In a 30-year journalistic career Lydia Cacho Ribeiro has strived to decipher and explain corruption and structural violence towards women and girls in order to find creative responses to violence.
This piece is part of our dossier "No Women - No Peace: 20th Anniversary of UNSC Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security".
In exile, journalist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro won’t stop writing, reading, researching, engaging in conversation and time and time again returning to written expression. Such discipline and her commitment to justice for women, girls and boys has made her investigations to unravel human trafficking networks become a reference for journalism. This work has, however, brought her death threats and led her to move from her native country Mexico as a way to protect her own life.
Accustomed to combining her role as an interviewer with that of the interviewee, Cacho agreed to a video call during the only free space on her agenda, which happened to be after giving an online keynote address and receiving the Hay Digital Festival Journalism medal – her most recent recognition in a long list of international awards acknowledging her career as a journalist, investigative reporter, feminist, human rights defender and author of 16 books.
In a 30-year journalistic career, Cacho has immersed herself in the stories of survivors of exploitation and those who refuse to allow the impunity of the powerful to prevail. She has also strived to decipher and explain corruption and structural violence towards women and girls in order to find creative responses to violence. With such experience, she did not hesitate to answer that she is "a journalist, a feminist and a defender of human rights" when asked about her work.
To her biography, one could add that she is a woman committed to peace, to journalism for peace, and therefore upholds the spirit of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security of the UN Security Council adopted two decades ago, on 31 October 2000, and the reason for this conversation, which, being remote, feels more like a profound exposition with herself.
As well as being a specialist in organised crime and human trafficking, Lydia Cacho is herself a survivor of torture. Since the release of Los Demonios del Edén (The Demons of Eden), the book where she revealed the existence of a network of child sexual exploitation involving high-profile businessmen and politicians, she has lived under siege and in constant danger. In July 2019, two men raided her house in Quintana Roo, stole her work equipment and killed two dogs who were protecting the house.
The persecution began in December 2005, when she was detained by at least ten people, including police officers and private agents, who, under the guise of a criminal accusation against her, transported her from the state of Quintana Roo to Puebla, a 20-hour journey during which she was tortured. Her life has made her an authoritative voice to speak of security, a recurring word in her daily work.
‘For me, security is a way of life. When a person has to flee from a conflict zone, from war, when she has to flee from violence within her community, from her home, and migrate to another place, security is not only found in a refuge. Security has more to do with protecting the psycho-emotional, physical integrity, the health, and the right of women, girls and boys to have their bodies respected, protected: to food, nutrition, education, access to work. Security involves all of this.’
Her work as a reporter, combined with her role as a defender of victims of trafficking and abuse have allowed her to see feminist influence changing the narrative of the media and of society in general. For Cacho, the UN resolution pushed the feminist revolution that proposed a different look at the situation of women, girls, boys and men who live in the midst of warfare or who are expelled from their home countries by state, political or sex or gender-based violence.
‘There is a great and wonderful new narrative that we women journalists and women activists have created, around the world, from Africa to Latin America. From north to south of the American continent we have achieved a significant impact on the way we narrate the world and the way we look at ourselves and help other women and girls to look at themselves.’
When the UN Security Council adopted the Resolution 1325 20 years ago, it was almost impossible to get the front pages of the newspapers to carry women who appeared not just as victims, but as fundamental actors in politics. It was also unimaginable that the media would use inclusive language or that the protagonists of the news could be seen as feminists, but everything has changed. ‘That is due to the great work of journalists around the world and, without a doubt, to the philosophers and defenders of women's rights who have managed to change the language and the narrative in every way.’
I would like to know that impunity will not win the battle
All the author's investigations in her books – from Los Demonios del Edén (The Demons of Eden), through Esclavas del Poder (Slaves of Power) and even En busca de Kayla (In Search of Kayla) or Ellos hablan (They Speak) – have left a deep mark on society, an impact she did not imagine reaching when she decided to drop her poetic aspirations and become a journalist, a job in which she began to apply her feminist principles and knowledge until she became an expert in peace.
The journalist, along with other colleagues, has set out to tell stories and explain them; and to deliver them to society to reflect on, which, in her words, has brought a backlash: recalcitrant machismo and patriarchal conservatism that wants to return to the status quo. ‘It doesn't want us to continue questioning power, but our job is to be the counterpower. We are here to realize how we can create environments where security is the most important thing for everyone.’
For the past 14 years, her journalistic reports have translated into threats and judicial accusations, but she has skilfully learned to detect cyberattacks and smear campaigns, and to weave self-care strategies to prevent violence from affecting her emotional health and stopping her work. ‘All the forms of violence that we journalists and defenders are experiencing have to do with trying to silence us, gag us, distract us from our work and our inner peace, so that we stop working.’
On the twentieth anniversary of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, Lydia Cacho stresses the importance of looking at and telling the stories of what happens to women in a refugee camp, or to those who are facing the army or immigration agents. She is also convinced that it is time to understand that human mobility is very different from people being expelled due to violence and war; and that victimized women and girls have been left stranded in the midst of power battles between rulers and transnational organised crime.
Cacho knows how to read the people she portrays in her work, perhaps because she shares their longings. ‘I would like to know that someday I can return home without losing my life. I would like to know that one day all the women, girls and boys and men who have had to flee wars can return home if they wish or they can build a home wherever they are and feel safe and secure.’
‘I would like to know that impunity will not win the battle every day, that we are here to build peace, not to wage war, and to be able to communicate that every day of our lives: that peace journalism is fundamental for the world to be transformed.’
Translation from Spanish by Jenny Zapata