In Mexico, a Network of Shelters Gives Women Agency and Hope

By Katherine Mancera In Mexico, in partnership with the Oak Foundation, HIP supports a group of 17 incredible nonprofits that work on gender issues. This is the third of a series of interviews with the amazing women and men who are fighting domestic violence and human trafficking, advocating for sex workers, sheltering victims of abuse, and unionizing domestic workers. These women and men daily confront horrific violence and inequality, and yet they speak of hope and perseverance. I hope their stories inspire you as much as they do me. This interview is with Red Nacional de Refugios (RNR), a national network of shelters for victims of domestic violence in Mexico. I spoke with Wendy Haydeé Figueroa Morales, the organization’s executive director, who previously worked for years as a therapist and director of a shelter. (Note: I did this interview in Spanish, so the transcript isn’t word for word. Instead, I tried to capture the essence of the conversation.)

What’s your organization’s elevator pitch?

We coordinate, organize, and represent Mexico’s shelters. We promote political advocacy to end violence against women, and provide capacity-building for the professionals who work in shelters. Shelters are confidential places to prevent femicide [the killing of women] and promote women’s rights and autonomy and a culture of good treatment. They’re spaces of protection where women whose lives are in danger live for at least three months.
Early education for children is important work in a shelter.

Why did you decide to work for gender equality?

I wanted to work in gender rights since university. I decided to study psychology, because I knew something wasn’t right—there must be other ways for us to relate to each other. The message in families that women can do some things and men should do others, these very marked stereotypical roles, led me to study gender specifically. I got started working at a crisis helpline. That’s where I started to see that inequality is related to violence and discrimination against women. I started to notice the violence and aggressions that women live, and I realized that all women are victims of violence.
The courtyard of a shelter, where women and their children play and spend time together.

When did you first realize you were a feminist?

When I realized there was a feminist in my family—my maternal grandmother. My grandfather was totally machista. But what he said didn’t matter much to my grandmother. He didn’t want to let his daughters study, so she started working—painting ceramics—to pay for their educations. That was her way of breaking away from my grandfather. She broke his rules. She didn’t follow social constructs. My grandfather left, but finally, when he realized she didn’t need him or his rules, he came back to her and started supporting her decisions. He needed to align himself with her, the mother of their seven kids. My grandmother’s example allowed us to start breaking stereotypes about what society wanted us to do.

Tell me about a moment at work when you saw a positive change.

The moment women get to the shelter, they can’t look you in the eye. After one week they can sleep soundly, knowing that someone can’t come hurt them. Then, after more time, a woman can speak about what capacities she has. She knows her rights, and she can choose what she wants to do next. You see that the women have lots of ideas, and a thirst to keep asking what more they can do. It’s not about giving the women something they don’t have, but rather helping the women find themselves. It’s not about telling the women what to do, but empowering them to decide for themselves. The women who have let me accompany them through their process—that’s where I’ve learned most.
Children in the shelter work with a psychologist, learning to live without violence.

What message do you want to share with the public about your work?

Violence against women is an issue related to health, human rights, and justice, and it affects all levels of society, not just women. We need to take action to prevent it. Difference doesn’t have to mean discrimination. We need to change the way we relate to each other, and identify respect and inclusion as fundamental. We all fit in the same space. You can’t create by destroying another person. Inspired by this story? RNR is currently crowdfunding on HIPGive! Visit their project, Fulfilling Dreams of Freedom, and consider donating today! Interested in reading more? Check out our interview with Centro Fray Julián de Garcés Derechos Humanos y Desarrollo Local (The Fray Julián de Garcés Center for Human Rights and Local Development, or Fray Julián), an organization that promotes human rights and gender equality in Tlaxcala.