Digital Strategies for the Everyday Mobility of Young Women in Mexico City

Receipt: October 8, 2021

Acceptance: December 14, 2021


What actions do women take to travel in a public space they perceive as dangerous? This article analyzes the way in which fear conditions the intraurban mobility of women in Mexico City and the actions they generate in response. Based on questionnaires and interviews carried out through digital media to young middle-class women aged 19 to 30, we analyze the knowledge they develop to feel safer during their travels within the city. Their perception of security and fear are conditioned by factors such as gender, age, their experience and the areas in which they move, which leads them to create multiple response strategies. These women use digital technology to generate security networks, turning mobility into an activity performed from A virtual co-presence and under a logic of collective care. virtual co-presence and under a logic of collective care.

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digital strategies for the everyday mobility of young women in mexico city

What actions do women take to travel in a public space they perceive as dangerous? This article analyzes the way in which fear conditions the intraurban mobility of women in Mexico City and the actions they generate in response. Based on questionnaires and interviews carried out through digital media to young middle-class women aged 19 to 30, we analyze the knowledge they develop to feel safer during their travels within the city. Their perception of security and fear are conditioned by factors such as gender, age, their experience and the areas in which they move, which leads them to create multiple response strategies. These women use digital technology to generate security networks, turning mobility into an activity performed from a virtual co-presence and under a logic of collective care.

Keywords: mobility of women, imaginaries of fear, insecurity, digital strategies for mobility, Mexico City.

Introduction: being a young, middle-class woman, and moving in Mexico City

For Marlene, the five minutes from her house to the cab stand seemed like an eternity. She was leaving before seven in the morning and the street was deserted. If something happened to her, no one would know or help her. Rape, disappearance, harassment... The 25-year-old lives in Ciudad Azteca, in the municipality of Ecatepec, in the State of Mexico, and is well aware of the risks she could face during her travels. That entity has a double gender violence alert due to the high number of femicides and disappearances of girls and women registered in its territory. Marlene talked about her fear with a friend and they reached an agreement: they would share their locations in real time to accompany each other. Cindy, 28, takes similar measures. She lives in Naucalpan, a municipality where there is also a gender alert, and sends messages to her mother and her partner every step of the way. Carla is 26 years old, lives in Benito Juarez and belongs to a WhatsApp group for emergencies. A notification from that group sets off the alert: it means that a woman is in danger and that the others must mobilize to help her. Despite having different points of origin and destination, as well as different mobility practices, these young women implement strategies to feel safer during their travels, including the use of digital tools that they activate from their cell phones.

Being a woman and moving around Mexico City implies different risks, but even with fear at the surface, young women must and want to move around. For this reason, they develop responses to the dangers to which they feel exposed, with the means at their disposal and based on their life trajectories. In this article we analyze how some young women between the ages of 19 and 30 develop this knowledge in order to move around Mexico City (cdmx). Most of the data on mobility and safety covers the Metropolitan Zone of the Valley of Mexico (Zona Metropolitana del Valle de México).zmvm), which is made up of the 16 municipalities of the city, 59 municipalities in the State of Mexico and one municipality in the state of Hidalgo. We use this data from the zmvm However, we took Mexico City as the territorial unit of reference, as it is the most frequent origin-destination site of the women interviewed.

Although millions of trips are made daily between the country's capital city and its surrounding municipalities, according to the Origin-Destination Survey (eod) 2017,1 It is more common for people with a higher level of schooling to have origin and destination districts for work reasons within the city. The same is true the other way around: the lower the level of schooling, the more trips people make, the longer the trip, and the more likely they are to travel from the conurbation (inegi, 2017). In this research our interlocutors were women who, for the most part, have higher education and reside and commute in Mexico City.

The following findings are part of an investigation into the primarily digital strategies for safe mobility used by some middle-class young women.2 This article is divided into five sections. The first section provides a brief context of mobility in the study area and some methodological considerations about research in times of pandemic. It then analyzes the perception of insecurity and fear experienced by women during their journeys through the city. Subsequently, the imaginaries for mobility are discussed, as well as the strategies that emerge during mobility. In conclusion, a recapitulation is presented with clues for future research.

Some methodological and contextual considerations: investigating mobility in pandemic times.

Due to the health contingency due to the coronavirus sars-cov-2The fieldwork was conducted digitally and consisted of a survey and in-depth interviews conducted through video-call platforms. Mobility studies usually make use of mobile methodologies, in which the researcher must put his or her body in the field, but the pandemic context made it necessary to decentralize the notion of space within anthropological practice, detaching it from physical presence. Then, the concept of co-presence (Di Prospero, 2017) was chosen to think about other possibilities of situating oneself in the field and generating connections with women. In addition to its methodological advantages, this concept became a useful tool to think about the roles played by digital tools in the mobility of some young women.

