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Grassroots Women Spearhead Reconstruction Efforts in Mexico City

When the earthquakes shook Mexico City on September 21, 2017, grassroots women leaders knew what to do.


The Mexico City earthquake, at a magnitude of 7.1, struck on the 32nd anniversary of the deadly earthquake of 1985. Of the 369 people killed, two out of three were female. Post-disaster conditions, with over 150,000 houses damaged, 25,000 destroyed, and with 12,000 damaged schools, pose a particular challenge to women.


“Right after the earthquake, we proposed an intervention,” says Magdalena García Hernández, leader of the International Technical Mission for Reconstruction and Intervention in Post-disaster Mexico. Hernández is also the coordinator of the MIRA Network, as well as the co-chair of the Global Advisory Board of the Huairou Commission, among other important roles.


Hernández helped organize and run workshops for the Mission from November 20-24, 2017 in Mexico City to share ideas and experiences between grassroots women leaders from Peru and Mexico. The Huairou Commission was instrumental in the support for this international endeavor that gave local women leaders tools to overcome post-disaster challenges in their communities.



Women, Civil Society and Local Governance


According to footage in a video produced by the Mission, the affected areas were in a general state of disarray, with collapsed buildings and dangerous streets marked off with handwritten signs and tape. The Mexican government learned from the 1985 earthquake in implementing a warning system, but its overall lack of response and monetary support has angered many and signaled to Mexicans that they have to help themselves.


Hernandez says the government was “very lost” after the earthquakes, but that the Mission’s work is sowing seeds for civic involvement and grassroots organizing, and is creating a space to learn from the circumstances.


The Mission’s five days of workshops and training focused on sharing knowledge on mitigating disaster risk, and on post-disaster reconstruction. The sessions also addressed trauma and grief, an invisible but very real aspect of recovery.

The workshop also spent time identifying funding sources for reconstruction in Xochimilco in Mexico City, Jojutla and Zacatepec in the state of Morelos, Tejupilco, and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca. As a part of their planned program, the Mission leaders also met with the mayors of Jojutla and Zacatepec, as well as with experts of the National Institute of Social Development (INDESOL), the Secretary General Patricia Mercado of the Mexico City Government, and Mexico City Legislative Assembly Deputy Juana Juárez López.


The Mission also held a press conference at the Mexico City Legislative Assembly to deliver its findings and recommendations, stressing the importance of women playing leading roles in creating plans and policies for disaster risk management. As those who are, in many instances, the most affected by the earthquake, women are best positioned to respond to and organize around natural disasters.


One of the Mission’s participants, Alondra Marvin Álvarez of Jalando Juntos A.C. in Zacatepec, helped to organize a group of bricklayers and engineers to conduct a census of those affected by the disaster. The earthquake changed their lives, she says, but the women leaders of Zacatepec learned that civil society and the government can work together for the benefit of local communities.


Magnolia Cindy Alim Villamar Juárez of Xochimilco carried out similar work and was also included in the Mission’s workshops. She and her fellow women of Xochimilco visited every neighborhood in their area and provided on the group support and organization to set things right.


“We met with the frequent complaint that they had not received any support from the authorities,” she says. “Therefore, we took on the task of organizing together with women, neighbors and coworkers, making a collection of food and clothing.”


Ultimately, the success of the Mission lay in harnessing the power of women in civil society. The lessons learned in the Mission are just the start of reconstruction and rebuilding efforts in the areas most affected. The women of Mexico are now gearing up for a general election in July 2018 in which, according to Hernández, their concerns for disaster planning may finally be heard across partisan lines.

By Maria Eliades