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The #MeToo Movement Stirs Mexican Society

MEXICO CITY — The feminist movement known as #MeToo has arrived in Mexico.

Accusations of discrimination and harassment, most of them anonymous and in creative industries, have spread by Twitter. And the movement is already having consequences — including layoffs and a suicide.

On Monday, rock musician Armando Vega Gil committed suicide after denying anonymous accusations of abusing a 13-year-old girl. He was one of many men under public scrutiny in Mexico.

One of the organizations reporting abuses on Twitter with #MeToo hashtags is Periodistas Unidas Mexicanas (United Mexican Female Journalists, or PUM). Reforma, one of the largest papers in Mexico, laid off one of its directors after accusations brought by them.

“We think there’s a need to fight for better working conditions for women,” said one of the members of the organization, who asked for privacy, fearing retaliation.

“It’s not enough to put a finger on it, we need to start pushing governments, authorities and companies to have better tools to pursue justice for women and investigate the cases,” the source said, pointing that most companies don’t have protocols to avoid or address harassment and discrimination. 

The source of PUM explained male support should always be welcome, but setting the pace should come from women, as they have been denied that option historically.

“Opening the discussion is a good step, and not because men wanted to, but because we are not giving them a choice anymore,” she said.

The member of PUM said anonymity is not ideal, but the only alternative for many abused women living under an unjust system.

“We live in a country which is not the safest place to work as a journalist and not the safest place to be as a woman,” the source said.

Many Mexicans, including her, hope that the #MeToo movement will finally bring proper ways to protect women. But there’s also fear of the negative effects brought by false, anonymous accusations with a hidden agenda.

The PUM source said her organization established filters and protocols to identify false testimonials, including account verifications or not taking issues from third parties. But not everyone is following rules.

Leopoldo Maldonado is regional director for Article 19, a freedom of information organization. The nonprofit favors the #MeToo movement, even after Maldonado was falsely accused in a Twitter account that later retracted.

“The most important thing is that the accusations should continue, while the protocols to verify them are strengthened. But an exceptional case like mine should not distract from the original purpose of the movement,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado said the #MeToo movement is necessary and legitimate, particularly in a country like Mexico where violence against women needs to become visible.

"It makes us reflect on our way of building masculinity, and on how we have normalized machismo and macho-driven practices in our culture," Maldonado said.

The activist considered that a deep change will come after companies, authorities and the society itself become accountable, while also alerting that only a functional system to protect women will stop defamation and false, malicious statements.

"It is necessary to build transparent protocols for these complaints, but based on the good faith of the victims, not by rejecting them," Maldonado said. "If a woman faces an ineffective justice system that only guarantees impunity, it is very difficult to ask her to file a report."

Rodrigo Cervantes is KJZZ’s bureau chief in Mexico City, where he was born and raised. He has served as opinion writer, contributor and commentator for several media outlets and organizations in Mexico and the United States, including CNN, Georgia Public Broadcasting and Univisión. Cervantes previously worked as the business editor and editorial coordinator for El Norte, the leading newspaper in Monterrey and a publication of Grupo Reforma, Mexico’s premier news group. In Mexico City, Cervantes served in Reforma as a reporter, special correspondent, editor and special sections coordinator. Cervantes also held the editor position at MundoHispánico, a division of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Georgia’s oldest and largest Latino newspaper. He also participated as one of the first members of the Diversity Advisory Group for Cox Media. In 2012, Cervantes was appointed as fellow for the Leadership Program of The New York Times/Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, as well as for the "Líderes Digitales" program from the International Center for Journalists. In 2010, he was awarded with the Poynter-McCormick Leadership Fellowship. Cervantes graduated with honors in communication sciences and journalism from the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM), Mexico City Campus. Later, he was granted the Fundación Carolina Scholarship from the Spanish government to obtain an MBA degree at San Pablo-CEU School of Business (Madrid). Other awards include: the Power 30 Under 30 Award for Professional and Community Excellence in Atlanta, the Outstanding Alumni Medal from ITESM, and several José Martí Awards for Journalism Excellence from the National Association of Hispanic Publications (NAHP). Cervantes enjoys music, books, travel, friendship, good mezcal and the occasional company of his guitar.