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Alter Everything

A podcast about data science and analytics culture.
Alteryx Alumni (Retired)

Trigger Warning: Femicide. Please be aware that this episode contains a discussion around femicide with mentions of sexual assault and domestic abuse. We advise listener discretion.


In this episode, we discuss the complex web of influences to find out the root cause(s) for feminicide in Mexico, as well as the critical need for data to help fight the issue. Working with activists such as Dr. Sylvia Fernandez, Alteryx associates Monica Cisneros and Kate Butcher discuss how they're helping to digitize and analyze the data to aid in the fight against feminicide.







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Episode Transcription

MADDIE 00:01

Before we jump in, please be aware that this episode contains a discussion around feminicide with mentions of sexual assault and domestic abuse. We advise listener discretion. [music] Welcome to Alter Everything, a podcast about data science and analytics culture. In this episode, we're going to talk about feminicide as a global issue with a focus on violence against women in Mexico. In order to bring awareness and fight this issue, data is needed, and our two guests today, Monica Cisneros and Kate Butcher, are working with activists and other Alteryx associates to help digitize and analyze the data with the goal of bringing about real change. Alteryx will be hosting a webinar on March 8th, 2022. That will be a deeper dive into this project. And if you can't make it on March 8th, the webinar and the resources mentioned in this episode will be on-demand in our show notes. While this is a heavy topic, it's so important to bring awareness to this issue. Let's get started. [music]

MONICA 01:07

My name is Monica Cisneros. I am product marketing manager for data science and machine learning here at Alteryx. A few fun facts about me is that I have two dogs. They are 10 and 11 years old, a Bassett Hound and a Chihuahua mix. I love them so much. I love playing racquetball. I love painting. Anytime, I'm always up for happy hour. So those are the things I am very, very passionate about. And then obviously, what we're going to talk about today, this podcast, this new project I'm super passionate about, so really excited, and have the opportunity to speak about this topic today.

KATE 01:49

Awesome. So my name is Kate Butcher. I'm a senior manager of product management here at Alteryx, also focused on the machine learning and advanced analytics product portfolios. So to me, this is a really exciting conversation. As much as I'm a data nerd in and of itself, I really enjoy the storytelling that comes with data and that is enabled by data. So really looking forward to this.

MONICA 02:13

Awesome. So both Kate and I are actually quite new at Alteryx. I started a few months ago, and I love how passionate Kate is about technology topics and starting this miniseries about talking about nerdy things, talk about data. Let's talk about how data transforms not only businesses but also the world, is a topic I'm super passionate about, and that Kate had the same type of passionate look into the world. So I was like, "Hey, let's do this."

KATE 02:49

Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. I think when Monica shared this first topic in particular, which we'll introduce in a moment, there were a lot of similarities to different areas of my background that I've also partaken in. I guess to go into what this topic is, we will be discussing feminicide in Mexico in particular. Monica, would you like to give a quick introduction here? And we can share a little bit about why this topic resonates with each of us.

MONICA 03:21

Yeah. Absolutely. So this topic came about. I have always wanted to do a program for International Women's Day. I consider myself a feminist, and I really love to see how data transforms the world. And one of those topics is, specifically, how data helps feminist movements go forward. Right. And this one, in particular, this is a hard topic to talk about in general because of the nature of the topic. Right. So feminicide is a hate crime term, [umbrella?], defined as the intentional killing of women or girls because they're female. So this is a big problem that is not only happening in Mexico. It's a global problem. There is a huge issue of violence against women globally. Here in the US, there's a big issue on that. All Latin America, everywhere. That this is an issue that we all have to deal with because we are living in a society where inherently, women are not seen as equal, so particularly, the topic I want to talk about within Mexico is something that is very personal to my experience.

