What is a Femicide?
The intentional murder of women, because they are women.– The World Health Organization
I do not want them to kill me
According to an official report, at least 10 women are murdered in Mexico daily. Women wait in lengthy lines to file sexual assault charges against their abuser, just for their abuser to go free as the Mexican judicial system is plagued with incompetence and corruption (Garza, 2019). To add to the WHO definition, femicides occur, typically, by the hands of an intimate partner or family member (WHO, 2020). Femicides relates to the definition of gender-based violence, the intentional violence toward women (Luévano, 2020). In Mexico, the term feminicidio rose in popular usage in the 1990s as women and young girls were disproportionately the victims of femicides in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico (Garza, 2019).
Femicide: the hate crime that consists of the murder of a woman because she is a woman
In 2019, femicides represent about 10% of the country’s total homicide rates, which has increased over 145% from 2015 (CSIS, 2020). The pressing issue of feminicidios is considered just one of many alarming human rights crises happening in Mexico. Another reason for the sharp increase in femicides can be linked to policies regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, as women are confined to their home and unable to escape from domestic violence. The problem regarding growing levels of femicides is an epidemic within a pandemic.
The History of Femicides in Mexico
La Malinche (middle), an indigenous Nahua woman, considered to be the creator of the Mestizo mixed-race after conceiving children with Hernán Cortés, a Spanish colonizer
The history of gender-based violence can be dated back to the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Spanish colonizers would rape and “conquer” indigenous women and created the mixed race, Mestizo, those with indigenous and Spainish descent (Martínez-Cortés et al., 2012). The Mestizo genetic makeup makes up almost 53% of all Mexicans, therefore displaying just how normalized violence against indigenous women during the time of Spanish colonialism (Martínez-Cortés et al., 2012).
Today, women with dark-skin and long hair, those with indigenous roots, are statistically at a higher risk of becoming a victim of femicides, even when the indigenous population makes up about 21% of Mexicans (HIR, 2020). So, one can see the legacy of Spanish colonialism still relevant in modern Mexican society as indigenous women still remain at a higher risk for gender-based violence. So, because of the sharp rising levels of gender-based violence, women-led social movements have mobilized to fulfill the role of providing resources, safety, and security in response to the lack of government action to effectively address femicides.
The Importance of Women-Led Social Movements
Protest in Mexico City to remember the countless victims of femicides
Women-led social movements serve as an externality to combat the government’s lack of action to address the rising levels of gender-based violence (GBV) against women. An example of women-led social movements are the Mexican women who have occupied the building of the country’s human rights commission (CNDH) (Mexico News Daily, 2020). The women have stated that the occupation of the space will be utilized as a shelter for women victims of gender-based violence until the government, under AMLO, takes decisive action to combat the growing levels of GBV throughout the country.
Moreover, the formation of Nuestras Hijas, a grass-root group formed by Marisela Ortiz, the mother of a femicide victim, in Ciudad Juárez has worked to combat the violence against women that still exists today (Garza, 2019). This organization is a civil association that formed ten years ago to work to support families of victims who have been assassinated or forcibly disappeared in the Mexican state of Chihuahua (Garza, 2019).
The creators of Nuestras Hijas, an organization that aims to support victims of femicides and their families
However, despite the increasingly alarming high rates of femicides, the “f-word” remains controversial as both men and women reject the ideas of feminism with the misconception that society has reached acceptable levels of equality among the genders (Garza, 2019). Those who refer to feminism as the “f-word” work to silence and delegitimize women and activists by labeling them “feminazis,” therefore provoking negative public opinions about women’s rights organizations throughout Mexico. These women who lead social movements take a pivotal position during a time when the Mexican government knowingly allows the violence against women to go unpunished. Therefore, the lack of definitive action from the Mexican government to decrease the increasing levels of violence against women is exacerbating the problem of femicides.
