By Amy Littlefield
Monday, June 2, 2008
Soledad Jarquin Edgar had a "change of vision" in 1998 and turned her activist brand of journalism toward women's issues. A decade later, she churns out the only print publication in the Mexican state of Oaxaca exclusively focused on women's rights.
OAXACA, Mexico (WOMENSENEWS)--On the morning of Mother's Day, journalist Soledad Jarquin Edgar, 45, was sitting at her dining room table writing an article about mothers. It was not the typical Oaxacan Mother's Day tribute to the virtues of motherhood.
Instead it was about the "enormous gap between the ideal and the reality" for mothers. In January and February, she noted, the press reported 81 cases of domestic violence in Oaxaca.
International attention is currently riveted on drug-related violence in Mexico, which the Christian Science Monitor on June 2 reported had killed more than 4,000 since Dec. 1, 2006, and was spurring the Bush administration to push for more than $1 billion in aid.
But for Jarquin Edgar in the south of the country, domestic violence--not narcotics--is the main story.
Oaxaca is Mexico's second poorest state, with the second highest rate of domestic violence and homicide against women. There have been 487 documented cases of women murdered in Oaxaca between 1999 and 2007, an average of five per month.
While other newspapers relegate these cases to the crime section, she keeps them on the front page of Las Caracolas, the newspaper supplement about women that she edits.
Her three daughters, Fernanda, 20, Paulina, 18, and Sol, 17, are used to their mother's work. So is her husband, Fernando, who often stayed home with the girls while she was out in the field.
"My children have heard about it every day," Jarquin Edgar said.
Las Caracolas, the only publication in the state dedicated to women's issues, runs each week as a supplement in the major Oaxacan paper El Imparcial, which human rights activist Sara Mendez describes as "machista" and pro-government. Las Caracolas is the "pressure valve that prevents El Imparcial from exploding," Mendez said. "It's the only thing in the paper that's worth reading."
Each week, Jarquin Edgar covers issues such as women in politics, violence against women, women's health and women's successes, like breaking into male-dominated careers.
Since graduating from the Autonomous University of Guadalajara in 1985, she has worked for several Mexican newspapers and has worked on the creation of international women's rights news networks and radio programs.
Her focus on women began in 1998 when she and a group of other Mexican journalists began noticing--and discussing--the absence of women in the news media.
Jarquin Edgar joined the news organization Women's Communication and Information, known as CIMAC for its Spanish acronym, and now writes for its online news journal, Cimacnoticias.
The group has also run workshops for about 500 journalists in Mexico and other countries about gender violence, writing from a gender perspective and using non-sexist language. Jarquin Edgar also helped found the Mexican National Journalism Network, a network of over 1,000 journalists that raises awareness about women's issues.
Not everyone supported Jarquin Edgar's 1998 "change of vision," as she calls her turn toward women-focused news.
In 1999, as a reporter for El Sur (now El Tiempo), she tried to publish an article about abortion and the female condom. The editor called her into his office. "He said that in his paper, he wasn't going to print things that had to do with the devil," she said.
"So I packed up my things and I left."
In 1998 when she pitched her idea of a supplement about women's issues to the editor of El Imparcial, he said he couldn't understand her idea, but told her to bring him a sample.
She designed four pages that detailed the general lack of women in political leadership in Oaxaca but also hailed some of the state's pioneering female legislators. The editor and his sisters and brothers, who co-own the paper, approved the project and the first edition was published.
She has exclusively covered women's issues since and often travels considerable distances to do so.
In April Jarquin Edgar took a six-hour drive up a series of dirt mountain roads to a Triqui indigenous community, San Juan Copala, in one of the most violent regions in the state. At a press conference, community leaders and radio workers, a few of them teens, were calling for justice following the deaths of two radio activists, both women ages 20 and 22, who were purportedly murdered in retaliation for speaking out against the violent and corrupt political bosses who rule the area. Journalists came from Oaxaca and Mexico City.
The Triqui women stayed together in one silent clump, all dressed in their huipiles, red, hand-sewn gowns made of rough fabric. A grandmother of one of the murdered women was shepherded out. She posed for a picture, holding the huipil her granddaughter had worn as she was shot. Jarquin Edgar moved in and out of the waves of people, talking to the women.
Jarquin Edgar knows by heart the details of the dozens of women she has profiled over the years. She talks without pause about them, jumping from one to the next.
There is Wendy, 24, one of 13 cantina dancers in the northern town of Coahuila who were raped by Mexican soldiers in July 2006. When soldiers began their attack, Wendy hid. But one soldier stuck a gun through the window and demanded that she dance for them. One of the older women, Jarquin Edgar said, was raped by six men.
"It fills you up with fear for two reasons," she said. "One, because of the pain that the women are feeling. And two because of the situation of insecurity we face in this country. If it's soldiers who are doing this, what is everyone else doing?"
Jarquin Edgar won Mexico's National Journalism Prize for the story.
"She tells what is happening," Oaxacan women's rights activist Ana Maria Hernandez Cardenas said. "And we are not used to hearing about what is happening."
Jarquin Edgar worked with Hernandez Cardenas and her organization, the Consortium for Parliamentary Dialogue and Equality in Oaxaca, as well as several other journalists and women's rights groups in Oaxaca to produce in 2006 "Voices of Bravery in Oaxaca: Violations of the Rights of Women in Social and Political Conflict." The collection of Oaxacan women's testimonies includes six dedicated to the social movement that exploded in Oaxaca after the governor that year ordered an attack on teachers protesting for better salaries and basic school necessities. The book criticizes the state government for criminalizing abortion and ignoring violence against women. It also recognizes women's participation in the 2006 movement and describes how gender violence escalates in times of political conflict.
Nadia Altamirano, a 29-year-old reporter for El Imparcial, credits Jarquin Edgar's initiative at Las Caracolas for inspiring her own work. "To be a female reporter is an enormous responsibility," she says. "I have a lot to learn from her."
Amy Littlefield is a student at Brown University who just completed a semester abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico. Soledad Jarquin Edgar served as her advisor and mentor for the final component of an independent study project examining the participation of women in Oaxacan social movements.
"Violacion ejercida por militares"
[Soledad Jarquin Edgar's article in Spanish]
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