Care Strategies Against Sexist Violence by Men in Public Spaces of Mexico City

Receipt: September 29, 2021

Acceptance: December 3, 2021


The present article picks up on the results of a Participatory Investigation Action with a Feminine Perspective, with an in-depth exploration of the experience of women in public spaces and how, using it as a starting point, their bodies not only resent, but also react to a hostile environment which requires them to be in a constant state of alert. This article emphasizes the awareness of these violences and their implication in women’s urban practices, specifically when generating protection and care strategies. From individual or collective everyday practices in nearby spaces to those that have been created and consolidated by activism, which exposes the different ways in which women organize and face an everyday life in which fear and violence prevail.

Keywords: , , ,

care strategies against sexist violence by men in public spaces of mexico city

The present article picks up on the results of a Participatory Investigation Action with a Feminine Perspective, with an in-depth exploration of the experience of women in public spaces and how, using it as a starting point, their bodies not only resent, but also react to a hostile environment which requires them to be in a constant state of alert. This article emphasizes the awareness of these violences and their implication in women's urban practices, specifically when generating protection and care strategies. From individual or collective everyday practices in nearby spaces to those that have been created and consolidated by activism, which exposes the different ways in which women organize and face an everyday life in which fear and violence prevail.

Keywords: violence, public spaces, women, feminist self-defense.


Since 2017 the Crea Ciudad Collective, together with the Social Habitat Laboratory: participation and gender. fa-unamThe project is part of a collaborative research project on violence against women in public spaces in Mexico City (cdmx). The study, of a qualitative nature, is based on ethnographic work and is part of Participatory Action Research exercises with a Feminist Perspective (iapf) in diverse spaces and groups of women. This approach has made it possible to produce knowledge from the experience of women from different realities, who analyze their context and identify daily practices, personal or collective, that enable transformation processes in their living spaces, specifically those related to self-care and community care.

As a research group,1 adopt the iapfhas given us the possibility of creating a space for mutual inquiry to raise awareness and critical analysis of a situation that affects us as women and to weave a community of support where we can develop capacities and collaborate to contribute to the eradication of male violence. All this from our close spaces, from the construction of action strategies in our daily environments, which can be work, activism, school, our community or neighborhood.

In this sense, the research has made it possible to establish a space for the production of knowledge from different perspectives and includes in-depth interviews, participant observation exercises, workshops and discussion spaces. It has a record of informal talks, drawings, photographs, collective mapping, network monitoring, drawings, workshop reports and personal diaries. The work has been presented in different academic and activist spaces, and has allowed the integration of its results in broader projects, consolidation of work networks and new research possibilities.2.

This text presents the results of the workshop "Taking care of each other", held in Mexico City in 2019. The workshop was divided into two sessions, with the intention of creating a space for reflection and dialogue around two questions: how do we live as women in a city with high rates of violence, particularly violence against women in public spaces, and how do we react and implement strategies to address this context?

The call invited women of legal age who live or carry out a large part of their activities in Mexico City. During the sessions, 16 women between the ages of 18 and 45 participated, with diverse occupations and socioeconomic characteristics. The group was made up of the following profiles: high school and university students, businesswomen and independent workers, professionals in the fields of psychology, architecture and cultural management, teachers of different levels and disciplines, women engaged in domestic work, women currently seeking employment and women artists.

The participants in the sessions are inhabitants of the municipalities of Cuauhtémoc, Azcapotzalco, Coyoacán, Tláhuac and Álvaro Obregón, as well as of the State of Mexico (edomex), specifically from the municipalities of Ecatepec, Cuautitlán Izcalli and Naucalpan, whose daily activities, such as school or work, are carried out in the capital.

First of all, the article presents some figures that give an overview of the alarming context of violence in which we are immersed as women inhabitants of Mexico City. Next, the results of the discussion and analysis carried out by the group of participants are presented. It is important to mention that during these sessions, group exercises and techniques were implemented that allowed us to establish an atmosphere of trust among the participants. This made it easier to free the word and go deeper into the women's emotions, specifically, the fear they experience in public space, how it is felt in the body, what it responds to, how it makes them react, how it manifests itself in the urban experience and how it determines both the use and appropriation of public space by the participants. Then, based on the analysis of a daily displacement, we identify the strategies of protection and individual and collective care that are put in place from diverse conditions and capacities, in the face of a scenario of little effectiveness offered by government policies to curb the violence that currently prevails in the city.

