TUXTLA GUTIÉRREZ, MEXICO — Beatriz Adriana Pérez Encino survived a femicide attempt in 2017. Today, six years after the incident, she is preparing to receive her law degree thanks to a government program that allowed her to pursue her university education.
Pérez Encino, who will graduate in December 2024, belongs to the first generation of students who have received support from Centro de Justicia para las Mujeres (CEJUM) — a public agency created in 2011 that provides free comprehensive support to those who have experienced gender-based violence and their children — and Universidad Autónoma de Chiapas to continue their college education. This distance-learning program, which currently serves 111 women, promotes autonomy and access to opportunities in a country where 7 of every 10 women have experienced at least one situation involving violence, according to the 2021 National Survey on Home Relationship Dynamics from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI).
Rocío García Cadenas, the director of CEJUM, says these centers work to “prevent [gender-based] violence from escalating to femicide while at the same time giving women tools to strengthen their autonomy.” In the same vein, the program aims to both increase awareness of — and reduce — the inequalities that harm women. To this end, CEJUM is helping nearly 8,000 women continue their primary and secondary education.
For Pérez Encino, 35, the opportunity to study law meant pursuing a dream she thought she had lost. Since childhood, she had wanted to be a teacher. However, her family’s difficult financial situation and the prejudice that women should not go to school because they should “care for their husbands” got in her way, she says.
Originally from the village of Emiliano Zapata, in the municipality of Huitiupán, in the state of Chiapas, Pérez Encino speaks Chol, a Mayan language. She came to the state capital of Tuxtla Gutiérrez in 2006 in search of job opportunities and to further her education.
In 2009, at the age of 21, she met the person who would be her partner for eight years and the father of her child. He forced her to stop going to school and, beginning in 2010, when she became pregnant, he prohibited her from leaving the house to work.
“It took a lot of suffering for me to reach my goal of completing high school. It cost me so much, and [he] told me, ‘You’re not going out anymore.’ I stayed. I stopped going to school because I was already in his sexist world,” Pérez Encino says.
As of 2021, 70.1% of women over the age of 15 in Mexico had experienced at least one situation involving violence, according to INEGI, the country’s statistics agency. Psychological violence had the highest prevalence (51.6%) at the national level, followed by sexual violence (49.7%), physical violence (34.7%) and a combination of discrimination and economic and patrimonial violence (27.4%).
Six years ago, after surviving an attempted femicide at the hands of her then-partner, Pérez Encino and her son went to CEJUM in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. There, she received legal assistance and medical and psychological treatment. In 2020, they offered her the opportunity to join the academic training program.
Working toward a law degree has elicited positive changes in Pérez Encino, who says, “I feel more fulfilled. I feel more capable because I know we women are born with abilities. We all have them; they grow with practice.”
She adds, “The basic tool of having in my hands a ‘little book’ about women’s rights and opportunities that are equal to those of men makes me feel empowered because I know what my rights are.”
Pérez Encino will be the first person in her family to earn a university degree, and she is working to ensure more women know their rights by organizing local meetings.
“My sister has been an inspiration to many women in the community,” says Verónica Pérez Encino, 29, who decided to go back to school thanks to her example. “She has supported many women during their processes. I admire her very much because of what she’s done after everything that’s happened to her.”
For Pérez Encino, helping more women to know that they can go to CEJUM has become a personal commitment that will continue after she graduates. “I want to keep doing this,” she says.