MONICA 04:39

So I was born in El Paso, Texas, but I grew up in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. So I went to school there, had friends there. My family was there. And when recently, it's something that you kind of look back and you realize like, "Oh, man, my childhood was very different than a lot of my friends or my significant other." They grew up in Seattle, and my childhood in Juarez was very different. Right. In front of my house, we had a park, and I was never really allowed to play at the park. Basically, I had to have parental supervision the whole entire time, and even then, my mom was still nervous about letting my brother and I play in the park, even though it was literally just across the street. And this thing that we're talking about is not to create a stereotype. Actually, it's quite the opposite, right, where we're trying to bring in to light and highlight a problem that is happening but making sure that we're dismantling all of these stereotypes that are happening of Mexico's, quote/unquote, "a dangerous place." That's not the case. We're trying to make sure that the audience understands that all the things that are happening there are due to a big web of influences that are happening. Right. So it is a big issue. Feminicide is a big issue in Ciudad Juarez, but it is also an issue around the world. And violence against women is everywhere.

KATE 06:20

Yeah. Thanks for sharing a little bit about that story and your story. Monica. I appreciate that. You started with that definition of Feminicide, right, as really being the killing of females and girls because of their gender. Right. In doing a little bit of research around this topic, one of the pieces that was really fascinating for me to learn about in particular was actually the difference even between the two words that you'll see come up around femicide versus feminicide, where femicide is kind of that initial definition, whereas that initial definition being referred to as, again, the killing of females or girls by males because they are female. Right. Whereas I think this word feminicide goes one step deeper as I understand it, too. And feministcide starts to bring in the implication of the state or the government's complicity in maintaining this violence against women. Right. But where did this stem from, right? What are the historical and cultural pieces that have contributed to this? And how does a government or state agency really help to perpetuate that?

MONICA 07:33

Thank you so much for bringing that up. And so to be very clear with the audience, I am very new to this topic. I am in no kind of sense an expert or anything like that. My expertise is the data science and machine learning marketing, and a little bit of neuroscience. We'll talk about that later. But with this, again, it's from a personal experience. This is where I'm coming from, and I am still learning a lot of the things that are happening. And I'm going to go a little bit deeper on to who we're partnering with and what we're doing later. But let's start with your question, right, which is femicide versus feminicide. And that is something I didn't know at the beginning. I was like, "I guess it's the English translation. It's no big deal," but as you're pointing out, is it takes that cultural part of it when you add the N-I extra into feminicide.

MONICA 08:29

So in Mexico, as far as I learned, it is a complex set of issues. Right. We have impunity from the government. So what is impunity? It is, basically, that there are no consequences to any of these actions. An example of this is with Marisela Escobedo. It is the mom of Rubi Escobedo. Rubi Escobedo was killed by her partner and became a very, very loud activist in the community to try to get justice to her daughter. And long story short, nothing happened to the guy. He went out free. And on top of that, because Marisela was being such an avid advocate for her daughter and other women that have gotten killed and basically their assailants have no consequences to them, she actually was killed, too. So it is a very, very sad story that you see impunity and the government and the community being implicit in not only the killing of Rubi but also of Marisela, the mom. Right. So it's a huge issue that it stems from a ton of places.

MONICA 09:53

Now, you also touch upon part of the cultural aspect of it. So there is the patriarchy, which is a general concept around the world where men are seen as the leaders of a cultural society, but there is a subset of that called machismo. And machismo originally was associated with the ideal societal role of men that were expected to play in their communities, more particularly in Iberian language-speaking societies like Spain and Portugal, where this is basically associated of the role of the man. Right. You have to protect the women. You have to have a certain way about speaking. And it is very much so evolved into this very toxic masculinity, part of it that has gone into colonial places, for example, Mexico, that was colonized by the Spanish centuries ago. And now, machismo has been evolved and been part of not only Mexico but a lot of Latin America, and that is part of the culture. So machismo is strongly and consistently associated with dominance, aggression, and exhibition. So this thing about, "Oh, shut up, woman," that's one side of machismo. And the other one-side of machismo is something like my grandpa telling me, "Hey, you cannot go to college alone because you're unmarried." So it's those two sides of one of them is protecting women while also making them less, that we are less independent or less autonomous of what we can do, and then the other one goes all the way to aggression and subservience. So that is also part of the culture.