The article emphasizes these strategies and their integration within women's proximate spaces. In this sense, the article concludes with the contributions of feminist self-defense as a viable alternative for managing security. Through interviews with collectives that address the issue, it highlights the potential of articulation spaces among women, whose lines of action bet on the organization and collective care aimed at different areas, building an alternative to develop links and support networks and confront male violence.

Given that the project seeks to give visibility to the proposal and the actions proposed from the experience of women, as well as organizations and collectives, their testimonies are considered essential contributions to its development and progress. For this reason, we are grateful for the collaboration of each of them in this work. Throughout the text, the testimonies and voices of the participating women are integrated through textual quotations; however, at the request of the women in attendance, their real names are not mentioned.

Mexico City: a hostile context for women and girls

It may be that all this has always existed, but it is also that it continuously invades all the spaces, the places where you thought nothing would ever happen to you, at the university, in the university bathrooms! In the cab, in the metrobus, in the unit where you live, even on the bridges! The other time I saw how the women climbing the stairs of the bridge were filmed from below. Before you knew when it was safer to go out, or which neighborhoods to avoid, now you feel vulnerable in all spaces, neighborhoods and transportation, you think that the next one will be you (Gisel, 39 years old, cdmx, 2018).

Mexico City is the state with the highest rate of women victims of violence in public spaces at the national level (inegi, 2016). It is estimated that six out of ten women have been assaulted in different ways in the street, parks or public transportation.3 Among the most frequent aggressions are offensive phrases of a sexual nature (74%) and inappropriate touching (58%) (inegi, 2016). This places the country's capital as one of the environments with the highest prevalence of aggressions against women in community settings.4

The street and public transportation are identified as the spaces where aggressions are concentrated.5 Specifically, the subway is mentioned as the place where most situations of violence occur, which is generally of a sexual nature. According to the Survey on sexual violence in public transportation and public spaces in the cdmx 2018, 88.5% of the women participating in the study reported having been a victim of sexual violence during their journeys on transport or in various public spaces in the city, on at least one occasion in the last year (un Women, 2018). If we take into account that eight out of ten assaulted women do not make the respective complaint to the authorities, the panorama is illustrative. According to this survey, distrust in the authorities, lack of time and lack of knowledge about the reporting protocol are among the main causes for not going to any authority after an aggression. To this must be added the institutional violence exercised against victims during the process.

This situation is alarming and has important consequences in the daily lives of women, of whom, according to the National Survey of Victimization and Perception of Public Safety (inegi, 2018), 82% say they feel unsafe to live and transit in the capital.6

In response to the above, since the first months of 2015, Mexico City joined the Global Initiative "Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces", so the Women's Institute of Mexico City (Instituto de las Mujeres cdmxthe representation of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women).un Women) and the Government of the capital city launched a joint work scheme to carry out diagnoses and measures for the development and implementation of a program to prevent and address gender-based violence in public spaces and public transportation. This precedent becomes the basis for the "Women in Public Transportation" Program.cdmx Ciudad Segura y Amigable para Mujeres y Niñas" (Safe and Friendly City for Women and Girls), presented by the then Chief of Government of the city, Miguel Ángel Mancera Espinosa.

In 2016, the Government of the cdmx presented the 30-100 Strategy,7 This initiative aimed to prevent, address and punish violence against women in public transportation and public spaces, using immediate impact actions within a period of 100 days. The Vive Segura mobile application is part of this strategy. cdmx, the whistle and the campaign "Your complaint is your best defense.

This program, however, does not seem to respond to the complexity of the problem, as shown in the report of several civil society organizations,8 The Observatory for the Follow-up of the 30-100 Strategy presented an evaluation in which they concluded that this public policy was a failure due to different errors, from its design to its ineffectiveness in its operation.

The report points out that the lack of an adequate diagnosis to address the situation with a rights-based approach, gender perspective and social justice, measures without long-term projection and the lack of efficient management of resources were the main problems of the strategy (left wing). et al., 2016).

Five years after its implementation, and according to the information gathered, the Safe Cities for Women and Girls Program does not seem to have formal elements that indicate the effectiveness of its strategies. Neither are the reasons for maintaining it clear, nor how it has evolved based on the contexts and its results.

The outlook is bleak if we consider that in the last three administrations of the cdmx The situation of violence against women in the public transportation system and city spaces has not been significantly reduced or improved. It even seems to be getting stronger, an example of this is the latest crisis of insecurity that arose from reports of attempted kidnappings in the subway.