The survey, which consisted of 19 questions on mobility practices, was disseminated to five women's groups in the zmvmThe age range is between 18 and 30 years old: three from Facebook and two from WhatsApp. A total of 300 responses were obtained, from which 27 interview partners were identified for the interviews. These were conducted through the Zoom and Google Meet platforms and their objective was to deepen the experiences of each woman, delving into their fears, their ways of relating to the city, their mobility practices and the strategies, both digital and analog, that they put in place during their daily travels.

However, the choice of a completely digital methodology, as well as the groups observed and in which the survey was published, entail biases that must be stated. To begin with, it involved contacting women who have access to the Internet, a computer or smartphone and a social network account. In addition, the groups in which we conducted the observation are constituted by members of academic communities of private universities who, for the most part, are women of middle socioeconomic status. So this is not a diverse sample, since it is made up of young people with higher education, who move around specific areas of the city and who, even when they use public transportation, have the means to use other modes of transportation, such as their own car or application cabs. Moreover, since they belong to sectors of society that are privileged, the objective risk they face is lower than that of other women. This is where the imaginaries of fear and the social construction of risk come into play, because even though these women are not as likely to suffer a mishap, they are very aware of the idea that "the next one could be me".

In addition, it is necessary to proceed carefully in the analysis of what happens in social networks, as these are not neutral spaces and operate based on algorithms that privilege certain contents and hide others. The digital communities observed function in a particular way and generate specific support strategies, which operate within the limits that they themselves establish. Likewise, the discourse around insecurity that these women construct and the actions they generate in response must be understood from their context and place of enunciation. Despite the biases and limitations to reach a more diverse group of women, the methodological strategy implemented allowed us to overcome the obstacles imposed by the pandemic, since it made it possible to conduct interviews and tours without being in the field, as well as to know the specific manifestations of the fears that are generalized among women who move around the country's capital on a daily basis.

Who are the interlocutors? Of the 27 women interviewed, 23 are between 19 and 29 years of age, two of them are in their thirties and two are over forty years old. Most of them live in Mexico City, but four of them live in the suburban municipalities of Naucalpan (to the northwest of the city) and Ecatepec (to the northeast). zmvmThe women are engaged in their work and leisure activities in the city. Regarding the level of schooling, 25 of them studied or are studying higher education, while one studied up to high school and the other up to secondary school. The vast majority studied or are studying in private universities. Their occupations are diverse: undergraduate and graduate students, professionals in private companies, civil society organizations, government agencies and one domestic worker. While almost all of them used public transportation before the pandemic, they also had the financial means to use other modes of transportation. Their places of residence and destination are varied, although most required two modes of travel (e.g., walking and subway, or bicycling and subway).

The decision was made to characterize this group of women as middle and upper-middle class, based on the following criteria: most of them study or have studied at private universities such as the Universidad Iberoamericana (uia), the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (itam) and the Tecnológico de Monterrey (Tec), whose monthly fees amount to several thousand pesos; they live in consolidated residential areas; they spend more than five thousand pesos a month on food consumption outside the home; they have internet service, computer and smartphones and have the economic possibilities to use different modes of transportation. In addition, the Social Development Index (ids) to reinforce this characterization, since most of the interviewees live and move in the western part of the city, where the areas with the highest idsat both the mayoral and block level. Ten of them live in the Benito Juárez district, which has the highest number of women in the country. ids Mexico City's highest in Mexico City. Also, most of them are located in areas with good coverage of various modes of transportation and mobility infrastructure. Additionally, all of them use digital tools for mobility, although their adoption processes and logics of use differ. In the following lines we focus on the use of these tools for safety during transportation, as well as the fears they respond to.

Through the data obtained, we found that the fears and perceptions that these women have about the city, as well as the strategies they generate in response, are conditioned by gender, age, life experiences and areas of origin and destination. The use of digital technology is one of several responses, but it is distinguished from the rest in that it enables the creation of safety nets, which turn mobility into an activity that is carried out from digital co-presence and under a logic of collective care.

Mobility and safety in Mexico City

First, it is necessary to briefly outline some central issues surrounding women, mobility and insecurity in Mexico City and its conurbation. The sum of the municipalities in the edomex and Hidalgo and of the municipalities of the cdmx that make up the zmvmis the most densely populated and densely populated area in the country. More specifically, according to the 2020 Population and Housing Census of the inegi, There are 9,209,944 people living in its 16 municipalities, of whom 52.2% are women and 47.8% are men. The bulk of the population is between 25 and 50 years of age. Most of them are adults of productive age, who make multiple trips per day.. But what are its mobility characteristics?

