Mexico has a big, complex problem to solve. The lives of its women depend on it
This article was published on Medium in 2019.
Toluca de Lerdo, Mexico. Photo by Ricardo Esquivel / Pexels.
On February 9th, Mexicans woke up to the news that Ingrid Escamilla, a 25-year-old was found dead in the north of Mexico City. Images of her violented body were found in Mexican tabloids, websites, and social media. Six days later, on Feb. 15, the entire country mourned over the death of seven-year-old Fatima Cecilia Aldrighett, who was reported missing on Feb. 11. With marks of rape and torture, Aldrighett was found inside a sack wrapped with a plastic bag three kilometres away from her school in Tulyehualco, a neighbourhood in southern Mexico City. The two cases created the most impact in the country this year, leading to protests, media attention, and social media commentary. Unfortunately, they are not the first or the last. According to Russel and Jane Caputi, femicides are the killing of women by men motivated by hate, disdain, pleasure, or feeling of possession towards women. In Mexico, they are rising at an alarming rate. A report by the UN Women compiled available data from the government and put together the number of alleged women murders, women victims of second-degree murders, and registered femicides from January to October of 2018. The report concluded that there was “a worrying tendency upwards — which needs to be reversed — of 10 women murdered every day.”
Maria Salguero, a Geophysicist from Mexico City, says that the Mexican government doesn’t have an open database for its citizens about femicides and that the latest reports separate femicides from second-degree murders. “Within second-degree murders, there are a lot of hidden femicides,” she said in a video interview. Back in 2016, the lack of information led Salguero to create the National Map of Femicides in Mexico. “There was a need for a database, but I never thought the problem (femicides) was that bad,” she said. “I realized that the problem was on a national scale. It was not only in the State of Mexico.” With information from the press, the interactive map reveals the name of the victims, the date of their death, and the story of the events. “I saw how mothers grieved looking for their children, and in the case of girls, a lot of them were found being victims of femicide,” she said. For the past four years, every day, Salguero adds between seven or eight femicides to her database. “There are 10 femicides a day in Mexico, but the press fails to register all of them. Sometimes I do register the 10. “There is always a case that has a bigger impact than others, but you never stop thinking: poor girl. I wish she didn’t suffer,” Salguero said. “I always think: this case cannot top others, but there is always one that does.”
Mexico City’s Commission of Human Rights considers that femicide violence in Mexico obeys the context of a culture that is machoistic and misogynist, with social, economic, and political factors. Frida Guerrera, a communicator who has been chronicling femicides in Mexico since 2016, says the increasing rate of femicides is a mix of different factors, especially years of impunity by different governments. “This is not a new topic,” she said in a phone interview. “Femicides have been increasing every year since I started, and those are messages of impunity that the government has given to the murderers.” Guerrera says that femicides are rarely investigated. For this reason, she helps the families of the victims to incarcerate their murderers even though she’s not a lawyer. “For the government, it is important to say that they are alleged murders of women instead of femicides because they don’t have the capacity to investigate from a gender perspective or have the sensibility to listen and care for the thousands of families that are seeking justice.” According to a document from UNICEF in Argentina, “A gender perspective leads us to recognize that, historically, women have had unequal opportunities in access to education, justice, and health, and even today with better conditions, depending on the region in which they live, their possibilities of development continue to be uneven and inequitable.”
In different parts of the country, women have created Facebook groups that serve as online sororities. In these groups, we share our experiences of being harassed or abused and share tips on how we can protect ourselves from potential threats. We comment on where we can buy peppermint gas, how to defend ourselves when we’re in a car, or even share our live routes on WhatsApp groups since there has been a lot of abuse committed in Ubers and cabs which has gone uninvestigated. But we remain strong.
The high levels of impunity, injustice, and inequality have taken the women of Mexico to the streets to demand justice for the victims and for an end to gender violence. In August of 2019, thousands of women all over the country protested against police with the hashtag #NoMeCuidanMeViolan (They don’t take care of me, they rape me) after a minor denounced being abused by four policemen in Mexico City. In the following months, more femicides and cases of sexual abuse were reported, which sparked rage and more protests under the hashtag #NiUnaMenos (Not One Woman Less). During these protests, women sang the Chilean feminist anthem “Un Violador en tu camino” (A rapist in your path) which says, “the fault wasn’t mine, neither where I was or what I was wearing” which has been sung all over the world, in countries such as the United States, Colombia, France, and Kenya. Tired of the abuse, a minority of the women on these protests tagged 7,390 square meters of graffiti on walls, monuments, bus stops, walls, and street furniture. “You’re more concerned about a wall than about us,” one of the tags said. Mexican media has reported the protests with headlines such as “Feminists vandalize the National Palace”, and reports femicides as “passionate crimes,” often blaming the victims, while international outlets like the BBC report reported the story as “Mexico teen rape cases: Women protest against police violence.” When interrogated about the feminist protests Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador responded that women could manifest, but without painting or tagging the walls of the National Palace, the executive federal branch. In the following marches, policemen were standing in front of the historical sites to prevent damage.
On Feb. 14 and 15 of this year, women protested outside the headquarters of La Prensa, one of the tabloids that published the pictures of Ingrid Escamilla’s violented body, to call for an end to gender violence and abuse. “I’m here to ask for justice for all the victims of violence,” said Erika Martinez, 41, to Spanish newspaper El Pais. “My daughter was abused at seven-years-old by my partner’s brother, who was 43. He’s free and we’re still demanding a sentence.” Days before International Women’s Day, the government installed 3,000 meters of an adobe wall in order to protect historical monuments like the Angel de la Independencia. On International Women’s Day, about 80,000 women in Mexico City went out to protest against femicides, gender violence, and inequality. In front of the National Palace, they painted more than 3,200 names of missing and murdered women on the ground with stencil letters. Women in other cities of Mexico also participated in the march. The same day, 11 women were killed. On March 9, the majority of women participated in a national strike and suspended their daily activities to represent the absence of the victims. That same day, 10 more women were killed. “Honestly, I’d rather us be present. It was an interesting experiment, but I wouldn’t do it again, I never ever want to simulate that I don’t exist. I want to be here,” said Twitter user Miroslava Valdovinos on March 10. According to Grupo Reforma, 254 women were killed in January and February of this year.
Although there is still a big road ahead, there is a sign of hope, and a lot of work to be done.
“Sonora –a state located in Northwest of Mexico — is judicializing investigation folders very fast,” says Salguero. “The work being done by the prosecutors there is the best that there is. She is a woman and has a gender perspective. In four days, there is a sentence. And that is a win.” Having helped to sentence murderers in the past, Guerrera says it’s important to get the message out that impunity will no longer exist. “Every additional conviction allows the families I help to have the security that the murderer will be arrested and that he will have a sentence. They say that although their daughter might not come back, at least they have the security that he (the murderer) will not hurt another girl or boy again.” Guerrera, who attended a morning presser to ask López Obrador about the actions being taken against femicides, says that she believes in the current government to take action. “We’ve never seen femicides being addressed in this country, where it was on everyone’s agendas, or where international media would look at us to talk about what’s happening. And it’s not only in Mexico but all around the world,” she said. For her, it’s important to educate our society and care for each other. “We need to go back to empathy, to understand and feel the pain of everyone else. To understand that the circle has to close and that we don’t want to keep counting women…to not have to think that it could’ve been our sister, mom, or daughter. We need to think and feel that every woman that is being murdered is: our sister, our mom, our daughter. It’s a call for justice, to end with impunity, and to give a clear message to the murderers: if you dare to touch one, it will be all of them.”