In January 2019, dozens of women exposed through social networks testimonies about a new modus operandi of kidnappings, in and around the subway system of the cdmx. In only 12 days, the Attorney General's Office of the cdmx (pgj) opened 48 investigation files for attempted kidnappings; however, the criminal group or probable perpetrator has not been fully identified. Among the measures adopted by the city government are the installation of five mobile public prosecutors' offices in different subway stations, the review of investigation files related to reported incidents, lighting in the vicinity of the subway, and additional police officers.

In parallel to these denunciations, various feminist actions began to be organized, including the creation of maps to mark the subway stations where these events were taking place.9

How do women living in Mexico City experience this context?

A few months ago, two men, a woman and I were talking. One of the men was a friend who was visiting Mexico City for the first time. We were at my house and we were talking about the most strategic route the foreign friend could take to get to the apartment, after a dinner he had scheduled that night in the south of the city. I explained the route in detail and at the end, keeping in mind that he would arrive between 10 and 11 at night, I told him, without thinking, in a very natural way, that when I got to the subway there were some safe cabs that I could take to bring him here. The other man who was participating in the conversation asked in surprise why, if the subway is very close. To which the tourist friend added that in any case, if he was mugged, he had nothing of value. The woman next to me mentioned that it wasn't for fear of mugging; she was taking the cab at that hour for fear of walking alone through those dark streets. The tourist friend asked her what could happen to her. She replied that she takes the cab for fear of being raped. At that moment I began to think that men and women do not have the same fears when walking through space, and therefore, we do not have the same precautions, nor the same restrictions or limits. The experience is not the same (Lucina, 36 years old, cdmx, 2019).

For several years now, and from different spheres, there have been warnings about the situation of women and girls in cities, who face dangers and fear physical, verbal and sexual aggression in public spaces, ranging from comments and gestures to rape and even femicide.

For Carolina Bustamante, "fear can be read from the body and gender, because for some reason the common denominator is fear of being violated for being and identifying ourselves as women" (2017). For the author, the common element is "being sexually assaulted, harassed, abused, killed, and having our bodies brutally wounded and exposed in public" (Bustamante, 2017).

This common feeling could be seen in the accounts of the women who, even in different conditions and with different life histories, show a shared fear, a fear that goes through all of us (although in different ways) and a permanent state of alert: "I feel uneasy, worried. The truth is that walking alone in the street and especially at night causes me stress, I am afraid of being kidnapped, of being raped, especially that" (Paulina, 39 years old, cdmx, 2019).

In order to immerse ourselves in the experience, we return to Lorena Pajares, who mentions that "all participatory research begins with a personal reflection aimed at bringing out prejudices, assumptions, doubts or subconscious or invisible positions".10 (2020: 304). Considering the above, the first workshop detonates its reflections based on the question of what is the relationship that as a woman I have developed with the public space of the cdmx. The journey starts with the identification of fear as a physical and bodily feeling of its own. The exchange of experiences interweaves a collective story that gives a guideline to situate the emotion in the public space and to understand the way in which it affects the different dimensions that compose it. The workshop served as a space for listening and exchange that led to reflect on the particular experience of the participating women, according to the life conditions of each one, as well as the interconnection with other systems of oppression, in addition to gender or sex.

Ana Falú mentions that

violence individualized through the body of women, the body we inhabit, is transformed into the social and political and allows us to unveil and understand other discriminations, such as those linked to sexual choice, ethnicity, age, social status or place of residence, which mark the lives of people in cities (2009:16).

In this sense, it was noted that this common feeling is impacted by the differences or specificities of each one; age, place of origin and economic condition shape the experience of the women in the workshops. For example, the participants consider that the current violence affects young women more severely, depriving them of their daily activities, which impacts their personal development, their abilities and their right to leisure. Sayda, a high school student and inhabitant of Tláhuac, mentions that in her neighborhood it is common for rumors to spread about kidnappings and rapes of young women, especially after the news of kidnappings in the subway. However, she assures that there has always been a greater risk of suffering an attack because she is a woman, as she has seen it with her cousins who live in the same neighborhood:

Since high school they gave me advice on how to take care of myself; now in high school I have stopped going to places, or I hardly accept invitations, even worse if I have to go out at night. When we see each other, my friends and I go to someone's house and then they pick me up. My sister, for example, who is still in high school, goes from school to my house; my dad or my brother go for her, they don't let her go out in the evenings, because the neighborhood is dangerous, and even more so for us (Sayda, 18 years old, cdmx, 2019).

