While people celebrated their mothers, daughters, and sisters this past Mother’s Day, many folks continue to mourn the missing or murdered women in their lives. Femicide in Mexico and across Latin America has been on the rise, and women living in these countries have spoken out against gender-based violence towards them. So what exactly is the “feminicidio” and why is it still happening?
El Feminicidio : The Reality of Femicide in Mexico
According to the World Health Organization, femicide is a “hate crime” defined as the “intentional murder of women” due to their gender. In Mexico, the disproportionate targeting of women and girls as victims of violence and murder has been labelled a crisis, referred to nationally as “el feminicidio.” Mexican activist Marcela Lagarde made a point to differentiate femicide from the general murder of women, emphasizing the misogynistic, sexist ideology behind it.
The issue started to gain traction in Mexico in 1993 after the country observed a wave of violence against women in Ciudad Juárez, a city right on the U.S. border. The recorded victims were primarily working-class women, and similar murders would continue for the next two decades. The tipping point came in August 2019 when reports of four police officers sexually assaulting a minor in Mexico City were publicized. This case sparked what became known as “la Revolución Diamantina,” or the “Glitter Revolution.”
The numbers alone speak to the credibility of Mexican feminists rallying against the misogyny-fueled murders. Only in 2012 did Mexico start collecting femicide data, and it ranked 16th in the world for the number of femicides that same year. While 16th may not seem extremely high on the list, it’s important to remember Mexico’s population size relative to other larger countries.
In 2021, the country recorded 969 femicides and 949 a year prior. However, it is estimated that roughly 10 women a day are killed in Mexico, and brutally so. However, less than a quarter of these instances are actually investigated as femicides. Additionally, approximately 40% of femicide victims were acquainted with their murderers, making femicides a rather intimate crime in comparison to general murder. As a result, when asked about the general feeling of safety amongst Mexican women, 77% reported negatively.
Taking the Issue to the Streets
Many women have taken to the streets of Mexico in protest of the brutal violence and murders. In 2019, a series of protests began to gain momentum as women called on President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commonly referred to as AMLO, to take action against the issue. AMLO instead denounced the protests, which notoriously resulted in vandalism of government property and monuments by protestors. At an International Women’s Day rally in Mexico City this year, police claimed that they confiscated a variety of weapons including bats and flammable fuses. Days before, the door of Monterrey’s government palace went up in flames behind the women’s rallies. The year before that, protestors took to the country’s National Palace in Mexico City’s downtown, in which they were sprayed with pepper spray after attempting to tear down a protective barricade.
The most permanent development brought about by the most recent protests was the installment of “La Glorieta de las Mujeres que Luchan,” or the “Roundabout of the Women who Fight.” The roundabout, previously known as “La Glorieta de Colón”, now features a monument of a woman with her fist in the sky, erected on Mexico City’s infamous avenue, Paseo de la Reforma. To put up the monument, protestors tore down a statue of Christopher Columbus. They also asserted that any attempts by officials to remove this statue, or erase the graffiti that had been put on other monuments on the avenue would be the “silencing [of] women’s voices.”
A Vicious Socioeconomic Cycle
The patterns of femicide that Mexico has witnessed are undeniable, and it speaks to the economic and political state of the country. Mexico’s femicide victims have displayed a stark pattern – most are working-class women. The rise of gender-based violence has significant economic consequences, with women falling into poverty at an accelerated rate than men.
According to Global Citizen author Ari Medina, this “feminization of poverty” suggests that femicide acts as a “barrier for [economic] development” and a gateway to more violence against women and girls. A vicious cycle is created in which the issues of socio-economic status and gendered violence feed into one another. As women face such violence, they may likely stray further away from advocating for gender equality in all areas of their lives due to an underlying and instilled sense of fear. Consequently, women are increasingly excluded from male-dominated spheres of the economy, starkly limiting the country’s economic development and diminishing women’s safety and economic security. Women get pushed further into a state of economic exclusion and poverty and thus remain in the vicious cycle in which they are disproportionately vulnerable to gender-based violence.
AMLO’s inaction since the start of the pandemic has worsened the issue. The president maintained that “Mexican women have never been as protected as now” and that 90% of emergency service calls of domestic violence were “false.” However, when COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns were first imposed in March 2020, 911 calls reached a record high. Additionally, the National Network of Shelters reported that it received 80% more emergency calls since the pandemic hit and admitted 50% more women and children into its shelters across the country. Furthermore, AMLO reacted to the feminist rallies by suggesting that they were promoting right-wing values and were plotting against him.
In July 2020, despite demands for action to be taken against the increased rates of gender-based violence, AMLO’s government approved a 75% budget cut for the federal women’s institute. Following this, the president also “proposed to withdraw state funding for women’s shelters operated by NGOs,” suggesting instead that women escaping violence could receive monetary aid. AMLO’s undermining of women who are in dangerous situations is what has strongly allowed these instances to culminate in a full-blown crisis. Moreover, his administration’s actions concerning women’s safety lines and resources take the country several steps backward in addressing systemic violence.
Why is it still happening? Impunity.
Mexico has, however, attempted in the past to tackle the issue that has long been present in the nation but has fallen short in its efforts. The General Law of Access for Women to a Life Free of Violence (GLAWLFV) was adopted by Congress in 2007, which set out to address the “alarming situation of violence against women in Mexico.” The law specifies that the three branches of government should collaborate to “prevent, sanction, and eradicate violence against women” by codifying all forms of violence, prosecuting perpetrators, and providing “adequate compensation to victims.” Though it “establishes … the State’s duty to guarantee the security and integrity of victims through the issuance of protection orders and immediate … intervention,” the Mexican government cannot seem to enforce and execute this properly. So, the law remains what it most likely was set out to be: a front to appease the general public.
The reaction that Mexico has seen from its government is far from adequate. Not only is its failure to address femicide and criticism against protestors enabling the issue, but Mexico’s justice system is complicit in the issue. Accountability is extremely weak as femicide perpetrators are rarely given adequate punishment while the government hardly practices laws that were set out to protect victims. Institutions that are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crimes are underfunded and ineffective. More concerningly, these institutions continue to disregard femicides for what they are: misogyny-fueled murders.
Impunity not only allows for crimes to go without adequate punishment but also proves the system’s failure to prevent aggressors from engaging in such gendered violence out of fear of being convicted. In 2018, it was estimated that “93% of crimes were either not reported or not investigated.” Although the country has begun to count femicides as what they are, rather than homicides, the data is largely skewed. With these crimes being underreported and the reluctance to identify perpetrators, the number of femicides in Mexico is likely much higher than we know. Impunity is only giving way for aggressors to carry out such heinous crimes.
Edited by Bethlehem Samson
If you’d like to support some of the organizations that are working to protect women in Mexico, PSYDEH.org is a great one that works with Indigenous women in rural areas in Mexico. Click here for a list of NGOs that are doing similar work.