KATE 11:47

I think part of that is, again, going back to history, of how females are perceived in society and the relationships that they have to their male counterparts. And I think, taking a step back, education and economic, socioeconomic status play such a role here. And I think it's important for us to really hone in on that, right, of how our education systems and how they differ from country to country, but how they often perpetuate these problems. Right. And it creates a separation where a lot of these gendered stereotypes become learned, right, and become ingrained in culture, and it passes down from generation to generation. I think education is, of course, a great opportunity for us as societies, but again, it perpetuates some of these classist problems that we're up against. And so I might throw a question back to you, Monica, of trying to understand, what are some of the ways that education can help to change the conversation here? And what are some of the movements that you see alongside education that are helping to drive feminicide and other associated issues to the top of conversations as it relates to women's empowerment?

MONICA 13:14

Yeah. So that's part of the issue, right? A lot of people don't know that this is going on. Or even in my own hometown, which is severely affected by this, a lot of people don't think it's real, don't think it exists. Right. They think it's isolated incidents, or it's not as severe as they were talking about. Or there's also a lot of victim-blaming, and that is a huge part of the issue. Right. So basically, there are a ton of people working on this, not only in Ciudad Juarez but across the globe. Right. We have people, especially in Latin America, we have in Colombia and Argentina. Here in the US, there are a ton of activists that are working on femicide, feminicide, and also violence against women-type of work, right, where they're using data in order to do some analysis, understand the issue better, and be able to collaborate with people. There are quite a lot of issues when it comes to sharing this information. So number one, we have a data issue. Right. Let's even start even before that, right. People are scared to come to the police and bring a report out. First of all, that's first issue. And it's not only in feminicide but then also sexual assault, other types of violence against women, domestic abuse as well. I mean, a lot of women are scared to even report the assault. Number two, even if they do, there's nothing that happens afterward. Right. It's all about the impunity.

MONICA 15:01

Number three, when it happens, and either there is, or there's not a consequence to that report, when we get to news stations or the newspapers, there's a lot of issues on how that's being talked about. Right. Some news corporations tend to sensationalize the event. They're basically trying to have viewership and put the violence at the first and have a very graphic image to sell more papers. There's a lot of victim-blaming, not only in the community but also within the news. And then also, there's victim erasure, so victims are being stripped out of their names, their identities, everything. One of them can be for protection. That is one way for victim erasure that is accepted. But then there's another one where they are only focused on the crime in order to sell more, but not for the benefit of the victim. And a lot of the times when this is happening, women tend to disappear, so it's not even about finding the body already. It's just, "Hey, this woman is disappeared. We need help finding her." And the fact that they don't put the name, they put the story to sell, that is part of that victim erasure that is happening within some newspapers. Right?

KATE 16:27

Yeah. No, thanks for sharing that. I think that's spot on. I think you really highlighted the fact that from the very beginning of this problem, the ability for women to speak out and speak up is often the largest challenge, and that trickles down into our ability to understand the problem because it's not being reported correctly. I think that there's a really strong ability that starts to come-- a strong story where you start to be able to create as we get more data about this, as we get more stories about this, as these taboo topics become more spoken about, right, more accepted to speak about. And I think some of the statistics that I've seen, in general, are really helpful for trying to break down that barrier. Right. I think the current statistic is that more than one in three women will be in an abusive relationship in their lifetime. Taking a step back to pause on that, that is a huge number. That is a huge number. And it's having that data, having those statistics that start to enable and empower us to see that we're not alone in this. Right. And that's powerful, really trying to understand that, understand that this is not an other issue, that this is something that is affecting women throughout the world today.

