The Feminicide Debate
The author, who has been researching feminicide for the past three years, explores how language—the use of a term—can affect resources and state policies in fighting violence in Juárez, Mexico.
The term feminicide, referring to misogynist violence against women, is used in the international news to describe the hundreds of women raped and murdered in Juárez, Mexico, over the past two decades. It is a word that, as social justice activist and political science professor Kathleen Staudt of the University of Texas at El Paso explained, “really jolts people because they hear genocide. It sounds like mass murder.” However, the term has generated a debate recently about whether discussing violence against women detracts from a discussion of the overwhelming violence against men and children in Juárez.
Molly Molloy, a librarian at New Mexico State University who tracks the overall death count in Juárez, is among those who question the usefulness of the term, which in the form “femicide” was popularized in the 1970s when Diana E.H. Russell used it to describe acts of violence at the first International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women. Ana Campoy, in the Wall Street Journal, described how Molloy “spends most mornings sifting reports in the Mexican press to create a tally of drug-cartel-related killings.” Molloy fears that the “obsession with the specific killings of certain women in Juárez starting in the early 90s forward really obscures what’s actually going on, which is violence against so many more people.”
Author Charles Bowden agrees. “I don’t find it a very good analytical term,” he said. In his book Murder City (2010) he wrote that the focus on dead women “enables Americans to ignore the dead men,” and that in turn “enables the United States to ignore the failure of its free-trade schemes, which in Juárez are producing poor people and dead people faster than any product.”
While it is true that in Juárez between 1993 and 2012 feminicides make up 18 percent or less of the total murders in any given year, the circumstances of these deaths are worth analyzing in terms of gender. According to Mexican journalist Sergio González Rodriguez, who was one of the first to investigate feminicide in Juárez, “Men are not killed for being men. Women are killed for being women, and they are victims of masculine violence because they are women. It is a crime of hate against the female gender. We cannot ignore this. These are crimes of power. Yes, men are killed like flies, but they are not killed for being men.”
María Socorro Tabuenca Córdoba, the director of the Center for Inter-American Border Studies and a professor at the University of Texas El Paso, has written extensively about feminicide. She argues that, “In Mexico if everything goes under homicidio (homicide), then it’s going to be very hard for you to find out how many women have been killed and what are the causes of death.” Tabuenca Córdoba pointed to a system in which all deaths were filed as homicides, and the police often did not record the specific causes of death. Her statement has proven true given that the most accurate records of feminicide are still kept by individuals, researchers, and journalists rather than by the police or a state or federal institution.
We have the terms homicide, parricide, matricide, fratricide, and infanticide. Why not also feminicide? There are cultural attitudes, societal beliefs, and types of violence that represent the position of women in society, and they should be codified and studied as such. One of the central problems in Juárez and in other emerging areas experiencing feminicide like Oaxaca and Guatemala City is that the circumstances of women’s deaths are not recorded. Women are murdered, but few advances are made in terms of understanding the underlying causes of their deaths or how to prevent such violence in the future.
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