Gender-related violence highlights mexico’s larger issues

Gender-related violence highlights mexico’s larger issues

On April 24th, tens of thousands of women and hundreds of men marched in Mexico’s largest cities to demand an end to gender-related violence in the country. The protests were called weeks ahead through social media via the hashtag ‘#Vivasnosqueremos’, literally meaning ‘we want us alive’.

Undoubtedly, demanding the right to remain alive in Mexico can turn into an unmet promise, regardless of your gender. Although homicide figures vary widely, it is estimated that as many as 120,000 have died as a result of the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ launched in 2006. Grisly violence against women, however, has a longer history than the war on drugs itself, and shows few signs of abating.

The border city of Juarez has received widespread international attention since 1993, not because of its manufacturing prowess or its importance as a gateway to the United States, but for the brutal cases of femicides recorded in the area since then. The UK-based NGO Amnesty International estimates that in the decade up to 2003, roughly 370 women were murdered. Of these, at least 137 were sexually assaulted prior to death.

Figures for femicides in Juarez vary substantially, but local NGOs estimate the total tally during that time period at over 400 victims, while Mexican authorities acknowledged the disappearance of around 70 women in Juarez. Over twenty years after the first cases of femicide were recorded, impunity remains at the heart of the vast majority of cases. The lack of cooperation from authorities to tackle these crimes in Juarez led the relatives of three victims to present their cases before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in 2002.

The Commission put forward and analysed the cases, and in 2009, it declared the Mexican government responsible for the disappearance and subsequent death of three females, two of which were underage, citing “the lack of measures for the protection of the victims; the lack of prevention of these crimes in spite of full awareness of the existence of a pattern of gender-related violence; the lack of response of the authorities to the disappearance; the lack of due diligence in the investigation of the homicides; and the denial of justice and lack of an adequate reparation.”

The resolution by the Commission was regarded as a major victory for those seeking justice in Juarez and gave way to a sense of optimism among civil groups in the area. However, optimism has faded since then, as even after, the resolution efforts by the authorities in terms of prevention and prosecution of gender-related violence have been dismal.   

Femicides are not a phenomenon exclusive to Juarez. According to an independent watchdog on gender-related violence, from 2005 to 2010, 1,003 cases of femicides were recorded throughout the country, with the bulk of cases registered in violent northern states but also in the State of Mexico, the country’s most populous. Since July 2015, three Mexican states have issued gender alerts amid a rise in femicides and violent attacks against women. Currently, five more states are considering implementing said measure.

Gender-related violence, including non-fatal attacks and offences have been so common in Mexico’s predominantly macho culture that they have come to be regarded as matter-of-fact situations, with little hope of change. Sexual harassment is rampant, and verbal and physical abuses are a matter of day-to-day life. In Mexico City’s metro system, for example, certain train wagons have been designated specifically for female commuters in an effort to curb harassment at peak hours. Recent figures by the Executive Commission for Victims (CEAV) show that women comprise 90 percent of victims of sexual violence. Moreover, gender-related violence is not exclusive to public spaces; CEAV figures show that roughly 60 percent of attacks against females occur in the victims’ homes.

Recent high profile cases have also brought the issue of harassment and abuse to the national spotlight. In late March, the father of an abused victim accused a group of four wealthy youths of sexually assaulting his daughter back in January 2015. The youths later admitted to wrongdoing but were not prosecuted for their crime. Since then, the case has attracted significant media attention, with the group of youths now labelled in national media as ‘Los Porkys’ a nickname usually associated with pigs.

Society at large has demanded justice over the case, but so far only one of the youths has been arrested, while two reportedly fled the country. In a similar case, the editorial coordinator of a news-site in Mexico City was physically harassed while strolling in one of the city’s most affluent neighbourhoods. Security cameras filmed the incident but authorities have so far failed to identify the molester. The victim has since fled the country over repeated threats after she publicly reported the incident, with authorities failing to commit to ensuring her safety.

Impunity and complicity are at the heart of gender-related offences nationwide. According to the Mexican Institute for Women, over eighty per cent of sexual assaults are never reported, mostly because victims’ confidence in the authorities is low and regard reporting an offence or non-fatal crime as a waste of time. Nonetheless, the same trend can be established for high-impact crimes, such as femicides. The latest figures by Mexico’s National Statistics Institute (INEGI) show that 92.8 percent of crimes are not reported or are not investigated. This dismal rule of law record is further illustrated by a recent study released by the Universidad de las Americas (UDLAP), which shows that roughly 99 percent of crimes in Mexico remain in total impunity given the overwhelming percentage of unreported crimes and the quasi futility of the justice system.

Despite the seemingly ceaseless violence against women, social movements such as ‘#Vivasnosqueremos’ show that society at large may be fed up with these cases. Mexican women, and an increasing percentage of men, are now outspoken advocates of gender equality and respect. Moreover, the recent nationwide protests have put forth issues that transcend gender-related violence, such as Mexico’s broken justice system, a malaise that is in urgent need of reform, from implementing a more efficient justice system, to curbing corruption and holding politicians accountable. For these matters, Mexico will need not only its women, but every single one of its citizens.

Categories: Latin America

About Author

Eduardo Arcos

Eduardo Arcos is a policy analyst and freelance journalist. He holds an M.Sc. in Security Studies from University College London and a B.A. in International Relations from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM). His research focuses on international political economy, peace and security and Latin American affairs.