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Waking Up to Violence Against Women
CASA, Center for Adolescents of SMA

by Sanjana Natesan

After a little over an hour, we arrive in a pick-up truck to find 35 women gathered in an open lot, many with children in tow. We are here, in rural San Diego de la Unión, for a workshop about violence against women coordinated and led by an obstetric nurse and a lawyer from CASA, both named Laura. An employee from Mexico's Department of Integral Family Development (DIF), who helped schedule the event, climbs out of the truck first, followed by Laura and Laura. While the three of them secure posters to the side of the truck and gather everyone on their stools into a semicircle, I find an out-of-the-way spot to stand and watch the session. Makeshift classroom complete, the Lauras begin.

Laura Herrera, the obstetric nurse, and Laura Margaiz, the lawyer, lead "Centro ELEGIR," a program founded at CASA in 2005 to contribute to ending violence against women. ELEGIR travels to different communities across the state of Guanajuato to host know-your-rights talks for women. In addition to workshops, ELEGIR offers legal aid, psychological care, and temporary emergency shelter, all free of charge for women experiencing violence.

Today's workshop begins by everyone sharing their names, where they live, and something they enjoy doing. As they go, they pass a ribbon between them, literally forming a neighborhood network of women. Punctuated by the sound of children playing at their feet, Laura and Laura then explain different types of violence and the tools available to manage it. "You have the right to life without violence," they repeat throughout the session.

After the overview, participants are each given a card with an example of violence. Education access is very limited in the area, so much so that some women need help reading the word on their card, but ELEGIR's workshop is structured to ensure that everyone understands their message. One by one, they share how they would respond to their example. Then, they secure their card where they feel makes sense on the "Violentómetro," a scale of possible reactions to violence illustrated on one of the posters.

Frequently throughout the hour-long session, someone asks a question about resources or shares a story of violence they or a woman close to them had endured. Every time one woman calls out an experience of violence, numerous voices rise in agreement as other women recount their own similar experiences.

Workshop complete, I help pack the posters back into the truck and watch the group disperse, carrying with them their stools, children, and stickers with ELEGIR's 24/7 hotline number. I am struck by the strength of the women who participated in the session. I had never witnessed a workshop like this one before. The closest I've come is sexual assault prevention trainings, mandatory for most employees and college students, in which one person rattles off statistics about the frequency of assaults and then reads the company or school's policy. This is totally different. Here are women of all ages coming together to acknowledge their own experiences of violence, suffering that they may have written off as too unimportant to share. This is a community vowing to be there for one another and to do something about everyday violence against women that is too often ignored.

Centro para los Adolescentes de San Miguel de Allende AC (CASA)
Santa Julia #5, Col. Santa Julia, CP 37734
415-154-6090
www.casa.org.mx

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Sanjana Natesan is a Human Rights student at the University of Chicago and a Summer Intern at CASA.

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