Not one more
Government Response under the AMLO Administration to Femicides
The evidence of growing numbers of femicidios under the leadership of AMLO during the COVID-19 pandemic is certain. Impatience with the perceived ineffectiveness of the AMLO administration has increased due to controversial cuts to budgets and policies that advance gender equality initiatives (Agren, 2020). Critics point to the ineffectiveness and lack of quality of political institutions that do not respect human rights, and the failure of the government to address the growing rates of rape, murder, and forced disappearances.
Moreover, the police have met the activists with violence, such as arriving at the occupied space of the CNDH to beat the women (in front of their children) and take them in unmarked police cars to be prosecuted (Mexico News Daily, 2020). Basically, the Mexican government’s response to the human rights violations is more human rights violations against women to scare them into social obedience. Yet, these activists still continue to protest inhumane treatment of women in Mexico regardless of the consequences.
Feminist activists in the CNDH protesting the inhumane treatment of women in Mexico City
Similarly, in March, a 25-year old woman was murdered by her boyfriend, igniting the first-ever national Women’s Strike, which called upon the government to address the problem of femicidios (Wattenberger, 2020). Just like many Mexican politicians, AMLO won the presidential race that ran on campaign promises to address the human rights crisis in Mexico, yet (like clockwork) AMLO consciously negates and downplays the country’s human rights crises as an easier alternative to formulating an effective plan to address the crises. Similar to those social movements in the United States, the women protesting for government action are seen as fringe extremists and “feminazis” by individuals who, typically, are guided by conservative right-wing ideology. Overall, the lack of action from the government continues to allow gender-based violence towards women to continue without significant consequences.
The Next Step: Legislative Reform
In conclusion, the compounding variables of government ineffectiveness, COVID-19 pandemic, and illogical beliefs about feminism work together to make Mexico an unsafe environment for all women, especially indigenous women. The important work of women-led social movements cannot not alone fix the increasing levels of gender-based violence without government intervention. Mexico desperately needs to increase their quality of democratic institutions to benefit and protect all citizens, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. The process of better protecting women begins when the government presents progressive and effective legislative reform to address the critical issues of feminicidios. Justice is fundamental to the sustainability of any democracy.
- Agren, D. (2020, July 22). Femicides rise in Mexico as president cuts budgets of women’s shelters. Retrieved December 16, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jul/22/mexico-femicides-president-amlo-women-shelters
- Eagan, M. (2020, November 30). Indigenous Women: The Invisible Victims of Femicide in Mexico. Retrieved December 16, 2020, from https://hir.harvard.edu/indigenous-women-victims-of-femicide-in-mexico/
- Garza, C. (2020). On Our Toes: Women against the Femicide Machine in Mexico. World Literature Today, 94(1), 50-54. doi:10.7588/worllitetoda.94.1.0050
- Luévano, R. (2008). A Living Call: The Theological Challenge of the Juárez-Chihuahua Femicides. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 24(2), 67-76. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20487927
- Martínez-Cortés, G., Salazar-Flores, J., Gabriela Fernández-Rodríguez, L. et al. Admixture and population structure in Mexican-Mestizos based on paternal lineages. J Hum Genet 57, 568–574 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/jhg.2012.67
- Prieto-Carrón, M., Thomson, M., & Macdonald, M. (2007). No More Killings! Women Respond to Femicides in Central America. Gender and Development, 15(1), 25-40. Retrieved December 16, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20461179
- Femicides in Mexico: Impunity and Protests. (2020, December 09). Retrieved December 16, 2020, from https://www.csis.org/analysis/femicides-mexico-impunity-and-protests
- Feminazi: The go-to term for trolls out to silence women. (2015, September 15). Retrieved December 16, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/15/feminazi-go-to-term-for-trolls-out-to-silence-women-charlotte-proudman
- Mexican women’s patience snaps at Amlo’s inaction on femicide. (2020, September 16). Retrieved December 16, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/sep/16/mexico-women-activists-human-rights-commission-protest