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Gender Violence and Safe Transport for Women in the Time of Mara Fernanda

“It makes me angry to think that ‘safer’ or ‘dependable’ services are an advertising hoax that only allows us to lower our guard for a second and then demonstrate that by wearing a skirt or being a woman we are easy prey for anyone. I would not now use the transport service again with the same security if the driver who picks me off is not a woman. I share my location with a friend or family member, which should not be the case, assuming the service is safe to start,” Montse Arellano, user of transport platforms.

By Karla Ortiz and Tania Noriz

In the wake of events that took place between September 8 and 15 in the city of Puebla, when the murder of the young Mara Fernanda Castilla Miranda was declared a feminicide, women in different parts of Mexico have raised their voices. They have joined to create civil and solidarity actions that protect women from gender violence and prevent situations such as Mara’s from happening.

After being missing for seven days, Mara Fernanda was found dead and wrapped in a sheet, on Friday, September 15, at a hotel in Puebla. According to the authorities, Mara Fernanda had requested a transportation service from the Cabify company in the early morning on September 8. Although the car arrived at its destination at 5:30 am, she never got out. After inquiries, the authorities discovered that after arriving at the subdivision Mara lived the Cabify driver went to the hotel where Mara Fernanda was found lifeless.

Once the news became known in the media, courage, fear, and other anguished feelings arose not only among the inhabitants of Puebla, but throughout Mexico, and distrust of taxi services grew, filling social networks and digital media with stories of “fear” from users of such services as Uber, Cabify, Easy Taxi, and regular taxis.

In addition, comments such as, “That happens to [women who] go out at night,” or “Sure; she was wearing a skirt,” began to emerge, provoking the indignation of Mexican women who raised their voices and launched proposals in solidarity.

“My home is your home”

“Vivas nos queremos” (We want us to be alive) was one of the phrases used by women participants in the demonstration for Mara Fernanda that occurred on Sunday, September 17, at the national level. Women of all ages, demanding gender equality, marched. After the march, social movements began to circulate. One,  #micaaestucasahermana, consists of pro-feminists offering space in their homes as a refuge to prevent women from facing a risk or dangerous situation by returning home late.

“We cannot all give proper shelter because we live with our parents, for example, but if a given situation presents itself, I can open my house, and the person can stay a few hours so we can contact a friend or family member who can get her home safely,” said sanmiguelense Erin Mason, co-founder of the online magazine Feminopraxis.

Safe Travel in SMA?

The story of Mara is one of many that come to light in the media. It is history that was made viral by reason of the fact that one of the companies, Cabify, is a service whose motto is: “Safe Travel: drivers chosen one by one with the necessary information.”

In San Miguel de Allende different transportation services of this type are operating daily, but what are the safety standards that the Ministry of Mobility requires for them to operate?

“The driver must have training, must present a vehicle in good condition, have drivers’s insurance, and have documentation that indicates both the owner of the vehicle and the driver. Those are the minimum conditions that are established to grant the permit,” said Juan Carlos Martínez Hernández, Director of the Institute of Mobility of the State of Guanajuato. However, some of the drivers from Uber do not have permission to operate in San Miguel Erin Manson a user of the service, told us: “When I ask for a Uber, they always tell me to sit in front, which is uncomfortable for me.”

Then Atención asked several Uber drivers in San Miguel the reason to ask the users to sit in front. We were told that the officers had to penalize and even remove the car, because they do not have such an operating regulation. “Whoever asks passengers to sit in front is usually someone who does not have permission and is thus evading supervision,” drivers explained.

In the State of Guanajuato, only 1,401 permits were granted for the more than 20 private transportation companies that operate, of which Uber has only 230, and is the company with the most permits in the State. “Unfortunately the events that occurred with Mara Fernanda are leading to reinforce the security measures we already had,” said Martínez Hernández.

Martínez Hernández explained that the Guanajuato State Mobility Institute is working extensively to conduct toxicological tests (tests to determine the type and approximate amount of legal and illegal drugs a person has taken) to all drivers of this type of service. He also said that they will have access to the company to analyze the operation of vehicles that are discharged, the services they provided, and where they were. They will also review the contracting mechanics of each company, and each driver of the units will have to submit a letter verifying that there is no criminal record. With the Women’s Institute, the Guanajuato State Mobility Institute plans to develop a series of measures to protect the integrity of women with a protocol for women in general, minors, seniors, and pregnant women.

Possible solutions to a problem that should not exist

In Mexico it is common for women to be stigmatized for being out late, going out alone, drinking alcohol, or even partying, as well as wearing miniskirts or low-cut clothing. In the case of Mara, many criticized the time at which she requested the taxi service. Many feminists refuted this, including Amnesty International’s Executive Director Tania Reneaum, who said: “We are facing a context that despises the life of women, and a macho state that has a historic debt pending [...] It is not the fault of the victims; it is the fault of the State that has normalized the violence.”

