It takes two to start a fight.
“If someone wants to murder me, they will.”
Who: Marisela Ortiz Rivera
What: Leads the association “Give us back our daughters”, at the risk of her life.
Lilia was not just Marisela’s pupil, she was also the daughter of a friend, Norma Andrade, herself a teacher. When Norma rang and said Lilia was missing, Marisela immediately feared the worst. Lilia was tall, slim, and beautiful, with golden brown skin. She was the epitome of the girls who had been abducted and later found murdered since the 1990s.
She was found ten days later, rolled up in a bedspread.
As in most cases, there are unanswered questions and tracks which point to the involvement of the police. The bow-shaped marks on Lilia’s arms match those of handcuffs. Two witnesses say they raised the alarm after they saw Lilia trying to run out of an office building, naked from the waist. The police deny receiving such a report. Pubic hair found on Lilia’s body disappeared from the police’s collection of evidence and could not be examined.
And so on.
It is important to offer support to the surviving children of murdered women, who need to work through their experiences.
Marisela felt compelled to speak up about the authorities’ negligence and lack of interest in murder investigations such as that of Lilia. Other families rallied round and the result was the organisation Nuestras Hijas de Regros a Casa (NHRC), which means “Give us back our daughters”.
Supporting families and campaigning soon became a full-time job. Marisela also found that it is important to offer support to the surviving children of murdered women, who need to work through their experiences. Around fifty such children meet regularly. Marisela arranges summer camps and other activities.
“Our goal is that they will grow up without feeling bitter,” she says.
Another of the organisation’s tasks is searching for missing girls, and sometimes they succeed. Some years ago, thanks to descriptions of a van from witnesses, they found the house where a 16-year-old girl was sitting bound, and having been raped, but alive.
“The abductions and the killing haven’t stopped,” says Marisela, “but the modus operandi seems to have changed, from well-planned murders to more spontaneous crimes.”
Another activist mother was assassinated the previous month in broad dayligh.
Marisela’s work is extremely dangerous. When we meet in January 2011, the threats against her have been stepped up. Another activist mother was assassinated the previous month in broad daylight in the capital town of the province while protesting against the release of her daughter’s suspected killer.
Far too many people in Juarez dislike the fact that Marisela continues to report everything she hears about and to talk far and wide about women’s murders, human smuggling and human trafficking. These crimes have offshoots into the drugs cartels. Marisela tells us that a few days previously a middle-aged woman with dyed blonde hair turned up at the school where she sometimes still works with the message that the hit-men are keeping an eye on her. “You are on their list,” said the woman, and disappeared.
I’ve learned to live with fear.
“The state has offered me a bodyguard,” says Marisela, “but that’s no guarantee. If someone wants to murder me they will. The easiest way to hurt us is through our families.”
Marisela’s son-in-law was murdered in November 2010, and the family suspect he was mistaken for Marisela’s son. Witnesses have stated they saw masked men climb out of a police car, but no investigation is underway.
“They were married for just eight months,” Marisela says sadly.
“You are very brave,” we say.
“No, not particularly,” replies Marisela. “But I’ve learned to live with fear. I’ve thought a lot about this, and my family feels the same way, they are behind me. I’m going to carry on.”
Footnote: Marisela Ortiz Rivera fled to the US with her family in the spring of 2011. Her friend and colleague Norma Andrade was shot the same year, but survived. Marisela writes in an email:
It hurts to leave my home, to be far away from my work and my family, my people and my pets ….. from everything it took us years to build up. I just hope that one day things will change and that I can continue to work from a distance for the peace we need. I send you my love, and assure you of my respect for the work you are doing to inform people. We need many people like you!
Maternal deaths: 51 deaths per 100,000 births.
Number of children/woman: 2.3 (2010)
Abortion legislation: Varies greatly from state to state. In Mexico City, a woman has the right to abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy, while in the states of Guanajuato and Querétaro abortion is punishable by 30 years’ imprisonment. ****
Law against rape within marriage: Yes
Violence against women in close relationships: Every third woman in Mexico is, or has been, subjected to violence in a close relationship.