luz Estela Castro; Gabriela Saavedra; Elsa Jimenez, Nora Frias; Margarita Cisneros; and many other amazing women from Nuevo Leon, Jalisco, Chihuahua, Durango, Baja California, Chiapas, Morelos, Guerrero, and Campeche. We met amazing women serving as elected officials, community organizers, shelter directors, lawyers, advocates, and in other roles as agents of change – all of them calling for justice for women and girls. And it was even more special to see them all working with two Latina women from our team, Gael Strack, whose heritage traces back to Cuba, Panama, and Puerto Rico, and Brenda Lugo who was born in Culiacan, Sinaloa (Mexico).
They reminded Gael, Brenda, and me of a powerful truth: Silence is the Enemy of Justice. Las Mujeres Asombrosas de Mexico, the amazing women of Mexico, refuse to be silent. They are raising their voices and helping survivors to tell their stories. Nobel Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu has said the first step toward justice is telling the truth. The women of Mexico know that justice will never come until the truth is told. So they are telling the truth to everyone that will listen. They are challenging political leadership, church leadership, and business leaders to focus on femicide, all forms of gender-based crimes, and the institutions that attack the very foundations that justice must be built upon. But they are not simply cursing the darkness. They are lighting candles as they advocate for laws, policies, procedures, and funding that will elevate the status of women and provide the resources for both prevention and intervention initiatives. They are looking forward and dreaming big as they craft a vision for a Mexico with safety, economic opportunity, and community support for full equality for women and girls.
President Felipe Calderon, Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, and local, state, and federal elected officials are leading efforts to end the silence and provide resources to the struggle for justice for women and girls. The conference this week was one such effort as the federal government announced a $20 million pesos investment in creating Centros de Justicia para Mujeres in states across Mexico. The government is also seeking support from the European Union, the United Nations, Vital Voices Global Partnership, the Avon Foundation, and others. The Centers, modeled on the San Diego Family Justice Center, will also rely heavily on the Mexican FJC model – the Centro de Justicia Familiar de Monterrey. The Centro de Justicia Familiar in Nuevo Leon was opened in 2005 under the leadership of the State Attorney General’s Office. Prosecutor Luis David Salinas Ortiz, Aixa Alvarado, and a diverse team from public and private agencies in Monterrey led this effort with the support of President Vicente Fox. Today, the Center is a model for all of Mexico and is one of the most impressive Centers in the world.
The new Mexican Family Justice Initiative to create five Women’s Justice Centers will give a voice to survivors and bring together government agencies, civil society organizations, and other supporters to create unique Centers that will reflect the geographic, ethnic, and cultural diversity of Mexico. USAID, Management Systems International, the National Family Justice Center Alliance, and key leaders in Mexico are coming together to make this initiative successful. Each Center will seek to bring together all the services a victim and her children need under one roof. Each Center will partner with local shelters and civil society organizations to create a network of support that will result in wraparound services when a woman walks through the door of one of the new Justice Centers. Specially trained police officers, prosecutors, advocates, psychologists, doctors, nurses, civil attorneys, job training specialists, teachers, and child advocates will be at each Center to meet the needs of those coming forward for help.
As I reflect on these past days in Mexico, I realize that I have learned so much. In the United States, we have so many resources and a rich history of efforts to address violence against women and girls. But the courageous women of Mexico, and the men that support them, can teach all of us a great deal. They are coming together. They are thinking outside the box. They are embracing the need for criminal and civil justice services to be part of their intervention and prevention efforts. They realize that co-locating providers creates power, enhances the safety of service providers and victims, and increases the volume of the voices for change. They are listening to survivors who are begging for all their services to be coordinated. They are refusing to build a system of intervention based primarily in secrecy and silence and independently operating agencies.
To be sure, there is more to be done. Bishop Tutu has said for justice to be done we must first tell the truth about the injustices, then we must try to undo or repair the harm that has been done, and then we must change the social conditions that produced the injustices. The Women’s Justice Centers and many other initiatives in Mexico are going to focus on all three pieces: Telling the truth, repairing the harm, and then changing the social conditions that produce the injustices. But the social change forces are gaining strength in Mexico.
Las Mujeres Asombrosas de Mexico want women to be able to live their lives, engage in society, and be able to walk the streets and live in their homes safely and without fear. They have reminded me again that silence is the enemy of justice and today is our best opportunity yet to make a difference in the lives of those that are depending on us to provide justice.