Mexico’s Women in Arms

Women in the town of Xaltianguis, Mexico are taking up arms as part of a growing number of vigilante groups fighting back against drug violence.

The final outrage for Xaltianguis – a small town about 45 minutes northeast of Acapulco – came when a little boy was kidnapped. The family called the local authorities. Nothing happened. They called the state, the army and the marines. No one came. That is until their neighbors in Ayutla, a nearby town who had formed a community police force, suddenly appeared and offered to help. Within the hour, the little boy was free.

Like so many towns in the region, Xaltianguis had been ravaged by the crime and mayhem brought on by a turf war among rival drug cartels and gangs of restless thugs taking advantage of the unstable environment. While children used to play outside freely, the streets of this small town of about 7000 people had gone completely quiet. Residents were locked up in their homes by 8 p.m., not even daring to peak through their windows after dark.

“I could see fear in my children,” says Areli Almazan Almazan, a mother and member of the new community police force in Xaltianguis. “We couldn’t continue living in fear.”

So two months ago, when the vigilante movement that has been spreading throughout the region reached her town square, Almazan was among the first join in. She and more than 100 other women formed their own community police force. They were trained in how to use their guns and practiced operations.

Now the women participate in patrols, looking out for their neighbors and standing outside of the local schools to make sure their children stay safe.

And their presence, along with that of their male counterparts, have made a noticeable difference. “You can see the restoration of trust in this town,” says Areli’s husband, Alfredo Almazan.

“So that my children have that freedom to go outside and play,” Areli says, “I haven’t even considered giving up. I will keep going.”