MONICA 17:49

Yeah. And there's so many people out there, so many great activists working against violence against women. Right. My own mother-in-law; she volunteers, and she's there to help out women who suffer domestic abuse in North Carolina and in Boston. Right. But for this particular topic, for feminicide, I do want to call out a few activists that are working on this precisely. There's the Data Feminism Lab at MIT that is doing an amazing work in their mapping and creating, understanding what the features are happening and what influences feminicide in other regions. There is Maria Salguero. Actually, I had the privilege of talking with her, and she's going to be one of the advisors in our work. And she was named one of Forbes, Mexico's most influential women, in 2019 and 2020. And she's working on Feminicos in Mexico, which is a crowdsourced map of looking at all the women, disappeared and found dead, in Mexico. Then there's also Sonia Madrigal, who is working on aggregation of areas. She's working on a collaborative map of not only Mexico but also in all of the Americas. And then there's Ivvone Ramirez, who worked on the project where it's in part of the area that we're working on in Ciudad Juarez. So with that, do you want to transition into what we're doing today at Alteryx to help out [laughter]?

KATE 19:25

Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. And I think you mentioned a lot of the great resources that those activists are each leveraging to tell these stories and to bring awareness to the area. You mentioned crowdsourced maps and leveraging data. Tell me more about how Alteryx can help support this initiative from a data perspective.

MONICA 19:47

Yeah. So again, I'm super passionate about this. So I started reaching out on Twitter to Maria Salguero, and I ended up talking with Dr. Sylvia Fernandez. And Marie Salguero, I had an awesome conversation with her, but she's doing an amazing work already working with the Department of Justice of the state of Sonora, actually, using her map and her analysis to help the Justice Department bring justice to those women. So she's a little busy [laughter]. So I'm focusing the work with Dr. Fernandez, who is an associate professor at Washington University Pullman, and we started talking on Twitter. And she was like, "Hey, let's collaborate." Right. And I told her, "I work for Alteryx. So, hey, let's bring that magic into something that can change the world and influence people's lives." Right. So I started talking with Dr. Fernandes to collaborate. And I'll start with a little bit of background as to what this project is about.

MONICA 20:54

This project is called Archiving Feminicide from Data to Narrative, and this project started with Esther Chavez Cano. Esther Chavez Cano worked at El Diario de Juarez, which is a famous publication in my hometown, and eventually gained a position in the executive board of the newspaper. This was back in the '80s. In 1992, she started an activist group called Ocho de Marzo, where they protested strict abortion rules from the government. In 1993, Chavez began keeping track of the findings of murdered women around Juarez, and with her group of Ocho de Marzo, she began to call the government agencies to do a better job at solving those outstanding murder cases and bring the people to justice. In 1996, she formed a coalition of NGOs to unite, to work for the persecution and prevention of crimes against women. So, again, not only about feminicide but also domestic violence, about sexual assault, et cetera. And four years later, after 1996, they were able to finally make the police force to create a special unit to investigate sex crimes in Juarez. In 1996, she created Casa Amiga. Casa Amiga is the first shelter of the city for women that are experiencing physical and sexual abuse. Unfortunately, Esther Chavez Cano died in 2009 of cancer.

MONICA 22:30

I was talking about that in 1983, she started collecting findings and trackings about the women found killed in Juarez. Right. So the University of New Mexico, NMSU, they have a collection of the newspaper clippings that she got, and they have them in boxes. They're in their library. They're in boxes, all of these news clippings. And in recent years, NMSU has a group of people working and scanning and classifying those newspaper clippings, specifically with Dr. Cynthia Bejarano, who is a professor in NMSU. She's leading the effort in here. And now she's collaborating with other academics, for example, Dr. Julia Monarrez and with Dr. Luis Cervera from Colegio de Chihuahua and Colegio de Frontera Norte, and also other students from an NMSU, working, trying to classify all this information, making that in PDS and making it digital.