According to Aída, a resident of Cuautitlán Izcalli, younger women may be more likely to suffer an episode of violence, as she believes that the image given in the space and the tools they acquire to face it have an influence.

I can't stand feeling that men see me anymore; that's why I no longer go alone to places where I feel vulnerable. I realized that the younger you are, the more you are seen as a victim, the more defenseless you are. Also, the younger you are, the more you experience it, it impacts you a lot. If they said something to me or touched me, I was paralyzed and avoided it. I suffered all the way. Now, when I am older, I dare to confront them, I answer them and defend myself (Aida, 33 years old, edomex, 2019).

Living in a certain area of the city or its surroundings will trigger other types of precautions to continue normal activities, different from living in the central neighborhoods. Women living in Ecatepec, a municipality in the State of Mexico, where a Gender Violence Alert has been declared since 2015, who commute daily to Mexico City for work or school have had to adapt their daily activities based on the insecurity in their neighborhoods. These provisions are in addition to others that have to do with the territory itself, such as the lack of facilities and services, the absence of transportation routes and safe transportation, the degradation of physical space, and so on.

In the same way, economic conditions play an important role in adding or not elements that favor protection. Thus, a disadvantage was observed among women who do not have a budget earmarked for safe transportation. The risks, constraints and impacts will not be the same. Even with these and other differences, the women in the study confessed to having experienced some situation of violence in the city's public spaces. These events have occurred very commonly on public transportation, in different areas of the city such as streets, parks and squares, but also in schools, libraries or museums, places that the participants perceived as safe.

The testimonies show that these events present different levels of aggression: "from simple things, that they pass by and touch you whatever, all the time in public transportation, touching, being called rude names, that's what happens every day; well, I say simple because I have been in situations where I have been very afraid" (Eli, 32 years old), cdmx, 2019).

Women, in addition to enduring the climate of insecurity that prevails in the city, suffer different types of violence on a daily basis in their daily movements and spaces, especially sexual violence. These occur randomly, that is, the possibility of being assaulted exists regardless of factors such as age, occupation or origin, among others, (Falú, 2013; Bustamante, 2017).

It is not only the fear of passing through or using a certain space that is felt, but also fear as a result of unequal power relations, which constructs women as a territory that can be outraged with impunity. Women live in fear, whether you take a cab, you are at school, driving, or you come back early so as not to walk at night, any situation or space, I think we all feel fear at some point (Itzel, 26 years old, cdmx, 2019).

Paula Soto mentions that fear is a "subtle and profound type of violence, which by not being so easily perceptible contributes to create an environment of threat to women's freedom in urban spaces" (Soto, 2012: 148). For her part, Falú summarizes it as "a fear that limits their right to enjoy public space and hinders their participation, and that is basically supported by their bodies visualized as objects of domination" (Falú, 2014: 20).

Soto points to the relationship between otherness and the spatial symbolization of fear, and mentions that this "is not an elaboration carried out by agents individually; on the contrary, it is intrinsically relational, insofar as an imaginary of an other or others defined as potential aggressors is constructed" (2012: 154).

In the words of Maru, a resident of the Cuauhtémoc district:

The body not only resents, but reacts to a hostile scenario in which you have to be on constant alert. Your body gets used to being tense. It learns to be defensive. If I go alone, I feel insecure, I go looking everywhere to see that everything is in order or I don't notice anything strange (Maru, 30, cdmx, 2019).

The situation is aggravated, according to the participants, because the impacts generated by the violence that plagues the city in general pushes people away, "everyone takes care of themselves and it is impossible to take care of the other. People don't expose themselves just because you are being groped, they don't get involved for fear of getting hurt, they think that these things happen and no one supports you" (Ángela, 23 years old, edomex, 2019).

This feeds the imaginary of a hostile urban space that generates a feeling of loss of freedom and impossibility to act, which, according to the participants, is worsened by the continued acts of the violent episode. Shame, frustration, distrust and anger are the emotions that the women described after being attacked; more than the act itself, they say, it is due more to the confusion of not knowing what to do or not having the capacity to do it. To this should be added the disqualification of the victim and the passivity of those who witness the act of violence, or who take a position that places responsibility or blame on the women.

