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Human Rights Watch award recipient returns to NEIU

By Sophia Lopez
On September 25, 2007

On Tuesday, September 18, an eager crowd packed the Golden Eagles for the chance to listen to Human Rights Watch award-winner Veronica Cruz. She is the founder of Las Libres, an organization based in the Mexican state of Guanajuato which focuses on women's economic, political, and reproductive rights. In 2006, Veronica Cruz was one of three recipients of the Human Rights Watch award.

The Latino and Latin American Studies coordinator Victor Ortiz introduced Ms. Cruz. Translation into English of the event was available through provided headphones. The event was co-sponsored by the International Programs, Women's Studies, Justice Studies, Sociology, and Social Work departments.

Ortiz thanked Latino and Latin American Studies secretary Ann Botz for playing a critical part in making the event a success. Also acknowledged was the presence of Provost Lawrence Frank, who was also in attendance. Earlier in the day, Ms. Cruz had stopped by to visit Women's Studies, Justice Studies, and Sociology classes to engage students in a dialogue surrounding women's reproductive rights in Mexico as well as in the United States.

Her evening talk in the Golden Eagles touched on some of the obstacles, challenges, and strategies in pushing for social change at every level of society. Veronica Cruz says that the real problem lies in the roles men and women are forced to play, not in individuals themselves. Moreover, she maintains that violence against women is not just a women's issue, it is a human rights issue as well.

With the election of right-wing conservative Mexican president Felipe Calderon last year and the power and influence of the Catholic Church, Veronica Cruz remarked on the added difficulty in the fight for women's rights. In Mexico City, where abortion during the first 12 weeks was recently legalized and is available for free, there was a strong reaction and backlash on the part of the government and the Church. Subsequently, legislation was introduced in attempts to reverse access to abortion.

Although legally in Mexico there is a separation of church and state, this is clearly not the case in practice, says Cruz. She adds that it's one thing to pass legislation guaranteeing equality for women. It's quite another to put social change into practice.

Cruz described the pervasiveness of domestic violence, machismo, and misogyny. She also pointed out that the number one cause of death for men in Mexico are accidents attributed to alcohol. Still, it's very important to have men as allies, she said, because men are more likely to listen to other men.

Ultimately, Cruz says that a lot of work remains to be done in the fight for women's equality and justice and is an issue that needs the attention of the international community. Workshops, popular education, and intergenerational dialogues with boys and girls about gender equality are some of the methods she utilizes in the struggle for women's rights. Veronica Cruz also acknowledged the work being done by Mujeres Latinas en Accion, a Chicago- based organization.

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