Today, March 8, 2011, is the 100th celebration of International Women’s Day! Its inception, in socialist European circles, was originally as International Working Women’s Day but has evolved throughout the world into a global celebration of women’s contributions to society. Mexico has a close link with the current designation of the day, having hosted the United Nations' International Women's Year meetings in 1975.
In 1911 Mexico was in the beginning stages of a decade-long Revolution in which women played a critical role fighting beside the men as soldaderas, as well as serving as nurses, cooks, and clandestine messengers. The individual stories of these women have been mostly lost but legend remains personified in the honorific rank of Las Adelitas. Lucia St. Clair Robson’s excellent read, Last Train from Cuernavaca, is a mostly fictionalized story focusing on the varied roles of women in the Revolution.
Nearly 100 years later, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador exposed a government plan to privatize petroleum interests and held a capacity crowd rally in Mexico City’s Zocalo. AMLO asked the women in the crowd if they were willing to protect this valuable national resource from privatization. The answer, a thundering “Si!” With that “si” another generation of Adelitas was born.
As I mentioned in my column at the time of Bishop Samuel Ruiz’ passing, I have the honor to serve on the Board of the Don Sergio Mendez Arceo National Human Rights Prize. Beginning in 1993, a Jury has received candidate nominations for this coveted award in the area of human rights. More than half of the winners have either been women or groups in which women have played important roles. I’d like to use International Women's Day to give you a brief introduction to these women who have made major contributions to Mexico and to human rights.
In 1993 Don Samuel Ruiz and indomitable Rosario Ibarra de Piedra shared the inaugural prize. Ms. Ibarra’s son, political activist, Jesus Piedra Ibarra disappeared in April 1975. With that began one mother’s fearless quest to hold the government accountable for those who disappeared or were killed by the government. Ms. Ibarra, the first female presidential candidate in Mexico, has served several terms in the Mexican legislature, currently as a senator.
Prominent actress, Ofelia Medina, won the 1995 prize for her work on behalf of the indigenous. A strong supporter of the Zapatistas, Ms. Medina campaigned tirelessly for tolerance of cultural diversity and a change in the Mexican constitution allowing indigenous languages to have the same standing as Spanish.
Catholic Women for the Right to Choose won the 2002 Prize. In a Catholic country with strict laws against choice this group of women courageously champions the rights of women to choose, AIDS/HIV education, the use of condoms, and the exposure of sexual molest within the church.
The 2003 Prize went to another group of women, Mujeres por Mexico en Chihuahua -- born in the Mexican peso devaluation of 1994-95 and the enormous economic hardship it brought to the people. By 2000 they had broadened their mission to include legislative transparency and social justice issues of crimes against women, eradication of poverty and violence.
Attorney Barbara Zamora Lopez was honored in 2005 for her body of work on behalf of the dispossessed, the falsely imprisoned, and her willingness to take a case and stay with it no matter how complicated or time consuming. As a specialist in the area of land reform, Ms. Zamora formed the Bufete Juridico Tierra y Libertad civil association and since 1991 has provided legal counsel to peasants and indigenous people in the area of agriculture, human rights violations, and criminal defense.
In 2006, courageous journalist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro was the recipient of the Don Sergio Human Right’s Prize. Ms. Cacho was honored for a long body of written work on the behalf of women and child victims of sexual abuse. In addition to her writings Ms. Cacho founded a shelter in Cancun for terminally ill AIDS patients, was co-founder of both Estas Mujeres de Quintana Roo and The National Refuge Network for Female Victims of Family and Sexual Violence.
Last year's winner (2010) was Sara Lopez Gonzalez. Her background is in health care, which she has offered to the dispossessed in Chiapas, Nicaragua, and her native Campeche. Searching for the causes of poverty led her to the Theology of Liberation. In 2008 she was arrested for her activism in protest against the high cost of electricity. An Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience, she received the Sergio Mendez Arceo National Human Rights Prize in her prison cell in Campeche. She was released three months later.
In 2011 one of the nominees for the prize is Las Mujeres de la Patrona, a group of women in Veracruz who have very little but for years have generously shared what they do have with Central American migrants passing through their town aboard La Bestia. Each day they assemble and package beans, rice, and water in plastic bottles that can be grabbed by migrants on the passing freight train. When asked why, their answer is invariably, “It is the right thing to do.” Two weeks ago the Senate approved legislation guaranteeing safe passage for migrants -- the Chamber of Deputies' approval is necessary for it to become law. Las Patronas are among those credited for this humanitarian change in the law. What they have done goes beyond charity; they have shown solidarity with their brothers and sisters in the struggle for social justice. Whether they win this year's prize or not they deserve to join the pantheon of Mexico’s Adelitas.