That is why the emergence of the #micasaestucasahermana movement and other proposals, such as that of Erin Mason: “a safe transport, not with taxis, but with combis with certain routes, that leave at three or four in the morning for five people who they go to the same neighborhood. Whoever manages this is a woman, and it does not have to be free, but it guarantees that whoever drives will not do anything to you.” Or Jessica Guzmán, user of Uber: “It would be cool that the local private taxi services included in their apps an option with a pink button that would tell the application that we want a woman driver, and even an extra charge. But in that way, we would support the local economy as well. If there are options like “Pet,” “Express,” or “Executive,” why not women?.”

To complement all of this, Cinthya Sifuentes, Director of the Municipal Institute of Allende for Women (IMAM) added: “The worst thing a person can have is fear, because fear paralyzes you. If you are going to ask for one of these services, you need to feel safe. Don’t forget to take your precautions: advise that you are in a taxi or Uber or Cabify to a familiar or friend, tell where are you going, provide the plates or taxi number. The more confidence and security you demonstrate, [the more likely]the abuser will think, “No, I can’t deal with her.” She added, “On the other hand, getting to the point where it’s necessary to implement this type of security measure would not be so necessary if children were instilled with [ideas of] nonviolence. Violence against women does not necessarily have to be a coup.”

According to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, INEGI, in Mexico from 2013 to 2015, an average of seven women were killed per day; from 2001 to 2006, the average was 3.5, and in 2011, 63 out of 100 women aged 15 years and older experienced at least one act of emotional, physical, sexual, economic, or familial violence, as well as labor discrimination.

In recent years we have heard and read about numerous cases of feminicide in Mexico, with an alarming number of 12,950 victims between 2012 and 2015, according to data from BANAVIM (National Data Bank and Information on Cases of Violence against Women).

Unfortunately, it is precisely the number of cases that are known, and the treatment at home, at work, on the streets, or at school that makes women feel more vulnerable and insecure and makes it more difficult to trust i someone and open the door. “Maybe someone whom we don’t know will come, and we won’t want to open. We live in a society that has buried us with anxiety, we are terrified, and we have an inner fear. I believe that this movement can be applied with friends, acquaintances, family, and [women should] always arrange to be aware of the homes of known people in the different colonies of San Miguel, in case of being the victim,” added Cinthya Sifuentes.

Culture of sorority in the city

Recently society has struggled to integrate the word sorority into the Spanish Royal Academy. This word is used by women to refer to mutual support. It is a social pact among women that aims is to create a female fraternity. Campaigns created by feminist organizations deal with issues such as harassment of women; support in situations involving alcohol, creation of gossip to hurt another woman, diversity of clothing, makeup and physical appearance, among other topics. “I think it is very important to help us on the street. Over the weekend, I have seen many couples involved violence, I always approach and ask if they need something or if there is something I can do to help. Above all, the need is to take care of each other, and that is a principle of sorority,” said Cinthya Sifuentes.

Erin Mason added: “When we go down the street and see a case of violence, we can observe how people pass as if they did not realize it because sometimes, this type of act causes someone else’s shame. It is something that has been growing in our unconscious, and when we feel it in this type of situation, it is because we were not taught what to do to help. Helping does not mean meddling in the fight. We never know if the abuser may be carrying a weapon.

What is violence and how can we measure it?

In 2009, the Gender Unit of the IPN (National Polytechnic Institute) carried out more than 14,000 surveys to find out the dynamics of the relationships between partners. The data that was put out ignited a red flag on the evident problem of violence existing among young people, so they thought that it was urgent to raise awareness to prevent this type of violence from continuing to manifest itself, not only in pairs, but also with friends, family, co-workers and even strangers. The idea was to implement a graphic and didactic material known as Violentómetro, which demonstrates the different manifestations of violence that often occur in daily life that we are not aware of, like comments or jokes that we hear daily and that may be creating psychological damage without our knowing it. The violentometer is divided into three different levels, with colors that indicate the seriousness of violence:

  • Be careful! Violence will increase: hurtful jokes, blackmailing, lying/cheating, ignoring/ice law, jeering, blaming, disqualifying, ridiculing/offending, humiliating in public, intimidating/threatening, and controlling/banning.
  • React! Don’t let yourself be destroyed. Get rid of personal items, aggressive caressing, play “hitting,” pinching/scratching, pushing/pulling, slapping, kicking, locking in/isolating
  • Get professional help! This is indicated by threats with objects or weapons, death threats, forcing a sexual relationship, sexual abuse, rape or mutilation.

Most people, both men and women, don’t even know that by blackmailing, lying, or making a hurtful joke, they are already committing an act of violence. It’s important to mention that November 25 is the date that ONU has declared for the international day against violence to women. Likewise, IMAM invites all to work together so that women who do not live in fear.

Both Erin Mason and Cinthya Sifuentes agreed that Mara’s case was a regrettable event, but we will not stop living because of that. “It’s something that is not going to end overnight. Don’t believe that you can’t go on with your life anymore. Instead look for support networks, if not in your community, in social networks,” concluded Mason.


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