Lilia Aguilar Gil: World Changer
My mother told me ‘You need to excel because you’re a woman. You are going to change the world, because when you’re educated, you need to give back.’
Lilia Aguilar was ten years old the day two strangers showed up at her home with an astonishing story. They were her parents, they told her. They were intellectuals and activists, and they had left her to stay in rural Mexico for her own safety.
Sounds like the start of every epic hero novel, but this one is true. Up on until then, Lilia had believed the twenty other children living in the primitive home to be her brothers and sisters. In fact, they were all children of dissidents.
By age twelve, she had become an activist herself. At twenty-one, she was attending college at Harvard and flying to Mexico every weekend to campaign for a seat in Mexico’s Congress.
Since then, she’s served in various political offices in her conservative Chihuahua and now holds two Masters degrees.
How She’s Courageous
In the US, it might be difficult to comprehend the violence that takes place in Mexico and Central America.
More than 30,000 people have gone missing in Mexico in the past decade alone. Femicide is rampant and punishment next to non-existent. A man is more likely to likely to go to jail for stealing a cow than for killing a woman. Since 1993, more than 1,500 women were brutally murdered in Juarez, their bodies left to rot in the desert.
Ms. Aguilar championed the creation of Juarez’s Femicide Committee, where she fights to change a culture of impunity for murdering women. She knows that speaking out against corruption can get one killed. She herself was kidnapped—although she dismisses the experience as ‘taken’, in a world where kidnap and extortion are chillingly commonplace.
How Her Courage Affects Others
As soon as I got back to Cambridge I was the student, with a lot of papers to write, discussing issues with amazing people like Amartya Sen. Two days later, I was in Mexico, wearing heels and suits, speaking in the media … But I believe in putting theory to practice, so I was doing both things because I thought it was possible to bring great change to my state.
Women of Mexico and Central America face many challenges due to violence, crime, and gangs.
“It’s a man’s world,” says Lilia. She goes on to explain that in a culture where sexism and misogyny is so entrenched, women first must be educated as to their rights before they can recognize that discrimination and violence against them is wrong.
She’s also outspoken thought leader. Lilia speaks at women’s events worldwide raising awareness about the risks women face in Mexico and Central America.
While in office, she worked to reform the outdated constitution and helped establish new laws for youth, women’s equality, and governmental transparency. She’s also fought for electoral equality and poverty alleviation.
How Her Courage Affects Me
As a mom to a Latina daughter, I was aware of the struggles the women of Central America face, but reading the accounts knocked the breath out of me. It was the sort of thing I sensed between the lines when I read my daughter’s birth mother’s interview.
My son has two young classmates who walked some 2,000 miles from Guatemala seeking asylum. For them and girls like them, the peril of such a journey is better than the almost certain death they face by staying.
Lilia Aguilar and women like her are changing the world for Latinas. If you’d like to learn more about the challenges they face or find out more about Lilia, visit the links below:
- Thousands of Girls and Women are Fleeing Rape, Sexual Violence and Torture in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala
- Mexican deputies toughen up femicide legislation
- Interview: “We are living in a man’s world”
- Panel: Why women and girls of Central America are fleeing to the US
- Harvard Interview
- Inclusive Security Bio
This has been an edition of Women of Courage. Check back every Sunday through February for new articles celebrating real and fictional heroines to inspire you.