The Most Dangerous Women in the World: Veronica Cruz Sanchez

by Teresa Wiltz
veronica cruz sanchez image
Photograph: Illustration: Sean McCabe

Her Truth & Its Consequences

For most of her life, Cruz has been fighting the powers that be. Growing up middle class in Guanajuato, she felt it was deeply unjust that others lived far less comfortably than she did. So as a teenager, she would ride her bike around town, knocking on doors, offering to teach women how to read. “I always felt the need to fight for the rights of others and ensure that all women are empowered,” she says.

As an adult, Cruz took up the cause of reproductive rights. In 2000, when the state legislature banned abortion across the board, even in cases of rape or incest, Cruz organized hundreds of women to protest in the streets. A month later, the governor vetoed the ban. But most women remain unaware of their rights. In conservative Guanajuato, the laws on the books now permit abortion for women who’ve been raped (though not in cases of incest). Yet there’s often a big disconnect between the law and reality.

A woman who’s been impregnated by a rapist and cannot afford a private abortion must petition the state for a publicly funded one—and it has denied every request since 2001. One woman was told by an attorney that although she was within her rights to obtain an abortion, no one would perform it; often hospitals send rape victims away. And some women who’ve given birth to stillborn babies have been imprisoned because officials charge them with a failed abortion.

Today Cruz, 39, and her Centro Las Libres are educating a network of women’s health advocates about topics such as family planning, violence and sexual and reproductive rights; they’re also being trained to monitor the quality of the state’s reproductive and sexual health services and to promote quality care. The organization provides financial and legal support to women who have been unfairly sentenced to prison, and its representatives regularly travel to tiny villages, or “ranchos,” to hold workshops for women on these topics.

Local officials have repeatedly threatened to confiscate her computer equipment to obtain information on alleged illegal abortions, and Cruz has been followed more than once. The intimidation tactics, however, only help her stay focused. “I’m educated, and I know my rights,” she says. “But the women I work for are often poor and uneducated. They are particularly at risk because society has denied them the means to defend themselves.”

Her Dangerous Thoughts

“It’s the government that’s the problem. In Mexico, all women are at risk. Here—and around the world—women are treated like animals, not like human beings. It is a fight every day to ensure that women are treated according to their rights. We want to end violence and all violations against women. We have a lot of work to do.”

Click here to read news from GIRE (Information Group on Reproductive Choice) about reproductive rights in Mexico.

Click here to read about another dangerous woman of the world: Justine Masika Bihamba

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