MONICA 23:39

So Sylvia Fernandez has already worked on other activist projects. Previously, she was working in Torn Apart, Separdos, which is another data narrative project with Columbia University, where she was looking at detention camps in the US during the Obama and Trump administration and basically track the money. Where is the privatized industrial complex coming from and giving money to detention camps? And it's amazing. If you have a chance, you should check it out. Check out her map, Torn Apart, Separados. And now, she's working with Dr. Bejarano to create this archiving feminicide project. Right. So we were talking about the issues that are happening. And actually, this happened to us this week when we were talking and looking at the data, basically. First of all, they're in newspaper clippings. Not all of them are digitized. A, B, sometimes that digitization of the assets are not great in quality, so we need to make sure that all of them are rescan and make sure that they are in high quality. And then number three, which is what happened to us last week, was that the ones that were digitized, the archivist at the university, they were doing something to the website, and then it disappeared [laughter]. So it's like if this is happening to us last week, I mean, it definitely happens to other people that are looking at this type of work when-- but it happens, right? It's part of the issue that the data is not readily accessible.

MONICA 25:26

So when I was talking to Dr. Fernandez on how we're going to work together, I was like, "Hey, here at Alteryx, we have amazing tools. We have Intelligent Suite, which has optical character recognition where we can pull up information from PDFs, we can read them, and we can analyze data and unstructured data. So pull up the text, do text mining, and text analytics on it. I think that partnering up with you on the team, we're able to take you to the next level, make this a lot easier for you to help out on this." And then, of course, I was as a marketing person, "Hey, let's put a ton of awareness into the issue as well on top of that." So that's why we're doing the podcast, too. So when I pitched this internally at Alteryx, I was so gladly surprised of how many people within our Alteryx community, internally, that the employees, they were willing to help, like, "Hey, I'm a data scientist. I am a data engineer." One person is like, "I'm great at project management. How can we help you?" And that warmed my heart so much. After the kick-off call that we had, I called my mom, and I started crying, and I was like, "Mom, I'm finally doing something for my community with what I'm doing."

MONICA 26:58

And so the whole neuroscience thing apart, I was on my way for a PhD in neuroscience in 2017, and I decided not to go at the end of the day because I needed something that allowed me to have a lot more personal or social interactions. Right. I was in the lab basically 24/7 alone in the animal facility, and I needed a little bit more of that social interaction. So I was like, "Okay, I'm going to get a job." I ended up in a job in tech in 2017. And I was very-- my dream kind of died there. I was like, "Okay, whatever. I won't be a scientist, but at least I'm still in Stem. Let's see what happens there." And then when I called my mom, I was like, "Well, this is the reason. It's like I have the privilege of working with such amazing people that are on top of their field, amazing data scientists, amazing technologists, and they're willing to give their time and effort and their expertise to help out my community. And having that privilege of making it happen, it means the world to me." So sorry, I'm crying a little again [laughter].

KATE 28:13

Wow. No, I think that's what this is all about, right? what are the stories behind this data? And I think the story of the community coming together to make this happen is the epitome of what Alteryx stands for and is also truly so wonderful to see everyone coming together for this cause across different communities, right, the universities plus Alteryx's partnership. I think one of the things that's so important here is the storytelling that this enables. Right. When you look at the data, you're talking about those boxes of articles, boxes of newspaper clippings, and how great is it that we can be a part of this, take that information and start to put that story together, right, start to grab value out of that in a way that didn't use to be that easy to do. I think when folks talk about machine learning, when folks talk about OCR, optical character recognition, for those that don't know that acronym, it's easy to think about the technology behind it and how overwhelming that can be, right, when you talk about the analytics portion of it. But being able to take a step back and really understand the value that comes from these stories, the opportunities that this enables across so many different industries. Right. This is not, I don't know, just being able to contribute towards research, being able to contribute towards a feminist movement with this, being able to empower activists with this.

