Originally published February 13, 2015
By Lisa Y. Garibay
UTEP News Service
Lost in the all-too-common reports about violence throughout Mexico over the past two decades are stories about how women often are standing up, and putting a stop to, that violence altogether.
A new book by a University of Texas at El Paso professor and a former co-director of the University’s Center for Inter-American and Border Studies (CIBS) is putting forward a new and significant point of view, focusing on women as game-changing activists.
Courage, Resistance, and Women in Ciudad Juárez: Challenges to Militarization (University of Texas Press) explores gender-based violence as well as social movements and the struggle for human rights in Ciudad Juárez during the 21st century, where new developments like social media helped to form otherwise impossible connections in the face of escalating violence and militarization.
In order to put women in the spotlight as empowered leaders, the book addresses alliances between women’s and feminist movements and other organizations. The majority of previous studies have centered on women’s organizations alone, rather than women partnering with other like-minded people in organizations with overlapping interests.
For co-author Kathleen Staudt, Ph.D., professor of political science at UTEP, the book has been a long time in the works. It began as a paper presented at the International Studies Association in 2008, at which point she realized the issues being touched upon were too complex and important for a single article.
Staudt’s work within this particular activist movement, whose participants spanned both El Paso and its sister city, began in 2002 when she became involved with the Coalition on Violence Against Women and Families on the Border. That experience led Staudt to her 2008 book, Violence and Activism at the Border: Gender, Fear and Everyday Life in Ciudad Juárez.
Given that scholars often continue finding new approaches to an issue or keep researching new developments, Staudt didn’t consider Violence and Activism a one-off effort that closed the book, so to speak, on what was taking place in Juárez. Her continued work and commitment to the cause led to this new volume.
Courage, Resistance and Women’s other author, Zulma Méndez, Ph.D., had not originally considered writing a book on the activism she encountered and participated in during her daily life. The UTEP alumna (she earned a B.A. and an M.A. in sociology) and current professor at El Colegio de Chihuahua in Juárez documented what she was seeing with the idea that such documentation could be key in the pursuit of justice within international courts.
“I documented as part of my political work; later, it became a scholastic endeavor,” Méndez said.
As a Juárez native, Méndez was frustrated that the history of organizing in her city was largely unwritten despite a long tradition of struggle there. For her, Courage, Resistance, and Women in Ciudad Juárez offers a look at how women’s movements created a new kind of activism with unique and subversive strategies that were effective in challenging the oppression affecting men and women, young and old alike.
“I see the book as an exercise of memory that will contribute in some partial way to Juarenses’ and activists’ collective reconstruction of what happened during those turbulent years,” she said. “Reconstruction of memory by communities is an important step to reclaim justice.”
Alejandro Lugo, Ph.D., professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, contributed a perspective on the book’s significance from beyond the border.
“The book provides an original and very much needed ethnographic account of the complex grassroots anti-violence activism in the Paso del Norte borderlands – one that brings together, in theoretically and empirically compelling ways, both anti-femicide and anti-militarization activisms, all in the context of two of Mexico’s most brutally violent decades in recent memory,” Lugo explained.
A discussion and book signing will take place from 10:30 a.m. to noon Thursday, Feb. 19 in Blumberg Auditorium on the first floor of the University Library. The event is co-presented by the UTEP College of Liberal Arts, CIBS and the Colegio de Chihuahua.
The book’s authors will be available to answer questions from the public after speaking on women’s rights issues and giving examples of resilience related to violence and militarization on the border. Books will be available for purchase and signing by the authors. Several books also will be given away as part of a raffle.
The event is free and open to the public. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 915-747-5196.