Mexico City has a wide range of transportation modes, including mass and government-run transportation -such as the metro or metrobus-, concessioned transportation -such as microbuses and colectivos-, cabs and bicycle rental services, among others. There is a wide range of mobility options, but the coverage, quality and safety of each mode of transportation varies greatly. According to the eod 2017, on a regular weekday, people over the age of six take 34.56 million trips on the zmvmof which 11.15 comprise exclusively walking. Most of the population of the zmvm who commute on a daily basis do so by public transport. According to the eodThe two most used modes of transportation are the colectivo (combi) and the subway, while the main destinations tend to be home and those related to work and study activities.

However, there are important differences in the way women and men move around the city. According to the Origin-Destination Study of the zmvm 2017, of the 15.6 million commuters in this area, 49% are men and 51% are women. The same survey establishes that women make 16% more trips than men, but these are 30% shorter than theirs. In addition to the above, it is possible to identify four aspects that characterize women's mobility: (1) they have more complex travel patterns than men, as they make more stops and move at more times; (2) they have less access to private and motorized transportation; (3) they use public transportation more; and (4) they walk more (Díaz, 2018).

In what ways does insecurity affect women's mobility? What differences exist between women's mobility and their perception of security? In addition to specific mobility needs and patterns, women are more vulnerable to harassment or sexual violence both in transportation and in public spaces. As mentioned above, this section is based on data from Mexico City (cdmx), in that it is the place where most of the young women interviewed reside and commute. According to a 2018 survey conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the. cdmx has the most dangerous public transportation system for women. It indicates that three out of four women in the capital fear harassment, abuse or sexual violence on board public transport and that safety is their main concern when traveling. These results are not isolated. According to data from the Secretariat of Mobility of Mexico City, in addition to suffering more aggressions than men, women invest more time and money in their transfers (Semovi, 2019). While it takes them up to two hours and 29 minutes to complete their trips in various areas of the city, women spend more than 2.5 hours in their commutes. In addition, they use more cabs, both street and app cabs, which represents a greater expense for them.

Other disparities between women and men with respect to the use of and access to transportation modes, which have an impact on safety during trips, are those related to trip purposes. It is estimated that about 50% of total trips by women in the city are for care work (Méndez, 2020), such as shopping or accompanying and taking or picking up someone. This implies that women not only make more trips, but also tend to cover shorter distances, have multiple destinations, and have one or more dependents. Educational centers, shopping areas and medical offices stand out as frequent destinations for women, especially during off-peak hours. How does this relate to safety? When burdened with caregiving tasks, women's ability to access independent or self-driving transportation, such as bicycles, is affected. In addition, because the city and its transportation systems are designed for men of productive age, women move through an urban environment that is not designed for them. During off-peak hours, the buses tend to be emptier and less guarded, which makes it more likely that they will be victims of aggression. In addition, because they walk more, they must travel on poorly lit and poorly paved streets, which negatively affects their perception of safety.

The diagnosis on violence against women and girls in public transport in Mexico City, formulated in 2017 by the capital's government, the Women's Institute, El Colegio de México, and onu Mujeres México identifies that women's mobility is limited by factors other than gender, such as age, the mode of transportation used, travel zones and socioeconomic level. This is related to the strategies they design to deal with the structural inequality they experience on a daily basis and to the fact that the transportation available is not designed for their needs and ways of traveling. The diagnosis concludes that, during their journeys, women are confronted with male violence in its various manifestations, ranging from street harassment and touching to rape, issues that are often "normalized".

The fear that women have and the differentiated experiences of displacement with respect to men are proof that mobilities are not neutral social practices (Jirón, Carrasco and Rebolledo, 2020). Movement should be understood as a source of status, of power, which is influenced by factors that lead some to move while others remain immobile. Security and differentiated fears are examples of factors that favor or limit women's mobility, although to varying degrees.

Violence, and the fear of it, become key elements to the daily experiences of women travelers in cities, as the constant lack of safety in public spaces impacts the decisions women make (Viswanath, 2018). Fear permeates everything, lurks as a constant threat not only to mobility, but to women's overall well-being, by reducing their living space and affecting their relationship with the city (Maldonado, 2005). Talking about the feeling or perception of security is relevant because, even though women may not suffer episodes or incidents of violence on a daily basis, the fear of violence does accompany them on a daily basis.

But what is the overall picture of insecurity in Mexico City and why does it seem to affect women more? The National Survey of Victimization and Perception of Public Safety (envip3) 2020 estimates that, in 2019, about 39,556 men and 35,238 women were victims of crime in the nation's capital (inegi, 2020). While femicide is not among the most frequent crimes - robbery or assault on the street or public transport and fraud - it has increased. From 2015 to 2019, 253 femicides were registered in the cdmx71 of these occurred in 2019 (Mexico City Social Development Evaluation Council, 2020).

