Berliner TageBlatt - Mexico's women police squad on protest frontline

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Mexico's women police squad on protest frontline
Mexico's women police squad on protest frontline / Foto: © AFP

Mexico's women police squad on protest frontline

At a police station in Mexico City, women train with riot gear in preparation for an International Women's Day march in one of the countries hardest hit by gender-based violence.

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The squad of 500 officers is tasked with ensuring the demonstrations that draw thousands of women do not block roads or damage public property.

Although their work usually involves tense confrontations with fellow women, they feel united with the feminist cause because they too suffer violence and abuse by men.

But they question some of the protesters' methods.

The demonstrators "hit me because they see the uniform and because of history. You see a police uniform and (think of) repression, corruption, impunity," said Itzania Otero, 35, who commands the unit preparing to police Tuesday's march.

She favors empathy to show the protesters "that this uniform is not what they think," and that her officers only seek to contain -- not repress -- them.

"We policewomen have also suffered a thousand things," she said.

In recent years, protests against gender-based violence have brought together thousands of women in the capital and other Mexican cities.

Mexico registered 1,006 femicides last year, marking an increase from 978 in 2020, according to government figures.

Recent victims include Michelle Perez Tadeo, a 29-year-old television host and model whose body was found last month in a wooded area on the outskirts of the capital.

Other gender-based crimes such as harassment, sexual abuse and domestic violence have increased in recent years, resulting in a rising number of calls to emergency lines.

- 'Staying calm' -

During the training session, instructor Tania Arrazola teaches the police how to put on their protective equipment, which includes a vest, gloves, helmet, shin guards and a shield.

She also shows them how to use the shield in cases of aggression and how not to be provoked.

But "staying calm while they attack and hit you, enduring the many times that they throw paint on your face and say many things to you, it's difficult," she admitted.

Even though the protests put them in direct confrontation, some policewomen emphasize the importance of the feminist struggle to them.

"It's a very complex issue because within our own corporation we suffer the same type of violence and also with our partners," said officer Sandra Gonzalez, 32.

The police's special gender unit is investigating hundreds of cases of alleged abuses committed against female police officers by colleagues and superiors.

At the same time, Gonzalez criticizes the use of violence by hardcore protesters, who sometimes hurl Molotov cocktails at the police.

She believes there are better ways to express discontent.

The police squad, created in September 2020, is also tasked with implementing protection measures for women victims of violence.

Although the squad says that its role is not to oppress, some protesters accuse them of doing just that, such as when they use fire extinguishers to put out the firebombs and disperse people.

"In the end they have an advantage over us. They have a weapon and are trained to react. We don't," said an activist who plans to participate in Tuesday's march.

"There's very little training in restraint. They act like a male oppressor," said the woman, who asked not to be named.

W.Lapointe--BTB