The Feminicidio Crisis in Mexico

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A Protest in Mexico Surrounding the Feminicidio Crisis, Credit: El País

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the lives of women and girls in Mexico and Latin America. According to UN reports, since the pandemic lockdown in late March, sexual harassment, femicides, and domestic abuse against women has been at an all time high. Even in the first few weeks of the government enforced lockdown, domestic abuse hotline calls went up by 60%.

This is not a symptom of the pandemic, violence against women in countries with machista cultures in Latin America, such as Mexico, has never been uncommon. After all, this is a country in which public transport is gender-segregated. In Mexico, gendered violence is a historically significant problem; however, domestic abuse and feminicide began gaining increased national and international attention due to brutal crimes that were met with inaction by the Mexican government in the early 2010’s. The term femicide was coined in the 1970s by the feminist author Diana E.H Russel, who described it as the “the intentional killing of women or girls because they are female.” Violence in Mexico, regardless of gender, has only escalated since then. 2019 was the most violent year in Mexican recorded history with over 35,000 homicides, but this violence is largely experienced by women. According to the New York Times, approximately 10 women are murdered every day in Mexico. However, this data also shows that 93% of crimes in Mexico go unreported or not investigated, and many states in Mexico do not even classify femicide and regular homicides separately. Therefore, the figures representing femicides are most likely much higher.

In August of 2019, two young girls were brutally raped and murdered in Mexico City. Women in Mexico felt that the allegations were not being taken seriously by the government, and began protesting. This culminated with the protestors defacing of the iconic Angel of Independence statue in the capitol. This was quite controversial, with some arguing this was a call for freedom of speech and action from the inept Mexican government; while others argued that there is no justification for violence and the destruction of public property. This debate was heightened by the fact that this monument represents the freedom of the Mexican people from the Spanish oppressors because many argue that women in Mexico are not free from the oppression of men. In addition to this, Mexican women banded together and organized a day without women, in which women and girls did not participate in society, such as refusing to go to work and school. This was done in an effort to create more awareness about women’s rights and place in society.

The Vandalized Mexican Angel of Independence, Credit: Millenio

Women from all social classes and backgrounds protested, with the hashtag “#NiUnaMás, #NiUnaMenos” (#NotOneMore, #NotOneLess) circulating in not only Mexico but throughout the rest of Latin America. Through social media, women became much more outspoken about the issue of violence against other women.

“I’m a mother whose daughter was killed! And yes, I’m an empowered, feminist mother, and I have had enough. I have every right to burn down and destroy whatever I want, and I’m not going to ask for anyone’s permission. Because before they murdered my daughter, they murdered many, many others.” – Yessenia Zamudio, Mexico City native whose daughter was murdered

The current Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador is a self-  proclaimed leader of the people, and socially progressive. He denounced the vandalism but pledged to fight gender-based violence by making femicides a separate crime nationwide and creating a government office dedicated to investigating and preventing gender-based issues and crimes. However, he has mostly blamed past administrations for these issues and has not gone through with any of his proposed solutions. On many occasions, multiple areas in Mexico would implement ley seca, in order to diminish alcohol consumption in an effort to reduce the surges in domestic abuse of women. The Mexican government also created an awareness plan for domestic abuse, recommending to men that they “count to ten” when in difficult situations with your partner. This was highly criticized by people throughout Mexico as being tone deaf and oversimplifying a complex problem.

However, this is not an issue unique to Mexico. According to the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Latin America has the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world. In Colombia, for example, there has been a rise of 175% in domestic abuse reports since March. The pandemic has isolated women from the outside world, more often than not putting them in closer contact with their abusers. In addition, 18 million women in Latin America have lost their access to modern contraceptives due to the confinement. Many argue this is of crucial importance for women’s reproductive rights and freedom to make choices related to their fertility.

However, recently there have been some wins for the women’s rights movement in Latin America. In Argentina, a conservative and largely Catholic country, abortion was legalized last month. Women’s rights and abortion advocates are confident this will spur similar movements in other Latin American countries in order to decrease clandestine and criminalized abortions as well as unintended pregnancies.

The Scene Outside the National Palace of Argentina when Abortion was Declared Legal, Credit: CNN‌‌

Overall, the phenomenon of femicides is a multi-faceted issue with many challenges. Machismo in Mexico is a microcosm of the gender inequalities that exist in the world today. However, Latin America has deeply ingrained ideals of male superiority, which are present in gendered language, opportunities and cultural traditions. This has been further exacerbated by little government action and impunity. Nevertheless, there have been marginal wins for women’s rights in these countries, activists believe there is still much work to be done.

Glossary:

Feminicidios: The murder of a woman on the basis of being a woman.

Machismo: Sense of masculine pride

Ley seca: “Dry Law”, prohibition of the sale of alcohol for at least 24 hrs


SOURCES:

Gallón, Natalie. “Women Are Being Killed in Mexico at Record Rates, but the President Says Most Emergency Calls Are 'False'.” CNN. Cable News Network, July 16, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/05/americas/mexico-femicide-coronavirus-lopez-obrador-intl/index.html.

Ramos, Jorge. “In Mexico, Women Break the Silence Against Femicide.” The New York Times. The New York Times, March 6, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/06/opinion/international-world/mexico-femicides-amlo.html.

Press, Associated. “Mexico City Assesses Monument Damage after Anti-Rape March.” New York Post. New York Post, August 19, 2019. https://nypost.com/2019/08/19/mexico-city-assesses-monument-damage-after-anti-rape-march/.

“Surge in Violence against Girls and Women in Latin America and Caribbean - World.” ReliefWeb. Accessed February 23, 2021. https://reliefweb.int/report/world/surge-violence-against-girls-and-women-latin-america-and-caribbean.

“Surge in Violence against Girls and Women in Latin America and Caribbean - World.” ReliefWeb. Accessed February 23, 2021. https://reliefweb.int/report/world/surge-violence-against-girls-and-women-latin-america-and-caribbean.

“Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women - World.” ReliefWeb. Accessed February 23, 2021. https://reliefweb.int/report/world/policy-brief-impact-covid-19-women.

Semple, Paulina Villegas and Kirk. “Un Día Sin Mujeres En México Como Señal De Protesta.” The New York Times. The New York Times, February 27, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/es/2020/02/27/espanol/america-latina/un-dia-sin-nosotras-mexico.html.

Moreno, Carolina. “Why Women In Mexico City Have Separate Subway Cars.” HuffPost. HuffPost, May 10, 2016. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/mexico-citys-subway-is-so-unsafe-for-women-they-need-their-own-pink-cars_n_5731f236e4b096e9f0929bd2.

Radford, Jill, and Diana E.H Russell. Femicide: the Politics of Woman Killing. London: Prentice Hall Intern., 1992.

More posts by Ines Hinojosa.
The Feminicidio Crisis in Mexico
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