Insecurity in the country's capital is a widespread problem, but it does not affect women and men in the same way. In general, it is women who are more afraid of being victimized. The "other crimes" category, which includes kidnapping or express kidnapping and sexual crimes such as harassment, groping, exhibitionism, attempted rape and rape, has a rate of 794 for men and 4,045 for women, a situation that is aggravated if we consider that the vast majority of these crimes are not reported.

At the local level, according to the 2016 National Survey on the Dynamics of Household Relationships (endireh), Mexico City has the highest rate of violence against women (inegi, 2016). The survey takes into account different spheres of occurrence of violence and the cdmx is at the forefront in the school and community spheres. Regarding the latter, the entity registers 61.1% of violence against women, against the national average of 38.7%. This violence occurs, in order of importance, in the street or park (65.3%), on the bus or minibus (13.2%), in the subway (6.5%), in the market, plaza, tianguis or shopping center (5.2%), metrobus (1.2%). The aggressions occurred in the street are mainly sexual (66.8%), and include behaviors such as offensive compliments, intimidation, stalking, sexual abuse and rape. The most affected are women aged 25-34, followed by women aged 15-24. Although the figures show that young women suffer most from violence in the community, the percentages are also high among older women.

In view of the growing number of femicides and aggressions against women, in 2019 the Mexico City government declared a gender violence alert (avgm) in the entity. The mechanism is designed to protect women's rights and contemplates that the different orders of government must carry out emergency actions to confront and eradicate feminicidal violence and grievances that impede the full exercise of women's human rights (Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres, 2021). For decades, the local government has implemented different policies and measures to protect women and girls in public transportation and public spaces. For example, the delimitation of exclusive cars in the subway and metrobus, the creation of the Atenea transportation line, which is only for women; campaigns against sexual harassment and the implementation of safe paths, with surveillance cameras and panic buttons.

Although the gender alert came into effect in the cdmx until 2019, since 2015 already existed in some municipalities in the metropolitan area of the State of Mexico, several of which have a double alert for femicide and disappearance of women. The zmvm It therefore concentrates several entities on alert and is an area with a high incidence of aggressions against girls and women.

After this brief context, it can be understood that women have different mobility practices than men, as they feel more insecure and are more prone to certain dangers. Fear, especially of sexual violence, becomes a conditioning factor for their mobility and their relationship with the urban environment. But they are motivated by the desire to occupy public space without fear preventing them from using and enjoying it, motivated by the desire to know, to experience the city together with others; weaving networks of knowledge and affection from the collective, with the certainty that others accompany and care for them.

Imaginaries and representations of insecurity and mobility

Where does the concern for security and the responses that are generated as a consequence arise from? How does fear inscribe itself on space and bodies? Urban imaginaries are a good starting point to answer these questions. They express collective feelings and operate as unwritten codes that permit and prohibit certain practices (Reguillo, 2008). They are socially shared images-guides that give meaning to mental representation, can guide action and influence the daily lives of subjects (Hiernaux, 2007; Lindón, 2007). The imaginary is a useful concept that combines the perception of insecurity that women have in the city, the social representations they construct around the risks to which they consider themselves exposed and the way in which this affects their mobility practices. In this way, it is possible to understand the existence of certain hours, zones and populations that are off-limits, as well as the existence of a corpus unwritten of knowledges (Ortega, 2019) to face the different dangers lurking in the public space.

The media, the authorities, daily experiences and the urban space itself feed and reinforce women's imaginaries, generating the image of a dangerous and hostile city for them, which in turn implicitly permits and proscribes certain actions. Thus, all the women interviewed experience these imaginaries in their daily lives, for example, by avoiding going alone to places they do not know, modifying schedules so as not to be out when it is dark, preferring app cabs instead of regular cabs, and choosing clothes that do not attract the attention of men. In extreme cases, which were the fewest, these imaginaries can also lead to immobility, although most of the time women generate responses to cope with fears and dangers.

One should not lose sight of the importance of gender for the analysis of both imaginaries and mobility practices and the perception of security. Gender can be understood as a hierarchical and status-marked relationship, a binary and unequal structure in which the male position is taken as the measure of all things, as the only valid place of enunciation, while the female position is relegated and considered of lesser importance (Segato, 2016). The feminine position refers not only to women, but also to feminized bodies. Moreover, it is a category that opens up many possibilities for analysis, as it allows us to understand and historicize the construction of sexual difference (Scott, 2010). Thus, if used critically, gender leads us to question the meanings, implications and contexts in which sexual difference is given in specific historical moments. For the case of this research, it allows us to understand the meanings produced around certain sexed bodies, for example the young women interviewed, and their relationship with space.

On the other hand, when speaking of intra-urban mobility, it is necessary to ask about the social and geographic expressions that (in)security and fears acquire, since in contemporary cities insecurity has become ubiquitous, which subjects try to control through territorialization (Reguillo, 2008). Thus, women delimit certain areas or places as dangerous and this shapes their experience of the city: which areas they avoid, which subjects represent a risk to them, among others.