In Soto's words, violence against women in public spaces "does not end in the violent act itself, but continues to act through its consequences, as they systematically maintain feelings of personal devaluation and insecurity" (2012: 162).

Gisel, a high school teacher and workshop participant, notes the repercussions of these acts of violence against women, since although she mentions having identified situations of risk or violence, at the time it is difficult to act or defend oneself.

I feel guilty for not reacting at the moment; frustrated because I could have done more things: defended myself, confronted the person who is making me feel this way; I can't do it, there is something that limits me, I am afraid of reacting badly and generating discomfort among the people who are there (Gisel, 39 years old, cdmx, 2019).

The situation is complex, since in addition to the normalization of violence against women, the constant "being alert", "taking care", "trying to see the intentions", "trying to avoid it" conceives the other as a being that should not be trusted and generates constant stress that affects the emotional state; it also denotes the perception that the violence experienced by women is their responsibility and not a problem to be addressed collectively (Zúñiga, 2014).

The sensation of fear in the face of the threat, or of violence itself, leaves after-effects on women's physical memory and esteem, and disqualifies their capacity to control and make decisions, as well as the guarantee that they will be able to move through a safe space. Women's experience in the urban space incorporates from the outset a fear manifested in the uncertainty of experiencing an episode of violence; this entails limitations and sometimes a loss of autonomy, and a state of constant anxiety, an anxiety that has important repercussions at the emotional/personal level and in the relationships expressed in the public space.

However, in the face of this situation, women have found ways of coping through the deployment of care strategies and practices that they transmit and consolidate in close groups, a topic that is addressed in the following section.

Care strategies: from spontaneous to collective appropriation processes.

For some time now I feel that the same experience forces you to think about how to dress, plan the schedule for visiting a place, but then you also enter into a dynamic with your friends and start to share routes, you make shared trips with other acquaintances, you find out which cab application is the safest to travel with, you go out "en bola" (Liliana, 19 years old), edomex, 2019).

Awareness of the violence that is reproduced in the space translates into the planning of activities, which are aimed at adding elements in favor of their protection and creating individual and collective strategies to feel safe in public spaces. These are strategies that "become a habit" and are perfected and complemented by the information obtained, new technologies and care networks that are built.

The women in the workshop mentioned that since they were very young they have implemented or heard about these protection practices, which often come from the exchange of ideas with other women, family, friends, acquaintances, "since you are a teenager and your aunt tells you to take your giant needle to sting the men who want to grope you" (Paulina, 39 years old), cdmx, 2019). However, they comment that lately they have integrated other strategies that they socialize and implement in close circles, generally with women from family, school, work, friends or neighbors, using different forms of transmission: instant messaging groups, social networks, workshops or meetings. These networks are mostly established in closed groups, where there is a bond that generates trust, which allows them to spontaneously adopt these care practices.

My students in the State of Mexico have virtual communication groups to report suspicious situations or important announcements; there are also times when those who work in the city agree to travel together. It started with a message from a girl who was suspicious of the cab she was in; she received a lot of support and then we all started to let her know where we were going (Sandra, 29 years old, from the State of Mexico), edomex, 2019).

The above highlights the way in which women face a context that limits and violates them. The ways in which they do, protect or take care of themselves will depend on how factors such as place of residence, age or economic resources are used to their advantage when it comes to deploying care strategies.

The following section shows more specifically the protection and care strategies carried out individually and collectively during a relocation.

Getting around as women in the city: everything is always just in case

One of the workshop exercises was aimed at learning about the protection and care practices aimed at avoiding risk and insecurity situations before, during and after the journey; to achieve this, it was proposed that the daily commute be broken down step by step, mentioning departure and arrival times, reasons and destinations. It was necessary to be aware of each stage from preparation to arrival at the planned destination and, from there, to identify what they foresee, what resources and alternatives they have, the characteristics of the space they travel through and what care strategies they implement in each trip. While the journeys were narrated, an attempt was made to generate a discussion on how they began to apply these strategies, how they integrated them into their routes, with whom they carry them out and how effective they have been.

It was difficult for the participants to identify these practices, since many of them have internalized them, have adopted them since they were very young and mention that they do them without thinking. To facilitate the discussion, the journey was divided into three moments: before leaving, during the trip and at the end of the trip, when they arrive at their destination.

