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Mexico’s Passionate Protestor: An Interview with Angélica García Olivares
Angélica García Olivares began working toward gender equality in Mexico when she was in college. While getting a Master’s degree in psychology, Angélica saw the need to focus on gender-based violence by hearing the stories of the women she counseled. She has been working to end violence against women and girls ever since.
Now, as the Training Coordinator at Mexfam, Angélica provides technical assistance and develops materials to educate various populations on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Her passion for ending gender-based violence and promoting gender equality in Mexico is clear and catching. In this interview, Angélica explains why ending violence in Mexico should be a national priority and where she finds inspiration when the work feels overwhelming.
How is gender-based violence understood in Mexico?
Gender-based violence an important health issue for Mexican women, not only because of its impact on their health – and in particular on sexual and reproductive health – but also due to its prevalence in the country. Nearly 47% of women in Mexico have had at least one incident of violence in the last twelve months, and family violence is present in up to 70% of Mexican homes. Four out of ten women are abused by their partners, and one in three women face harassment or discrimination at their workplace.
In Mexico, gender inequalities still endure, and they are expressed in various ways: fewer opportunities for women, limits on sexual rights, reinforcement of traditional gender roles, media that encourages inequality between women and men. Violence is an acceptable form of conflict resolution, and a lot of incidents are masked by false ideals of romantic love, like that a man is jealous because he love you so much. This contributes to the normalization of violence.
How are Mexican women affected by gender-based violence?
Gender-based violence is a priority issue in Mexico. It is a serious obstacle to women’s rights and dignity, their access to health care, and the construction of a more equal and violence-free society.
In Mexico, there are several problems that need to be prioritized: violence against migrant women on the Mexican border, sexual harassment in public transport in Mexico City, and changing legislation that doesn’t allow abortion in cases of rape. Several states have modified their local constitutions to further restrict women’s right to choose. There is much work ahead. Fortunately, there are organizations and individuals working on sexual health and rights for all, especially for women.
How does Mexfam contribute to a solution?
Mexfam focuses on gender-based violence prevention. It is a topic in all of our sexual and reproductive health training sessions, and all of our social programs contain information on gender-based violence. We recently expanded our training guide for health personnel to include information on how to detect, respond, and refer clients who have experienced violence.
I am deeply convinced that health settings provide a unique opportunity for women living in a violent situation to talk about her experience and gain access to critical services. Our staff is ready and able to be first responders when women come into our clinics for services.
If you could tell your government to change one thing to help end gender-based violence in your country, what would it be?
More than requesting a policy change, I would like the government to uphold existing laws. It is their job to enforce legislation. Training public officials in the areas of law, education, and health on how to better serve women living under violent conditions would help a lot.
For example, it is necessary to provide emergency contraceptives to women who have experienced sexual violence, and legal and safe abortion services to those who become pregnant due to sexual assault. We also need to strengthen institutions and budget allocation to effectively respond to the issues of human trafficking and femicide.
Who inspires you to continue working on this issue when it starts to feel overwhelming?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with many women who have generously shared their stories with me, and these stories motivate me to keep going. I met a group of women from Ciudad Juárez years ago. They were demanding justice for their daughters, who were some of the first femicide victims. Back then, the issue wasn’t being covered in the media like it is today, and the authorities weren’t paying much attention to these women. They traveled around the country showing photos of their dead or disappeared daughters. Their strength and ability to turn their pain into a reason to keep fighting inspires me to keep forging ahead.
I don’t know what we can expect in the future, but I am clear on why I continue to do this work. I do it because we deserve a country where sexual and reproductive rights are recognized, and where we have services available that respect and promote these rights.