Mesoamerica - Context & Strategy

Intensifying violence 

Mesoamerica is a dangerous region for women. Headlines tell the story of escalating violence against women and especially women activists, and the rising rate of femicides – the deliberate murder of women precisely because of their gender. In Mesoamerica, a toxic mix of factors fuel this dramatic spike in human rights violations, brutality, insecurity and loss of basic freedoms. These include:

  • Governments’ reduced capacity and political will to ensure women’s rights and safety:
  • Increasing brutality of powerful drug cartels and organized crime, often in collusion with state actors;
  • International policies – particularly,  drug interdiction and U.S. security policies that contribute to increasing militarization and are used to justify state repression and “criminalization of protest”;
  • Political influence of religious fundamentalist groups seeking to reverse and undermine women’s rights; and
  • Aggressive tactics by national and transnational corporations to exploit valuable natural resources. 

...The deaths of… hundreds of young women are not random – they are the victims of the lethal combination of a drug war launched by the US and Mexican governments, widespread impunity for violent crimes and a deeply sexist society. ~ Laura Carlsen (response to New York Times article, Wave of Violence Swallows More Women in Juárez, June 24, 2012)

jass-honduras-caminataInequality and repression

Economic policy in the region centered on the interests of transnational companies in the private sector has contributed to widespread poverty, deepening gender inequality, environmental destruction and erosion of individual and collective rights. A security model based on the deployment of the armed forces to in public safety tasks and heavily promoted by the U.S. government, has not only failed to reduce crime and violence, but has led to massive violation of human rights and the increasing use of both armed forces and police to crackdown on grassroots opposition. Violence against women and especially against women human rights defenders has become a tool of social control, which through the use of fear and intimidation aims to silence women activists and weaken the defense of rights. The corruption that exists at all levels of government is a major barrier to justice for women and WHRD, putting them at greater risk for carrying out their work. A well-organized religious right has rolled back reproductive rights on the state and national level in Mesoamerican countries. The harassment and killing of gay, lesbian and transgendered people and social intolerance are also on the rise. Despite the risks, women continue to mobilize in unprecedented ways to demand justice and peace.  

"The wave of violence in Mexico and Central America has deep economic, social and political roots... The bloodshed is accompanied by silent forms of violence like hunger, poverty, inequality and illiteracy. These affect women more due to discrimination and the fact that usually women are the ones responsible for taking care of families."Survivors to Defenders: Women Confronting Violence in Mexico, Honduras & Guatemala

New forms of citizen mobilizing

States can no longer be relied upon to protect citizens and uphold the law. While governments must be held accountable, the deteriorating situation demands fresh citizen alternatives where stronger, broader and more agile alliances can support individual cases and leverage collective power. Grassroots organizations and movements must combine demands on the government and develop solutions from the bottom up.

"Social and political change for women in this context must be built collectively; it involves breaking barriers… it means confronting fears for our safety and security." Patricia Ardón

In response, women are developing new forms of organizing and mobilizing. JASS Mesoamerica supports and amplifies these political innovations to strengthen women leaders on three levels: by enhancing their personal skills, by supporting their roles within their organizations and communities, and by building broader visibility and solidarity for their work.  JASS helps to build and mobilize stronger alliances that are more politically influential and better able to protect the safety and wellbeing of women activists.

JASS’ Strategy: organizing activists & engaging power

JASS Mesoamerica’s movement-building strategy links activist training and analysis with political organizing, communications and action. To increase the reach and influence of these activities, JASS generates knowledge – research, analysis, tools, stories, and practical lessons – and maximizes the creative use of alternative and traditional media to place women’s rights and movements at the center of public debate.

Coordinated by a regional team of activists, popular educators, and human rights experts, JASS Mesoamerica’s activities create safe, inspiring spaces and introduce new political tools to help women analyze, strategize, and build unique alliances and solidarity across agendas and movements.

We do this through three interconnected programs:    

  • Alquimia Feminist Leadership: facilitating training and learning processes to equip and empower activists and generate knowledge from practice;
  • Solidarity and Urgent Action: building bridges across borders to mobilize collective local-to-global power to respond to urgent violations and influence powerful institutions; and  
  • Amplify Women’s Voices: training activists in the use of innovative media strategies to speak out, reach out and be heard.   


This activist leadership and feminist learning program responds to the urgent need among Mesoamerican women activists of all ages for renewal, reflection and political capacity‐building to better navigate the current context. Carried out through a combination of on‐line and face‐to-face activities, Alquimia prioritizes indigenous, rural and young women and other frontline women activists with less access to resources. Through collaborative research and reflection, we produce insights and lessons from practice to contribute to fresh thinking and strategies that strengthen women’s movement building and women’s activism. Read More on Alquimia. 

Solidarity and Urgent Action

Building solidarity among women across the Americas has been a priority of JASS’ since our founding. As violence continues to spiral, regional problems are being exacerbated, in part, by the illegal flow of weapons and the U.S.funding for the “war on drugs.” As a result, strong activists’ relationships are more important than ever in order to work together, combine resources, protect victims of violence and activists at risk and mobilize our collective influence for change. 

In 2010, JASS along with five national, regional and international organizations founded the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders initiative (IMD). Coordinated by JASS, the IMD builds alliances among women and creates opportunities to improve their skills, confidence, strategies and protection. The Initiative has created an alternative citizen protection protocol and corresponding mechanisms to keep activists safe where the state is not assuming its role. It mobilizes urgent actions to provide safety while influencing the institutions responsible for upholding women’s rights. Media strategies have helped women defenders – often unknown or invisible beyond their communities - gain recognition. Through face-to-face and virtual gatherings, the Initiative has built a cohesive alliance among hundreds of activists and groups, many of whom, had never worked together. These alliances operate as the first line of protection in emergencies and combine resources for more effective action and political influence. These processes have brought to the public eye important community activists who were not known and whose invisibility made them even more vulnerable to attack while also providing the support and protection they need for their risky work of challenging power and impunity.

JASS Mesoamerica and the IMD produce research and case studies about the causes and unique nature of violence faced by women. This information has helped shift the focus of key international organizations and made both JASS and the Initiative a respected and reliable voice on these matters with the press and governments. Read more about JASS’ regional Solidarity and Urgent Action program.

Amplifying Women’s Voices

A key feature of our training, organizing and action is media and communications. Through an ongoing media training program for indigenous and rural women carried out with Sinergia No’j, we have helped bridge the gender digital divide in the region and expanded women’s use of social media and radio for connecting, educating and speaking out. In pursuing our commitment to expanding the visibility and public recognition of women activists, feminist agendas and the important role of movements, we use social media in all our strategies to reach out and educate.  We work closely with a growing list of mainstream and alternative media allies to continue to place our agenda and the justice work of women into the public eye and at the heart of public debate. Read more about JASS Mesoamerica’s communications and media work.