KATE 30:02

I think at the end of the day, our hope and our intention really behind this project is that this information can be leveraged to bring to lobbyists, to bring to the government, right, to make change that needs to happen. Data is power, right? Data is power for us. It allows us to break down those barriers and really see the impact of them, and it gives us the framework to have those conversations, to normalize those conversations. And I'm so excited to be a part of this project and to be able to move one step in the right direction on this front.

MONICA 30:43

It has been an incredible experience so far working with Dr. Fernandez. I'm really excited to work with Dr. Bejarano as well, with their very powerful, influential activists that are-- like you said, Kate, data is power. And hopefully, we can get to a place where this work can be replicated in other places. Right. We're starting in Juarez, but again, it's a global problem. So how can we take what we learned here, those workflows, and make sure to repeat them somewhere else? Can we help other activists in other countries or other regions and for them to do whatever they need to do, have that flexibility to make sure that it is custom to them? But the work is already there, and they're able to leverage very, very easily and then go forward with that.

KATE 31:37

Awesome. This is really exciting work for us to be a part of here at Alteryx. Monica, can you share a little bit more about the upcoming webinar that we're hosting on March 8th and some of the work, that folks can listen in to learn more?

MONICA 31:53

Yeah, absolutely. So we're taking all of those PDFs from the Esther Chavez Cano collection. We are going to use optical character recognition, OCR, to pull in the information, do some text mining. We're going to do some text analytics and understand what the trends are. Let's start with classification, understanding where things are, what happened. What we want to get to eventually is have something like Torn Apart, Separados, where we're able to see where women were studying, where they were working, where they disappeared. If they're ever found, where they were found? And then triangulate, basically, their journey, and then also understand the influences that are happening as to what happened to them. Was it somebody that they knew? Was it a stranger? Was it on the way from work to home, or was it on the way from school to work? What happened, right? So then, hopefully, take that and share it widely with the community. I want to get to the point where we're able to crowdsource this work and be able to leverage the-- well, I want to invite the Alteryx community to be part of it. We aren't sure exactly how yet, so a little bit of patience on that, but I would really love for the Alteryx community to be part of it.

MONICA 33:21

The webinar, you're going to hear directly from Dr. Fernandez, also from our corporate social responsibility director. And hear her out. She's going to go a little bit more into detail into the project, the topic. I love to hear from her. She's such a knowledgeable person, again, coming from the humanities perspective, and the webinar is going to be great. March 8th, please, everybody, tune in. And if you don't get a chance to see it on March 8th, it's also going to be available on-demand, and it's going to be available with subtitles in Spanish and Portuguese. Fingers crossed [laughter].

KATE 33:57

Awesome. Well, thanks so much, everyone, for tuning in. Monica, thanks for sharing your story and for making this connection to Alteryx. We're excited to see where this project goes and looking forward to providing follow-ups throughout. [music]

MADDIE 34:16

Thanks for listening. For more on the resources and activists that Monica and Kate mentioned, as well as details for the Alteryx webinar on March 8th, check out our show notes at community.alteryx.com/podcast. And by the way, if you were hoping for a more in-depth explanation of OCR, you're in luck. Here's Kate. [music]

KATE 34:38

So optical character recognition, or OCR, is the conversion method of converting images of typed or handwritten, or printed text into machine-encoded text. Right. So with our Alteryx Intelligence Suite, we are able to scan these files into our systems and pull out what that content is so that that text is in a usable format, that usable format of text we're then able to use a method called text mining to further categorize or identify what that content is, what that data is. Right. Monica alluded to the fact that she would like to be able to triangulate the locations of where some of these incidents have happened, details about the relationship of the abuser to the victim, and so on. And so by using these text mining techniques, we'll be able to aggregate that information using a machine learning methodology to pull that out and pull those details to the forefront of our data collection process. That's going to give us insights that can better feed our stories and help to convey the bigger picture as we move forward with the next steps on this project.



This episode was produced by Maddie Johannsen (@MaddieJ). Special thanks to @jesperwinkelhorst  for the theme music track, and @mikecusic for our album artwork.