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2011 Soroptimist Ruby Award for Women Helping Women Finalist: Margarita Guillé Tamayo

Margarita Guillé Tamayo witnessed first-hand the harsh reality of violence against women in her native Mexico. She saw how that abuse was growing rapidly, and even accepted as normal. She decided to change that, and in 1995 joined with others to plan the opening of the first shelter for abused women in Mexico.

“It was a rough beginning,” she says, “because at that time, there was no law against violence toward women. It wasn’t until 1996 that a law against domestic violence was created in the federal district, the capital of the country. As we are a federated state, the laws were emulated little by little by the other states.”

Today, as director of the National Network of Women’s Shelters in Mexico, Margarita continues to work on behalf of abused women. In honor of her efforts, Soroptimist selected her as the recipient of the finalist 2011 Soroptimist Ruby Award. The award honors women who, through personal or professional activities, work to improve the lives of other women and girls. Nominated by SI/Pachuca, in the Mexico/Centroamerica Region, Margarita received $5,000 from SIA, which she is using to fund her charitable work.

Her fight to stop and eliminate violence against women began when she was part of a radio program in the 1990s. “We had numerous calls from women that, for the first time, had a place to tell their story,” she says, “ … with testimonies of physical, sexual and psychological violence. I listened to them without being able to do much but provide my opinion. Shortly after, some friends and I started a magazine to spread a different culture and provide new ways to think, debate and empower us as women.”

From there, they took the next step and started the first women’s shelter, at a time she says, “when women had few options, no real justice, no social support, no job training and no state presence around this issue.” Most women, she learned, were financially dependent on men, and even today, 50 percent of women in Mexico over 15 years of age do not work or receive an education. Even so, she says, “I was surprised by their resilience to overcome pain and their overwhelming generosity.”           

In 1999, Margarita, with the help of other women, created a network of shelters with the other four that existed in Mexico, but it took years of lobbying and political work to sensitize authorities. In 2000, their work started to show results and the First National Violence Program was created, followed in 2005 by the General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence. The latter, she says, “engaged the state in providing resources for its operation and increasing the budget allowances and cooperation from the government in this matter.”

To date, 9,000 women and 27,000 children have been helped through the shelters. Margarita also established alliances with women leaders worldwide to learn from their experiences, leading to the founding of the Inter-American Shelter Network with participation of 17 countries. That model inspired the Global Network of Shelters born in 2009. That same year, she began a movement called “More Women in Decision Roles.”

“We concluded that we needed not only to see women as victims, but also to contribute to their emotional and economic independence so that they can live in freedom and without violence,” she says. “This movement promotes decision making for women at home, work and at a government level.”

Although the situation has changed for the better for abused women in Mexico, she says, realities such as drug and arms trafficking continue to challenge progress. Femicides also continue, especially in Ciudad Juarez, where women are kidnapped and tortured to death, and then their bodies are thrown in the desert. 

“Therefore, the death rate, risk for women and femicide have increased,” she says, “with 60 percent of femicides occurring in public and only 40 percent at home. It is almost as if Mexican women have to a pay a special tax just for being women,” she says. “This makes me realize that the road continues and that there is still a lot to be done.”

 

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