WMC Women Under Siege Conflict Report: Mexico (2012)
In 1888, while Jack the Ripper went about sadistically murdering a number of lower-class London sex workers, halfway across the world in the northern suburbs of Mexico City, a lesser-known man named Francisco Guerrero, a.k.a. “El Chalequero,” was preying upon poor women in a similarly vicious and calculated manner. Few remember Guerrero; his crimes hardly garnered the same attention as the British serial killer’s. Guerrero’s immediate community knew that he had raped and murdered multiple women and yet he roamed free for years before eventually being apprehended by the police. Sexualized violence against women in Mexico has a long history that has been directly tied to state impunity—the lack of proper legal action—and, more recently, to drug cartels and organized crime.
Today, violence in Mexico is often associated with the shocking, public displays of carnage inflicted by warring drug cartels and the controversial steps taken by outgoing President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa to counter their growing influence. However, a silent, gendered war is also being waged against women throughout the country. Women are being raped, strangled, and tortured, their bodies mutilated and discarded in desolate locations, sending a message to Mexican society: Women’s lives are expendable. Their predators will not be punished.
Professor Rosa-Linda Fregoso of the Latin American & Latino Studies Department at University of California, Santa Cruz, explained to WMC’s Women Under Siege: “There is a common, grave mentality that wants to lump all the violence within the war on drugs and not to differentiate. Both kinds of violence are interrelated; violence against women flourishes and proliferates in societies where force and violence are seen as a legitimate response to conflict.” Marusia Lopez Cruz, the Mesoamerica Regional Coordinator of the international women’s rights organization, JASS (Just Associates), told us that one Mexican woman is raped every four minutes—amounting to 120,000 rapes per year.
Gender-based violence in Mexico was once closely associated with Ciudad Juárez (a border town on the Rio Grande River facing El Paso, Texas) shortly following the passage of the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. Trade barriers had been lowered, factories sprung up, and many rural Mexicans who formerly farmed for a living—including a significant number of women—were forced to migrate to border cities in search of work.
Over the next 20 years, hundreds of women—the Mexican newspaper El Diario estimating close to 900, according to the New Statesman—were tortured, raped, and murdered, their bodies often being discarded in the desert. Initially, many feared a deranged serial killer was responsible, but over time it became apparent that there was no single culprit behind the murders. The term “feminicide” was used to describe these killings—the murder of women and girls because they are female. (The Mexican term “feminicide” differs from “femicide” because the translation of “femicide” in Spanish is simply the killing of females, and does not include the gendered motivation behind the murder.)
Violence against women, at the hands of their husbands, family members, or state officials, extends to all states in Mexico, not just Chihuahua, where Ciudad Juárez is located. The level of brutal violence being waged upon Mexican women seems misplaced in a country that is a 1981 signatory of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which the United States has yet to sign. However, the combination of traditional, narrow gender roles, the growing normalization of violence, and the continued lack of political will and resources from the Mexican government have resulted in an enormous spike in sexualized violence against women.
While it affects women of all classes, gendered violence is higher among certain parts of the Mexican population. As Hector Dominguez-Ruvalcaba, an associate professor in the department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Texas, Austin, explained in an interview with WMC’s Women Under Siege: “We have observed gender violence is more prevalent in those communities with a greater presence of criminal organizations, and a greater marginalization: Most of the victims are poor and have little access to education, and other public services like health, street pavements, etc.”
Whether in poor rural villages or amid the hustle of the capital, Mexico City, Mexican women, unable to rely on the government to protect them, are organizing and pushing their communities to stop this epidemic of gender-based violence themselves.Read the full report here.
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