The exercise revealed the diversity of existing practices, most of which are carried out according to one's own experiences, the information that is obtained, the conditions of the space through which one moves and the capacity of each one to carry them out, translated into the economic resources available or the care networks among friends, neighbors, family members or school groups or activists. However, it also has an impact on psychosocial and physical skills, as well as the control of emotions to carry out some action or to face certain situations.

The following is a generalized presentation of the caregiving strategies that women reported using during a daily commute. Although not all of the strategies mentioned are always put into practice, those that are constant among the participants were taken into account.

Before the trip, the women identify the area where they will go, the transportation available, the conditions of routes or spaces, stores and activities, as well as whether the area is considered dangerous. They also plan whether they need to be accompanied (by a family member, friend, etc.), modify the route (to avoid unsafe areas or transportation), the clothing they will wear (so as not to attract attention) and access to transportation (schedules and routes). In addition to this, the women also arrange to have a phone with credit and battery, so that they can notify their family or friends. Some women commented that they would bring changes of clothes and objects that could be used at any given moment to protect themselves.

During the journey, the women mentioned being in a state of general alertness, which means being observers of what is happening. They identify elements of risk in the space and react to them, trying above all to avoid them. For example, they get off the bus if they notice that they are going to be left alone, change places or change sidewalks or streets. The participants mentioned that during the trip they often imagine possibilities to flee or protect themselves, which has allowed them to identify "trustworthy" stores, emergency buttons, the most accessible and crowded streets, etc., during their daily journeys.

Some women mentioned more precise strategies, such as sending photos of the cab plates to groups of friends or family members, behaving "discreetly" so as not to attract attention, always placing themselves in certain places on the transport, carrying objects to defend themselves such as keys or pencils. When they arrive at their destination, it is very common for them to notify of their arrival and send their location in groups of WhatsApp They say that when they arrive at their destination, they are usually less stressed, less observant and less alert. They mention that usually when they arrive at their destination they are less stressed, less observant and no longer in a state of alertness.

These practices show the development of spatial skills, i.e., they have a very fine knowledge of the urban space they travel daily. In this sense, women will rely on a knowledge of the city often in terms of danger: dark streets, lonely subway transfers, safe cab spots, etc. The aforementioned care strategies show a complex process that is socialized, when they are shared or transmitted, when they are trained, repeated, improved, they will trigger collective appropriation processes and form mechanisms of popular female self-defense.

During the workshop, several of the participants mentioned that, convinced of wanting to expand their protection and care strategies and to have the power to react in case of aggression, they have approached feminist self-defense collectives. They confess that although they carry objects such as keys, pencils, perfumes intentionally to use them in case of danger, they do not know how to do it correctly and it can even be counterproductive. They indicate that this approach to feminist self-defense has been gradual, ranging from acquiring self-defense objects (specifically rings, knives, key rings, panic buttons, etc.) to using them in case of danger, sprays), learn to defend or train themselves and belong to support groups.

Strategies carried out by feminist self-defense groups or collectives

Guided by the women participating in the workshop, two experiences of feminist self-defense based in Mexico City were carried out: Diva Ortiz, from Colectivo Cuadrilla Violeta, and Mariana Ramirez, from Grl Pwr/Local Girl Gang, with the objective of presenting, albeit in an incipient manner, some elements that make up this practice as an alternative for the protection and management of women's security.

In response to the increase in cases of violence in public spaces in different cities of the country, many women have begun to adopt feminist self-defense as an option to react, anticipate and prevent, but also to question and vindicate the right to a life free of violence. The advances of the movement have given rise to incursions into different spheres and respond to the types and levels of violence through different means and expressions.11 In Latin America, feminist self-defense, beyond being seen as a purely physical training discipline, is taken up again as a way of acting within the movement. Self-defense has broadened the horizons of women, and its strategies cover different axes and spheres in which male violence occurs. It relies on various media and formats to disseminate information and avoid risk situations, and is therefore considered a protection strategy. In this sense, many of the collectives and groups integrate these practices as an autonomous way of managing their security and protecting their integrity. In this sense, feminist self-defense, according to the interviewed collectives that deploy it, is a process that allows them to have tools to face episodes of violence or to get out of risk situations. It integrates several dimensions, from physical practice, psychological and emotional care, legal or protocol issues, etc. They also provide strategies to deal with situations in spaces such as transportation, the street, places of leisure, and lately digital spaces.

