This profile was prepared when Alicia Leal was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
When Alicia founded a cooperative shelter in 1996 for women and children victims of familial violence, no other shelter with multidisciplinary services existed in Mexico. Her aim: To form centers of refuge for women to regain stability in their lives, offer multidisciplinary services, and a safe place to live. The services provided by clinics and government hospitals for battered women were inadequate and focused on the physical aspects of abuse; none offered psychological care or vocational skills for women to learn the skills they need to remove themselves from abusive situations. Through Alternativas Pacificas (ALPAZ), Alicia has developed a model to treat victims of violence. For security reasons, Alicia left ALPAZ and is creating functioning alliances between citizen organizations (COs) and state and federal governments whose partnerships are intended to construct and implement the capacity to respond to the needs of citizens whose civil and human rights have been violated. Developing her intervention model in the northeast State of Nuevo Leon, Alicia has influenced the expansion of women’s shelters throughout the country. Each cooperative center focuses on a multidisciplinary method that involves community professionals; women work together in daily operations; and the collective recuperation of their spirits. Legal representation is a significant part of the ALPAZ model and stresses the importance of educating women about their rights. More than half the women that attended the initial center have been empowered to confront their spouses, to attend marriage counseling, or contacted the police to help them leave dangerous situations. With centers operating in nearly every state and ALPAZ supporting the installation of centers in more rural areas, attaining federal resources and support is necessary. While laws exist to protect women and government agencies have been established to deal with victims of violence and women’s issues, Alicia also trains public officials to become sensitized to the needs of victims. The current national law for the Rights of Women to Live without Violence functions only in name. There is no task force to supervise the law’s implementation and women continue to be excluded from the Justice Department—which either files criminal reports under bureaucratic paperwork or abuses their rights by demanding information about the illegal activities of women’s husbands. With international accords and conferences, media, and United Nations reports looming over federal lawmakers, Alicia is seizing the opportunity to take her years of experience in policy and join groups for significant change. Alicia has presented her model to decision-makers, such as senators and congressional delegates, state governors, and COs, so that a formal method of counseling may be implemented and monitored.