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How a Mexican community kitchen is offering refuge from domestic violence

In the outskirts of Mexico city, the kitchen is creating a support system and helping women gain livelihood

Ana (R) and Leticia, members of the collective �Mujeres de la Tierra�, walk with corn to a neighborhood mill, in Milpa Alta, Mexico City, on February 16, 2021. - The collective �Mujeres de la Tierra� started in May, 2020, as a way to help survivors of domestic violence generate an income amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by CLAUDIO CRUZ / AFP) (AFP)

For members of Mujeres de la Tierra (Women of the Land) cooperative, the community kitchen they run in the outskirts of Mexico City is a source of livelihood, but more importantly, a safe space to escape abuse. With covid19 having impacted their financial independence, it increased many women’s vulnerability to domestic violence. While most women suffer through the abuse silently, for some, the pandemic related restrictions were a wake-up call. In order to help women survivors, the collective was set up in May, last year.

"Unfortunately we have all suffered from violence of some kind.... psychological, physical, financial violence," said Alma, 31, who like the others did not want to give her full name.

The Latin American country, long beset by a culture of machismo, is in the grips of a femicide crisis with 10 women murdered every day. And the pandemic has only helped in the escalation of violence against women. Around 940 femicides were reported last year, while the authorities received more than 2,60,000 calls for help because of violence against women, the most in five years.

At the community kitchen project, it’s a team effort. While one lights the stove, others grind corn, knead dough and wash vegetables. Filled with music and brightened by purple corn on the cob, the kitchen radiates a sense of brief happiness for these women. On offer are tortillas, tamales and other maize-based delicacies, which are sold through social networks.

"We're very lucky to be able to work with what the land gives us to produce and escape the violence that we experienced at home," said Alma, standing next to a still-smoking stove.

According to several international reports, women and other marginalized communities have borne the economic impact of the pandemic. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the participation of Latin American women in the labor market fell from 52% in 2019 to 46% in 2020.

For these women, making food came to rescue when times were tough - putting tortillas and other corn delicacies like tlacoyos and gorditas on the grill. "Our self-esteem is sometimes really low with so many problems, said Gris, a 34-year-old mother of four. Then suddenly there's good news. It motivates us to say, “yes we can”. There will be ups and downs," says Gris, a 34-year-old mother of four who works at the community kitchen

The support system that kitchen has been able to provide is also helping women recover and rebuilt their belief in themselves. Leticia (39), another woman who works at the community kitchen, said the cooking collective and its spirit of solidarity have brought many benefits."I feel very good because this project has given me confidence as well as financial and emotional security. It has given me many things," she said.

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