Teresa C. Ulloa Ziaurriz
This profile was prepared when Teresa C. Ulloa Ziaurriz was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1997.
The New Idea
Legislative reforms in 1989 and 1990 advanced legal protections for women in Mexico. The new laws increased punishment for rape and closed the loophole for rapists to avoid sentencing by merely paying a fine; moreover, it is no longer necessary for a woman to file charges in order for prosecution to occur. Sexual harassment is now defined as a crime. However, women continue to experience gender discrimination and violence. Teresa Ulloa has developed a mechanism to address the gap between the provisions of the law and the practical experience of women by creating an ombudsmanlike-role called "popular women defenders." The defenders integrate community-based crisis services with legal information and problem-solving skills. While Teresa continues her work to influence the law and the state, she addresses another important task for the dismantling of the culture of machismo. She strengthens women's exercise of their reproductive and sexual rights by infusing the women themselves with a new vision of their roles in society. Her work leverages a powerful tide of women's movements in Mexico that across political, religious and class lines, have expressed their activism for more than twenty years in educational or social assistance work, typically at the grassroots level. Such groups initiated rape crisis centers, for example. Teresa's work reflects her understanding that laws will be ineffectual until women's rights are respected in the home and the street, and that community-based groups are at the front line for change.