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Photo: MVM Noticias.
Aleida Ruiz is a Oaxacan teenager taking her state and country by storm with activism. Photo: MVM Noticias.

Aleida Ruiz, the young Mexican at war with child marriage

At just 15 years old, Ruiz is a dancer, writer, and activist with the very clear goal to fight for women's rights. 

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It's a strange time to be a teenager. Or, rather, to be almost anything. Confined physically and mentally during a pandemic, the struggles waged at that age seek to reaffirm one's own identity while questioning the adult world imposed up to that point. In the end, teens always look to their peers and especially to the Internet. 

While most young people repeat — and this is something quite shared by teachers — that "the world is ending, teacher," "that we are locked up," a young Mexican girl from Oaxaca, Aleida Ruiz, has another way of looking at these difficult times and is acting on them for the good of herself and all. 

Ruiz, 15, was nominated last 2020 for the International Children's Peace Prize, an award previously won by the famous climate activist Greta Thunberg. However, this young woman's struggle has another objective parallel to that of the Swedish campaigner. 

Child marriage in Oaxaca, Mexico, has been punishable since 2013, but still accounts for almost 40% of marriages in the state.

Last Feb. 22, Ruiz spearheaded the campaign "Let girls be girls, not wives," which seeks to eradicate the practice and protect indigenous girls whose families continue to insist on these marriages at a very young age. 

This is not an isolated problem. Oaxaca is the third state with the most child marriages after Chiapas and Guerrero, and the practice still has the support of many judges. For this reason, in mid-February, the Civil Code was reformed so that magistrates who authorize marriages of minors under 18 years of age can be sanctioned or dismissed.

The initiative launched by Ruiz, a dancer and ambassador for peace, was joined by companies, politicians, and the media that are working to ensure young women in the state receive sex education and know their rights. But how?

Ballet as a bridge

It is difficult to make families who have been marrying off their children for generations understand that their traditions violate human rights.

For this reason, Ruiz proposed to do it through art. That is, dance. Taking ballet classes, and staging conferences at schools in indigenous communities to explain the importance of eradicating these forced marriages. For the moment, their plans are postponed by COVID-19.

This is not the only project promoted by the 15-year-old activist. 

Ruiz is also raising funds to buy more menstrual cups for Oaxacan women prisoners, has taught dance courses in women's prisons, and written a collection of short stories to educate against macho violence and sexist stereotypes.

By and for women

On Monday, March 8, which is International Women's Day, the dancer announced that she would offer a virtual show to raise funds to buy 150 menstrual cups and donate them to Tanivet prison, where hundreds of incarcerated women have very limited access to intimate hygiene products.

Ruiz also wants to continue working for equality in the future and told the newspaper Milenio that she would like to become an international ambassador and perhaps take a position at the United Nations or in a human rights organization. 

"I consider myself a feminist to the extent that I firmly believe in equality and in the right of men and women to have the same opportunities," Ruiz said, adding that "the female gender is at a clear disadvantage and we have to work to achieve a balance."

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