Ending Femicide: The Mexican Fight Against Patriarchal Repression
Women have suffered human rights violations across the world since ancient times. Among the different types of human rights violations, the most common and grave is widespread violence against women, which is based on the consideration of their gender alone. Some common examples of these crimes are domestic abuse, sexual violence and sexual harassment.
In Mexico, violence against women is one of the most severe, tolerated, deeply rooted and entrenched practices. The cause, and at the same time, the consequence of this practice is that it engenders certain social and cultural patterns which adversely impact the conduct of both men and women. The prejudices and customary practices, which are based on the idea of inferiority of one and the superiority of the other sex, effect a profound gender inequality. Further, gender inequality is reinforced by the very particular belief of people that the body you are born with determines the identity you adopt, the personality you develop, the interest you have and even the role you play in society. Furthermore, many violations against women are committed in the private rather than in the public sphere.
This situation of private rights violations is intensified by the fact that “respecting cultural differences” has progressively become a euphemism for restricting or denying women’s human rights. Many feminist activist-scholars have stated that the relevance and even the sanctity of “cultural practices” are most often claimed when issues of sexuality, marriage, reproduction, inheritance, and power over children are concerned (issues that play a larger part in most women’s lives than they do in most men’s).
According to the National Institute for Statistics and Geography of Mexico (INEGI by its acronym in Spanish)  3,752 women were murdered in Mexico in 2018, which leads to an average of ten women per day who died as a consequence of intentional homicide. In 2017, the ten cities that registered the highest numbers of femicides were: Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Acapulco de Juárez, Ecatepec de Morelos, Los Cabos, Manzanillo, Victoria, León and Culiacán. According to the same source, these cities registered one out of five murders committed in the country.
This year, 2020, with the International Women´s Day celebration on March 8th, thousands of Mexican women marched through the streets of the main cities of the country as a form of protest against the unpunished sexual aggression suffered by them, as well as protest against the lack of a national security strategy in order to combat the increase in femicides from 1985 until today.
At the same time, a group of women from the state of Veracruz, Mexico known as “Brujas del mar” called to all Mexican women to participate in a social movement named #UndíaSinNosotras (a day without us); which caused a national strike on March 9th, one day after the celebration of the International Women´s Day, as a desperate call for attention on the urgent matter of stopping violations of women’s human rights. Many different advocacy groups for women´s rights helped to spread the word of this national strike since this past February.
The triggering factors for this social movement were the murders of Ingrid Escamilla, a 25-year-old who was stabbed, skinned and unravelled by her partner and Fátima Cecilia Aldrighett Antón, a 7-year-old girl, who was kidnapped after leaving her school and later found in a plastic bag. These two cases are just recent and shocking examples of thousands of cases of violence against women.
Women´s strikes have been called on March 8th since 1911 when Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland commemorated the first Working Women´s Day. The commemoration spread throughout the world, until 1975 when the United Nations institutionalized March 8th as the International Women´s day in order to commemorate the fight of women for their human rights.
In 2017, the First International Women´s strike was achieved, in which 50 countries participated. These protests did not usually attract attention outside feminist circles, but this 2020 in Mexico, the national strike and protest monopolized the public debate due to the context of violence against women suffered in the country. This protest is not the first one that women in this country have. The national strike, perhaps, was the pinnacle after years of protests. This strike simulated what would have happened if all Mexican women were dead and they would not exist in the professional sphere.
In order to understand the frustration reflected during the protest, it is important to remember that Mexico´s problem is not simply one of “inaction”. The strategies being implemented now at the different levels of government give proof that actions are being taken place from the government. Laws, protocols, campaigns and specialized institutions have been created. However, despite all the aforementioned efforts, the violence against women has increased instead of decreasing. This situation leads us to ask the following questions: what actions should be dismissed? What can the Mexican government do better? What new measures should be implemented?
The misconception of gender roles, which persists in a variety of state norms, government institutions and policies, also plays an important role in maintaining the described, not acceptable national situation. Some examples are the criminalization of abortion, the laws that continue to assign differentiate rights and obligations to men and women, as well as the lack of recognition of domestic worker´s rights. These are issues that the Mexican legislation needs to address. The design of Mexican institutions, the division of powers and the public policy stakes need a bureaucratic structure´s turn in order for the state to fully guarantee the rights of all people, including women.
Just recently, in the year 2012, México adopted the term “femicide” on its criminal law system. Article 325 of the Federal Criminal Code, defines femicide, as “anyone who deprives a woman´s life for reasons of gender”. This provision is applicable if there are signs of sexual violence to be found on the victim, if there is a history of abuse on previous romantic relationships, threats, isolation of the victim or exhibitionism of the victim´s body, among others.
Nonetheless, just 24 out of the 32 states that make up Mexico, adopted the term femicide in their Criminal States Codes. This leads to the absence of a precise investigation process, the lack of applicability of adopted protocols by the federal government and an adequate criminal sanction.
The absence of gender perspectives in the first respondent (policemen), in the investigation process (prosecutors) and even in the courts, is another impediment for the applicability of justice when it comes to femicides.
Every four years, the Mexican government is obliged to submit a report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, a body of independent experts that monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and consists of 23 experts on women’s rights from around the world, about the measures taken by the State in order to promote, protect and respect women´s human rights. This Committee has been pointing out repeatedly that Mexico is failing in terms of transparency and accountability. This means that if the Mexican government really wants to guarantee women´s human rights, including gender equality, it certainly has to amend its information and accountability systems.
From my point of view, as it is mentioned, it is necessary to modify social structures, such as the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, as well as the prejudices and customary practices in order to achieve a real transformation in the laws and country´s system of justice. The misconception of gender roles is a problem, but the solution is not to treat its symptoms but to change and focus on the systems in which it is reproduced.
 Instituto Nacional de estadística y geografía (2019, November 21). "ESTADÍSTICAS A PROPÓSITO DEL DÍA INTERNACIONAL DE LA ELIMINACIÓN DE LA VIOLENCIA CONTRA LA MUJER (25 DE NOVIEMBRE).” Retrieved March 24, 2020, from https://www.inegi.org.mx/contenidos/saladeprensa/aproposito/2019/Violencia2019_Nal.pdf
Views expressed are solely those of the author.
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About the Author
Denisse Flores is an LL.M. candidate in the Class of 2020 at UCLA School of Law. She holds a Bachelor´s degree in Law from La Universidad Autonóma de Ciudad Juárez, and a Bachelor´s degree in International Business from St Edward´s University. She has worked as a head of department at the Sixth Investigative Unit of National Human Rights Commission (Mexico) and as an analyst at Mexico´s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.