By Rula Al-Nasrawi
Hundreds of people marched down the streets of Oaxaca, Mexico on Sept. 30, pleading for an end to violence against women.
That very same day, Marcella “Sali” Grace Eiler would have turned 21. Her dead body was found six days earlier in a deserted cabin.
Eiler was an American solidarity activist who spent the last three years of her life in Oaxaca, working as a dance teacher, activist and an aid for the people of Oaxaca who felt harassed by the government of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.
Simón Cedillo, a close friend of the Watsonville Brown Berets, explained that Eiler’s violent rape and murder was not something that was taken lightly.
“This is a case of sexual assault and violence in the activist community,” Cedillo said.
For years, women have struggled to fight the patriarchal government in Oaxaca, and Eiler was one of the many to help them through the struggle.
“In Oaxaca, it’s not just indigenous communities, it’s also everyday folks, students, housewives,” Cedillo said. “Not only is it in Oaxaca and Chiapas, but it’s all over the country. The Mexican people are just getting pushed and pushed and pushed.”
This traumatic occurrence sparked something within women across the country. This month marks the commemoration of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the United States.
Santa Cruz community groups are dedicating their time this October to raising awareness about the destructive treatment of women, not only locally, but also around the world.
Stephanie Milton of the UC Santa Cruz Women’s Center explained the issues that women have had to deal with on a global scale.
“I can say that women, globally, are dealing with issues of patriarchy and the resultant objectification, commodification, and violence and death,” Milton said.
Janet Seminerio, grants manager of the Santa Cruz Women’s Crisis Support — Defensa de Mujeres, discussed the plans for the upcoming month and beyond, in terms of ending violence against women.
“Basically, the idea is to get out there and raise awareness about the issues,” Seminerio said. “You want to stand up and not participate in the degradation of women, and not participate in male privilege.”
Cedillo also explained that these gender struggles cannot be easily erased simply by raising awareness.
“There is no such thing as safe space, in terms of making the entire world safe,” Cedillo said. “However, there are other things people can do, as well as discussing what Sali was pushing, which was women’s self defense.”
Milton also said that many violent deaths, like that of Eiler’s, go unnoticed all the time.
“What has been going on in Oaxaca City has been going on for many years,” Milton said. “But it pains me to think that, when a foreigner is subjected to the same violence and death, the culprit can be found within days, but with citizens, cases go unresolved.”
Cedillo also touched on this concept, explaining that many communities are overlooked.
“Poorer communities, or these communities of color, don’t even have such a thing as a safe space, because this happens all the time,” Cedillo said. “I think it would be important to challenge.”
Seminerio noted that, although violence against women is a global issue and should be viewed as such, it is also extremely prevalent as locally as Santa Cruz homes. Last year, the Women’s Crisis Center served about 1,500 women in Santa Cruz alone.
“Domestic violence is at least 50 percent underreported nationwide,” Seminerio said.
Eiler’s tragic death set off a deep anger within the people of Oaxaca, and sparked concern with others around the world. While Domestic Violence Awareness Month will be sure to engage and inspire, the story of Eiler and many others should remain forever.
“It’s something that hasn’t gone away, and isn’t going away any time soon, so it really needs to be addressed,” Cedillo said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”