The invisibility of women displaced by violence

Forced displacement due to family violence is rarely acknowledged by the government; shelters managed by the civil society are the only option for the thousands of women escaping their aggressors

The invisibility of women displaced by violence
Family violence forces women to leave their homes – Photo: Warren Goldswain/EL GRÁFICO
English 27/07/2019 09:44 Alexis Ortiz Mexico City Actualizada 09:44
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The aggressions they receive from their couples forces thousands of women to abandon their places of origin, look for shelter somewhere else, and start their life from scratch.

Forced displacement caused by family violence has been in the shadows for a long time, experts on gender issues agree.

The National Shelter Network (RNR) launched the program “Silences that sing, souls that paint, voices that resignify” to make a tour in different states of Mexico and give visibility to this situation.

Even though there are no official numbers, the RNR asserts that 45% of the 25,000 women it helps, along with their daughters and sons, have been forced to abandon their home to escape their aggressors.

For them, the price of surviving is high: they do not come back to their homes for fear of those who hit them, they lose contact with their family, they have to work from a young age, they abandon school, there is not a program for the government that supports them, they have no official identifications, there is no one that helps them take care of their children, and they cannot be at peace for fear of being found.

Shelters for women who were victims of extreme violence, administered by organizations of the civil society, have become the only spaces that take care of this section of the population.

Approximately 70 institutions coordinate to offer health care, psychological attention and legal advice to those displaced, in addition to helping them create a life project far away from their aggressors.
 

When a victim arrives at a shelter she has the option to choose to stay in the same entity or to go somewhere else, a decision in which they are advised by specialized personnel of the shelters, which makes a diagnostic to measure the risk taken by each woman if she does not leave her area.

“They must abandon everything to save their lives. In many countries internal migration is not acknowledged because it would be to admit impunity and the lack of access to justice; that must change in order for displaced women to have a dignified space where to live and receive the care they need,” said Wendy Figueroa, head of the RNR.

According to the data of RNR, at least 11,250 women in the country have been displaced with their children because of violence.

“When they leave the shelter, only 5% goes back to the place they escaped; they don’t usually do it because attorney’s offices do not offer protection measures and the aggressors remain free. Unfortunately, there have been cases in which a woman goes back to her home and she is mistreated once again or even murdered,” commented Figueroa.

She added that the victims of family violence cannot go to live with their relatives either because the aggressor knows all their support network and perpetrates violence against it.

The head of the RNR reproached that forced displacement is only acknowledged when it is caused by organized crime, natural disasters, or social and political conflicts.
 

Organized crime worsens the problem. According to the Mexico National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), 43% of women of at least 15 years of age have faced violence from their couple, husband or boyfriend, that is, 19 million people of that section have suffered aggressions at some point of their relationship.

The 2016 National Survey about Relationships’ Dynamics at Home of the INEGI shows that the State of Mexico, Mexico City, Aguascalientes, Jalisco, Oaxaca, and Michoacán are the entities with more family violence.

Despite these numbers, those responsible for diverse shelters asserted to EL UNIVERSAL that the problem is bigger when the aggressor belongs to criminal groups.

Mayela Chávez, head of a support center in Coahuila, expressed that in her shelter 62% of the beneficiaries come from other states.

“The women we take care of are victims of family violence; the risk increases because their couples belong to criminal groups. They have already been threatened with being cut into ‘small pieces’.”

She informed that most of the women she takes care of come fromTamaulipas, Nuevo León, and Chihuahua.

Family communication, the key. When a woman suffers violence and runs from her home, in many cases she cannot even take with her a change of clothes.

“When I saw my life was at risk, I left my house, but I’m sure that my husband is looking for me with a gun to kill me,” said Érika, who asked to change her real name for her safety.

She left her children, her mother, and her siblings, and she considers it will be hard to go back to her house because her couple would murder her.

Ana María Gutiérrez, in charge of a shelter in Morelos, detailed it is essential for a victim of displacement to keep contact with her family: “We must create strategies so that they can talk to their parents without being localized.” She added that shelters do anything for victims to heal: “The most important is for them to recover their mental and emotional health, with that they will be able to start a new life.”
 

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