Mexico City Is Giving Out Rape Whistles To All Women, But Is It Enough?

by Rosa Schwartzburg

Mexico City’s Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera has created a program to distribute plastic rape whistles to half a million women in an attempt to fight street harassment and sexual violence. The United Nations lists Mexico as one of the most violent countries for women, with over half of Mexican women having been subject to groping, street harassment, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. Between 2010 and 2015 approximately three million instances of sexual violence, from groping to raping, were committed in Mexico, according to the National Statistics Institute. Particularly abhorrent instances of violence — such as the hundreds of female factory employees murdered in Juarez beginning in 1993, which have gone unsolved to this day — have drawn gender violence into the public eye.

Recently, gender activists in Mexico have been fighting back against this violence. Groups such as the Hijas de Violencia (Daughters of Violence), are speaking out against harassment in subversive and creative ways. They mock machismo culture by firing glitter guns at men who harass them on the street. These activists are drawing attention to the everyday street harassment that women in Mexico face, particularly on the complex and overcrowded public transportation systems around the cities. The harassment that takes place not only polices women and their bodies but also frequently escalates into acts of severe violence (such as sexual assault and murder). Mexico City, in particular, has a large problem with harassment — according to a Thompson Reuters Foundation survey of female transit riders in 16 cities around the world — with 64% of its respondents reporting sexual and gender-based misconduct. 94.1% of instances of sexual violence go unreported to the authorities, according to the Executive Commission for Attention to Victims (CEAV), meaning that most women in Mexico never see justice or are allowed to reclaim their sense of safety and self. 

In April, activists organized a march to assert women’s rights which included occupying a subway station notorious for being dangerous for women, as well as a brief train ride. The statement is clear: Women are being subject to violence and harassment in these spaces, and that it is not all right. Just last month, the hashtag #MiPrimerAcoso (my first assault) began trending, with women tweeting about the first time they were subject to sexual harassment. 

Mexico City’s response to this harassment has long been to:

1) Ignore it

 2) Offer band-aid solutions to the systemic issue of violence against women in its public spaces, such as the pink female-only buses it provides.

It’s in this vein that Mexico City’s Mayor Mancera is distributing plastic rape whistles (which come in a bright pink packaging to match the buses). According to Mexico City’s governmental secretary, Patricia Mercado Castro, “The whistle[s are] there to help women break the silence and make noise when someone harasses them.”

7PQki4mJsource: Twitter

Many have criticized this as just another false solution; distributing whistles does nothing to address the culture of violence towards women, does not hold the perpetrators responsible or even attempt to do so, and is fundamentally patronizing. Although a good sentiment, and perhaps a step towards raising awareness about gender-based violence, the whistles are unlikely to actually prevent assaults from occurring. One Tweet Mayor Mancera received asked him if he had plans to also distribute maracas to combat corruption or vuvuzelas (noise-makers) to fights against extortion.

What’s more is that the rape whistle program, and programs like it, places the onus on the victim to not be assaulted, rather than calling on perpetrators to take responsibility for their actions. Some have likened the whistles to chastity belts, and, as columnist Catalina Ruiz Navarro writes: “Mancera’s whistles…put the job of prevention on the victim…Women without a whistle – real or metaphoric – would ‘expose themselves’ and if they’re assaulted and no one does anything, it would be their fault for not whistling” (translation via The Guardian.) Mexican activists groups are speaking out about the controversial program, even creating the trending hashtag #ElPitoDeMancera (the literal translation of which is “Macera’s Whistle” as well serves as a double entendre for his penis.) Regina Tames, director of the Information Group on Reproductive Choice (GIRE), a women’s reproductive choice group in Mexico City, says that “the saddest thing is to think that this government has been defeated on this issue and decided that the only solution is to ask women to look after themselves.”

While the whistle program is, perhaps, a step in the right direction, it does not go nearly far enough in addressing the sexual violence that Mexican women face every day — whether that be street harassment, groping, sexual assault, or murder. Legislative and cultural change needs to be enforced in Mexico City and in all communities around the world to address the pervasive violence done against women. It is a complex problem which is deeply embedded into the framework of our culture — think about every ad portraying rape culture, or furthering the narrative that women are sexual objects available for the taking. There needs to be concrete and multifaceted change to combat sexual violence — one far more drastic than simply passing out whistles.

Jimena Soria, also of the GIRE, perhaps sums it up best when she says: “The amount of violence against women doesn’t deserve such a simple answer.” 

Photo source: Twitter

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