Every discourse on insecurity has the historical and social context of the subject that enunciates it. Thus, every interpretation is produced from a place, placing at the center questions about who perceives, interprets and acts. Although some of our interlocutors live in municipalities in the metropolitan area and use concessioned transport such as combis, most of them travel within the city limits, in municipalities such as Cuauhtémoc, Benito Juárez and Álvaro Obregón, in areas they know, which are safe and where it is possible to access more regulated transport, such as the metro and metrobus. All this should be taken into account when it comes to understanding what they are afraid of and the places they associate with danger.

In terms of urban infrastructure, there is a lack of street lighting, the poor condition of the sidewalks, which can make it difficult to run if necessary; the presence of very tall and leafy trees that cover the street lights and serve as possible hiding places for aggressors, the disorderly layout of the streets, narrow avenues with a tunnel effect, areas with a lot of garbage and street furniture in poor condition, the absence of surveillance cameras, residential areas where there are no businesses in which to ask for help in case of danger and vacant lots where dangerous individuals can hide.

As for the subjects that generate fear, the young women mentioned people in street situations, drug users on public roads, men in general, especially if they are in groups and are young, as well as drivers of public transportation and cargo. Paula, a 26-year-old economics consultant, lives in Azcapotzalco and daily passes through streets where there are many industrial buildings and trailers. Despite the fact that these are fast roads, she prefers to get off the sidewalk and walk on the side of the road so as not to pass by the trailer drivers. She says she would rather be run over than raped by a driver.

Spaces and places transmit messages and symbolic meanings according to gender, reflecting the ways in which gender is constructed and understood in certain contexts (Massey, 1994). Thus, there is a relationship between gender and spatiality, between the discourses on what it means to be a man and a woman in each society and the way in which men and women should relate to space and occupy it. Spatial separation and control, as well as the labeling of certain places as inappropriate for men or women, are examples of the ways in which space produces and reproduces patterns of gender inequality. However, it is necessary not to essentialize and to emphasize the relevance of the specific, the ways in which gender is interrelated with other factors, such as age and socioeconomic status.

The women interviewed consider that their gender conditions their activities and mobility practices. The hours of darkness are considered proscribed, as the lack of light is associated with danger and the possibility of being attacked. Something similar happens with unknown neighborhoods and those with a "bad reputation", as it is considered that a woman alone should not go to these places.

Paola, who is 27 years old and works for a civil society organization, believes that there are multiple spatial features that increase her fear and perception of insecurity:

I don't like to cross parks. I'd better turn around. And if there are no street lights, I don't cross them. I mean, I think street lighting is key. At least to see, because sometimes you don't know if there is someone waiting around if there is no light. It makes me feel much safer to know the area, to know where I am (Paola, November 12, 2020).

The presence of certain spatial characteristics and people conveys the feeling that these are not places for women. Certain bodies are seen as out of place and, by being excluded, the violence exercised against them becomes "permissible" (Soto, 2015). This is intimately related to machismo and is reflected in the guilt experienced by several of the women we interviewed when recalling episodes of harassment on public transportation. Most of these incidents occurred in the mixed carriages of the subway and the women consider that it was their fault, that they exposed themselves by traveling there, even when they had the possibility of riding in the women-only areas. By transgressing the division of space, daring to board a carriage with men or walking down a dark street, women bear the responsibility and blame for what may happen to their bodies.

Fears are inscribed on certain places and corporealities. From an early age, women are taught to qualify certain places as safe or unsafe, as well as to exercise self-control over their behavior (Soto, 2015). In this way, they resort to strategies such as not going out at certain hours, always traveling accompanied or not wearing clothes that mark the silhouette, in order to hide or go unnoticed. As an embodied experience, fear reproduces existing spatial relations, and fear of sexual aggression is a central aspect of the way women relate to the city and to others (Soto, 2015). When inquiring about their worst fears when going out on the street, they mentioned rape, groping, disappearance and femicide. Thus, the central fears are those related to the body and the violence that can be exercised on it.

The information that is published in the media4 and other people's narratives also influence the generation of mental representations of the city, establishing some places, practices and bodies as "out of bounds". Thus, interactions, discourses and practices participate in the construction of imaginaries. However, this may conflict with the daily experiences and encounters of the subjects, who do not necessarily have to have lived through situations of insecurity or danger to always keep them in mind. The young women named a series of places that provoke fear in them and which they would not enter alone or of their own free will, even when they have never been there. Tepito frequently appeared as a place where it is better not to go, as it is associated with crime and delinquency. The Morelos neighborhood, in which the Tepito neighborhood is located, and downtown, with which it also borders, are considered the areas with the highest lethal violence in the city and where homicides are concentrated (Navarrete, 2020). The Doctores neighborhood also appeared as a dangerous area, as it is considered a place of robberies, while Ecatepec, Iztapalapa or Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl appeared as places surrounded by an aura of danger.