The forms of communication are diverse, social networks and internet platforms are a tool that has been able to extend their transmission. However, they prioritize the training and practice of these strategies, so they assure that what is important are the processes themselves. That is to say, feminist self-defense gives the possibility of training, strengthening physical skills and response to aggressions, but also gives the possibility of creating collective spaces of care where different practices of social transformation converge.

Emerged in 2016, Cuadrilla Violeta is an autonomous space dedicated to feminist self-defense; it seeks, from the practice of boxing and other bodily expressions, to detonate collective care among women and the construction of their own strategies to address the current context of macho violence experienced in the country. The project, coordinated by Diva Ortiz, boxer and anthropologist, aims to work with collective techniques that contribute to the strengthening and creation of support networks, as well as multidisciplinary exercises, which allow to cover the elements of the wide range of violence to which we are exposed.

We are in a context where we are constantly experiencing violence in all areas and we must be armed, by that we mean that we must have knowledge about protocols and legal issues, about our rights. Also about how to prevent situations depending on the place where we are, in the public space, in the cab, in the nightclub (Diva Ortiz, cdmx, 2019).

For Cuadrilla Violeta, it is not a response to an attack. Its approach is oriented towards an act of appropriation of the body as the first territory, and extends to all spaces of women's lives. In this sense, establishing violence-free spaces in the city involves work that goes from the individual to the collective; awareness of their rights and the identification of violence translated into public space are obligatory steps before implementing self-defense strategies.

Mariana Ramirez, from Grl Pwr/Local Girl Gang, mentions that feminist self-defense facilitates women's access to the recognition of their bodies by collectivizing experiences, with the objective of thinking and acting together and understanding that male violence is not an individual problem.

In this sense, the body work of feminist self-defense is integral and takes into account the conditions and structures of the context in which it takes place. That is, it seeks to change the narrative of women's bodies in public space: from passive women to women capable of responding effectively.

The methodology of Grl Pwr/Local Girl Gang is based on three work axes: physical training, awareness of violence against women from a feminist perspective, and self-care, which extends to support and accompaniment. "We seek to create a safe space where they can acquire tools from feminist theory in its various aspects, which makes reflection and deconstruction possible" (Mariana Ramirez, cdmx, 2019).

In the experience of both groups, these spaces give rise to their own ways of taking care of themselves. They work to understand and manage fear, which ceases to be paralyzing; it is re-signified to overcome the immediate objective of reacting well to a situation of risk, and move towards the appropriation of the body as the first territory, and to reflect collectively on how to confront violence in the city. This shows the political and transformative charge of these spaces. Care ceases to be a purely individual responsibility to be assumed as collective, and is done with other women building in community, seeking protection, but also healing and action.

Final thoughts

The internalization of the uncertainty and the constant threat that public space represents for women has important implications when it comes to making daily decisions regarding the activities carried out in the city (mobility, how to behave and dress, schedules, etc.). Awareness of the violence that is reproduced in the space translates into the planning of activities, which will be oriented towards adding elements in favor of protection and creating individual and collective strategies, in order to feel safe in public spaces. These care strategies are deployed from a process that is socialized, shared, transmitted or done together with other women, which will trigger organizational dynamics, the creation of networks and popular protection mechanisms. This is a situation that is necessary in an urban context of violence and impunity such as the one of the cdmx, where women have to face different types of dangers, in addition to male violence.

On the other hand, and as a possible alternative, women's and feminist collectives are committed to building formal spaces of care and defense where women propose a collective management of security based on the strengthening of skills that generate trust, but also solidarity. In other words, the idea of collective care, a form of organization that seeks autonomy in security by weaving networks with other women who live and experience the same violence, with whom they feel identified and with whom they jointly create strategies to combat it. This is important because it breaks with the individual idea of protection and expands to more complex notions, allowing us to glimpse avenues of action and analysis that allow us to address the problems generated by violence against women from other perspectives.


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Paola Flores Miranda is a popular educator and researcher at the Social Habitat Laboratory: participation and gender (lahas), of the Faculty of Architecture of the unamThe project addresses issues such as the organization and participation of women in poor neighborhoods and facilitates training programs for groups in rural and urban areas, from a popular education approach, with topics such as local development, habitat improvement, feminist urbanism and organizational strengthening. Together with the Crea Ciudad Collective, it conducts workshops for the prevention of violence with young people based on awareness of the problem and the creation of collective care networks.

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