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Women in Juarez battle cancer “in the company of others”

By Dr. Christine Eber & Dr. Mary Alice Scott

(Editor’s Note: The third of four installments examining a preventable death sentence facing women in Juarez, Mexico. Read first installment, second installment.)


In Cuidad Juárez alone several groups have formed around the shared realities and needs of women and their families. In the late 1990s, women whose daughters disappeared formed Voces sin Eco (Voices without an Echo), Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (Bring our Daughters Home), and Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (Justice for Our Daughters).

Mujeres de Negro (Women Dressed in Black), a network of women in Chihuahua demanding an end to feminicides, were an integral part of the “Ni Una Mas” movement that raised national and international attention to violence toward women in Mexico at a march in Mexico City in 2002.

In solidarity with these women’s groups, during the 1990s and early 2000s, two U.S. border groups formed in solidarity with women and their families in Juárez and Chihuahua — The Coalition Against Violence Toward Women and Families in El Paso, Texas and Amigos de Las Mujeres de Juárez (Friends of the Women of Juárez) in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

While cancer brings them together, the members of Junt@s Vamos use it as a vehicle to talk about other issues in which cancer is embedded. Group members stress that they are not “survivors” of a traumatic experience, but people living with a disease that is part of a larger struggle for social and economic justice.

One can only imagine how it must feel to live in Juárez, a stone’s throw from El Paso, and be able to see in the distance hospitals that provide cancer treatment to people of all socio-economic backgrounds.

The members of Junt@s Vamos need no reminder that they can’t deal with cancer without dealing with economic inequality and other pressing forms of structural violence, such as police brutality, gang violence, and the U.S. government’s fortification of the border and xenophobic immigration policies. Junt@os Vamos has developed a strong critique of the social injustices rife in Mexican society and worldwide.

In group meetings and organizing, members of Junt@s Vamos stress the collective experience of cancer, providing an alternative to the dominant discourse surrounding the disease.

They do not see cancer as it is often depicted – as an enemy that individuals must enter into battle with, one-on-one.  Instead they view it as “something in the world,” one of many challenges that they encounter — and not alone, but in the company of others.

Group members say that being a collective is their strength. Through support, information, and assistance from one another, they learn to accept their disease while continuing to seek treatment and strategies of living with it. Group members say that each person walks a distinct path with cancer and that others must respect their way of walking that path.


PHOTO: Members of Juntas Vamos gather together to offer support and share strength with one another.


Mary Alice Scott is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Affiliated Faculty in Public Health Sciences at New Mexico State University and adjunct research faculty at the Southern New Mexico Family Medicine Residency Program.

 Christine Eber is Professor Emerita of Anthropology at New Mexico State University and founding member of Weaving for Justice.

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