These areas have higher levels of social marginalization than the rest of the city, have a higher population density and carry various territorial stigmas. According to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy, Ecatepec and Iztapalapa are among the municipalities that, on a national scale, are home to a greater number of people living in poverty (Suárez, 2019), in addition to being areas with high levels of perceived insecurity. In short, these are places where a woman should not go, much less if she goes alone or if it is at night. This is related to the machismo that persists in Mexican society, as a woman is considered safer when accompanied by a man. Thus, the list of prohibited places and the risks to which one is exposed decrease when traveling in the company of someone else, especially if he is a man.

Media narratives, then, are fundamental to talk about urban imaginaries and their relation to fears. Almost all the women interviewed said that news and publications about gender-based violence have effects of different durations on their perception of the city and their fears. At first, their fears are exacerbated and they feel more vulnerable. Then they develop a more practical vision: they feel afraid, but they cannot stay locked up. They modify some of their habits, but they have to move around. They cannot and do not want to stay still. Hence, they generate a series of strategies to protect themselves and continue with their lives, trying to minimize the chances of going through an unsafe situation. Carla, a communicologist who works in the events area of a university, recalls the news about attempted kidnappings of women in the vicinity of subway stations reported in early 2019. The 26-year-old used that means of transport on a daily basis. In the face of fear, she adopted an attitude of constant alertness, which involved walking in a certain way and even carrying self-defense implements:

You can never go out in a calm manner. You can never go out without this latent thought of "I have to be alert all the time". So I'm already taking care of myself all the time. I mean, I remember that apart from carrying my pepper spray, I was one of those who brought my keys outside, as if they were ready, right? (Carla, November 20, 2020).

Cindy is a graphic designer and lives in Naucalpan. Given the large amount of news about missing and murdered women that she encountered, especially in that border area between the city and the edomexincreased her security strategies. The 28-year-old could not let fear paralyze her, as she had to commute a long distance every day to get to her job, located in Polanco. One of the extra steps she introduced to her mobility practices was to send WhatsApp messages to her boyfriend and her mom before getting on each mode of transportation. Before, she used to send only two notices: when she left home and when she arrived at her destination. Now, she sends more than five.

As Cindy and Carla's experiences show, women question urban imaginaries marked by fear, refusing to let fear continue to be a conditioning factor for their mobility and urban experience.

Strategies for moving safely

What are these strategies, what is their logic and how do they interact with the authorities' measures to ensure women's safety? Talking about strategies implies thinking about how individuals mobilize their resources within specific fields of possibilities to fulfill certain objectives (Zamorano, 2003). In the following lines we will delve more deeply into these strategies, the way in which women implement them and the context to which they respond.

Before leaving home, young women make multiple decisions about every part of their journeys to arrive safely at their destination. Choosing the clothes they wear based on the transportation they will use and the time of day they will travel, designing a route that passes through lighted and busy streets, positioning their bodies strategically -hiding certain parts and shrinking as much as possible to avoid contact with others- inside cars and vehicles, notifying a trusted contact about their whereabouts. These are all strategies that they implement both physically and digitally.

The actions carried out by the interlocutors to feel safer during their transfers should be analyzed taking into account the possibilities, limits and struggles that occur within the social field of security, in which public and private actors are in constant dispute (Zamorano, 2019). This implies considering that their actions converge, replace and sometimes conflict with those of the authorities. For the women we interviewed, actions to protect themselves are a way to remedy what the police and the city government do not address, to take in their hands the provision of their safety. Such is the case of Marlene, 25 years old, who before the pandemic traveled every day from Ecatepec to Paseo de la Reforma. Marlene has several strategies to feel safe during her commute, but she believes that, as a citizen, it is not up to her to take such actions. She tries to take charge of her safety, but she sees it as a burden, as an imposition of responsibilities that should not touch her:

I know that if I don't take care of myself, they [the authorities] are not going to take care of me. And that if I don't create networks around me, that know who I am, that know where I am, that know how I move, most likely no one will do it for me. I mean, I think that more and more we have had to create... I don't know if they are communities or if they are networks, but they are of care for ourselves, with the understanding that we ourselves are going to respond. And we are going to help and we are going to look, because the State is not doing it (Marlene, December 4, 2020).

To understand the relationship between (in)security and mobility, it is necessary to consider that these women have knowledge that they develop in practice and materialize in order to face different contingencies during their daily commute. Their strategies for mobility can be understood as specific response programs for certain fears, the knowledge of which shapes women's urban survival manuals (Reguillo, 2008). Another possibility is to see them as negotiations and tactics implemented by women to face an urban environment marked by gender inequality (Soto, 2015).

To each potential danger corresponds a special response, which is implemented to deal with fear and insecurity. As the body occupies the main place in the scale of women's fears, there are several strategies focused on it. The young women interviewed distinguish between pre-movement strategies that they implement in the car or public transportation from those they take when they feel in danger. Measures before getting on the move include looking for the safest and quickest route to reach their destination, informing a trusted contact about their plans and whereabouts, covering their bodies and wearing comfortable clothing. During the trip, those traveling by car hide their bags and valuables, avoid passing through dark or bumpy streets and are always attentive to their mirrors, in case someone strange approaches them. In public transportation, the body is folded as much as possible to avoid being touched or looked at, women only use women-only spaces, valuables are stowed away and, in case of carrying a large bag or backpack, it is used as a protective shield for the body. Likewise, follow-up messages are sent every step of the way.

Carrying a self-defense implement has also become customary and several said carrying a knife, a pepper spray, a taser5 or an umbrella that could be used for striking. However, they consider that most of these strategies are placebos, measures that have a psychological function -they give them a certain degree of tranquility and prevention- rather than a practical utility in case of an attack. Here it is relevant to think about how such actions are inserted in a certain field of possibilities, in this case that of the production of security, where no matter how much women deploy the resources at their disposal, their effectiveness will be limited by their position within the field. Thus, many of them are perceived as people who can try to defend themselves but have little chance of success.

Now, the use of digital devices such as smartphones has become increasingly common within the security strategies of some young women. Sending a message or sharing location in real time via WhatsApp, forming escort and monitoring groups for mobility on Facebook, Telegram or WhatsApp, as well as downloading specialized applications to track trusted contacts are some of the ways in which interlocutors take advantage of technology to feel safer.

When talking about these digital strategies, questions arise about appropriation processes and how what happens in the digital space can be appropriated by the user. on-line is articulated with the offline. In other words, in what ways do digital and analog practices intersect?. Regarding the appropriation of the digital, this depends on the cultural and everyday environment of the subjects, as it is linked to a specific social and cultural body, as well as to everyday experiences and experiences (Gravante and Sierra, 2016). This means that, for the appropriation process to be consumed, women must find a meaning or function for the tools, giving them a use to satisfy specific needs. Then, the appropriation and use of digital technology responds to real needs of specific subjects. Women resort to these tools as a way of assuming themselves as producers of their security, as a response to fear and insecurity, so as not to remain immobile or passive in the face of the risks to which they consider themselves exposed.

Technological tools are relational objects that re-signify the daily practices of the subjects who use them (Gravante and Sierra, 2016). In addition, by adding to mobility, they have the capacity to influence what offline, to have tangible effects on women's daily experiences. It is relevant to think about the way in which the
The use of digital technology is added to practices that are already being implemented from the corporal.

Digital strategies make sense when there are protocols in place to implement them and when they act in conjunction with other actions that are performed in situ. While all the women interviewed send WhatsApp messages to report their whereabouts or share their location with a trusted contact, only one of them, Laura, has specific plans for different emergency scenarios.6 Laura is 27 years old and commutes daily from the extreme north of the State of Mexico, where she lives, to Ciudad Universitaria, where she studies, and the company where she works, in the north of the city. She usually uses public transportation, which means long hours on board buses, subways and buses; most of these journeys take her through cornfields, expressways and vacant lots. These are places where, if something were to happen to her, no one would know about it or come to her aid. In addition, Laura lives and moves around the State of Mexico, one of the most lethal states for women.

Every time she gets on the bus, the young woman recalls the stories of numerous women who have disappeared and been murdered along the roads she travels. She also thinks of her experiences of sexual harassment and those shared by her friends, as well as the attempted femicide she survived. Fear is there, accompanying her at every step. But Laura has learned to control it, to use it. She knows how to use her body, she knows where to hit and hurt, how to leave traces of her whereabouts and how to act in case of
of a woman going missing. It has also developed response plans that include the use of cell phones. When a woman is in danger, she sends a message to her support group - which must be made up of people with the will and means to help her - from where she will be asked key questions to find out her situation and location. Beyond a mere warning, these actions have tangible effects that can lead (and in Laura's case have led) to saving the lives of other women. The other young women interviewed do not have these action protocols. Many of them have monitoring and tracking groups on WhatsApp or applications through which they share their location with a contact. But beyond the act of communicating their whereabouts, of reporting them, they do not know what these trusted contacts would do in a risky situation.

Thus, their use of these digital tools responds to an emotional need to feel safer, to feel that someone knows where they are, that they are not traveling alone. It also provides the hope that, in case something bad were to happen to them, there would be people willing to look for them, people who would know how to find the right clues and, if necessary, could even find their whereabouts or that of their body. When thinking about specific incidents, women are uncertain about what they would do or how they would react. They know that, in the event of an attack, they would be alone, that they would only have themselves to defend. The use of digital strategies for mobility is limited, then, by a number of issues, the main one being having an emergency action plan. However, it is important to highlight the security that feeling accompanied gives them. Useful here is the concept of co-presence (Di Prospero, 2017), which understands physical co-location as one among many possibilities of being present. The communication that occurs through different digital tools during mobility makes it possible to turn them into a practice that is carried out from co-presence. Thus, women and their loved ones feel more secure and build networks of accompaniment in which they share affection and knowledge. And this can make a difference when looking for and helping another woman in a situation of danger.

Co-presence during mobility is also favored by the fact that the members of the support groups are family members, partners or close friends. As there is a precedent of meeting face-to-face, the connection established digitally becomes stronger. WhatsApp messages and applications that function as an alert button allow mobility from co-presence. This brings more peace of mind to women and has a psychological effect on their movements. In the support groups, they also share defense tips and experiences that contribute to the creation of new knowledge and strategies from the community. These tools not only serve the woman who uses them, but could also save someone else's life. The knowledge generated in this way is transmitted and enriched collectively, so that more women know about it and can apply it.

In addition to the above, it is possible to think about mobility from a perspective of interdependence (Jirón, Carrasco and Rebolledo, 2020), where care and social relations play a central role. Looking at displacements from this lens implies thinking about mobility networks in which the needs, routines and resources of different people are articulated. Those who make up these networks are linked in their day-to-day lives by emotional and/or practical connections, which require the existence of the whole to be possible (Jirón, Carrasco and Rebolledo, 2020). The social relationships that are enabled and reinforced through these networks become resources that can make a difference to people's mobility capitals. For the women interviewed, these networks make it possible to create safer mobility experiences and even modify their relationship with the urban environment, opening up the possibility of going beyond fear.

By way of conclusion: learning to move in spite of fear

There are multiple barriers to mobility, such as gender, economic, spatial, knowledge and technological barriers, which are experienced in different ways and determine people's mobility experiences. Women face several of these barriers in their daily lives, albeit to varying degrees, depending on their mobility capitals and factors such as their age and socioeconomic status. This article has shown how some young middle-class women in Mexico City use the digital tools at their disposal to generate strategies that allow them to feel safer during their movements. These strategies are added to others that are adopted from the corporeal and immediate and generate a whole set of knowledge for mobility that women transmit to each other and that are oriented to the care of themselves and of all. The central issue is to act with everything within one's reach in an attempt to reach their destinations alive and safe.

These actions are in addition to those of other actors in the field of security and respond to the need to move in an urban environment that is perceived as dangerous. While fear continues to be a central component of women's relationship with the city, generating specific urban imaginaries and emphasizing the dangers associated with the body, there is also the desire not to remain immobile, to occupy the space. This is achieved from the collective, with mobility practices that are carried out from co-presence and interdependence; from an accompaniment and care that are made possible by the use of digital technology.

Thinking from an interdependence perspective also allows us to understand how women use digital tools to overcome some of the barriers to their mobility. The implementation of these actions takes the focus away from individual displacement in favor of the interconnected and relational nature of mobility, which always implies the existence of a network or collectivity. In addition to co-presence, this leads to reflect on the importance of digital strategies to increase women's mobility capital by providing knowledge, accompaniment and protection to those who use them. While this is possible for some, especially young women like those interviewed, who have the economic, technological and knowledge capital, their logic responds to a need to take care of themselves.

New geographies are created through new information and communication technologies (Gravante and Sierra, 2016). Digital space serves as a meeting and organization point, as a possible way of resistance and the creation of solidarity and support networks, to rebel against the concealment of the body in urban space and to move freely and safely. The use of these tools contributes to the construction of urban imaginaries that are more hopeful and less characterized by fear. No more bodies that hide to avoid being violated, but bodies that activate new and different knowledge to move safely.


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Gabriela García Gorbea has a degree in Communication from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City and a master's degree in Social Anthropology from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City and a master's degree in Social Anthropology from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. ciesas-cdmx. She has worked in the fields of journalism and civil society, collaborating with various national and international organizations. Her research interests include mobility, women's strategies for safe mobility, social construction of risk and gentrification.

Carmen Icazuriaga Montes holds a B.A. and M.A. in Social Anthropology from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. D. in Human Geography from the Sorbonne-Paris I University. Professor-researcher C at the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social. She has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in Anthropology at different universities. She has held various academic-administrative positions at the ciesas and has been a member of different commissions of other academic institutions in the country. She is the institutional head of the Elisée Reclus Chair of Human Geography. Her lines of research are metropolization, urban development, middle sectors, urban culture, mobility, accessibility, appropriation and uses of public space by different sectors of the population in the cdmx.


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EncartesVol. 7, No. 13, March 2024-September 2024, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: March 25, 2024.