More Than 16 Days: Violence Against Women in Mexico

Day 9 of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: This article is written by Anita S. Teekah, an attorney in New York and the Legislative Coordinator for NY for Amnesty Intl USA and a co-organizer of the NYC-YPAI (NYC Young Professionals of Amnesty International).

Violence against women is unfortunately prevalent all over the world and occurs both in the home and without, is both illegal and yet often not prosecuted, and always leaves permanent scars on the societies in which these atrocities occur.

Violence against Mexican women, specifically in Atenco and Juarez, is especially heinous. According to Amnesty International USA, 34,000 Mexican women have been killed between 1985 and 2009. At least 2,418 have been killed in 2010 alone. According to some interviews, women passing through Mexico on their way to the United States go on birth control because they are certain they will be raped. Homicides of women (femicides) have been documented for over a decade in Juarez and yet neither the individual states nor the federal government have demonstrated any real interest in conducting proper investigations into the allegations of abuse and murder and bringing the perpetrators to justice. For the women of Mexico who routinely face sexual assault, torture, mutilation and murder, there has been no justice to speak of.

In May of 2006, women participated in a protest by a local peasant organization in San Salvador Atenco in response to being confronted to police after having reached an agreement to sell flowers in the local market place. After a series of police beatings and raids, at least 45 women were arrested and were subjected to sexual assault. They were not examined by physicians, who only treated their most pressing wounds in a cursory fashion. Incredibly, many of these women were subsequently charged with violating local laws and served prison sentences. The federal government launched its own investigation and determined that 34 police officers were responsible for the crimes committed against the women. Ultimately, it determined the assaults to fall under the jurisdiction of the Atenco state government, which has yet to comprehensively launch any investigation into the assaults or prosecute any of the 34 police officers, save one officer who was charged with a minor crime and paid a small fine. A number of the assaulted women filed complaints with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Amnesty International is calling on the Mexican federal government to assume responsibility for prosecuting these crimes against women’s human rights.

The situation for women is even worse in Cuidad Juarez in northern Mexico. There are an estimated 5,000 femicides since 1993 and the numbers continue to climb. It appears that certain types and classes of women and girls are being targeted for the rape, torture/mutilation and murder, including young women, those who are poor, and those who work outside the home. According to researchers, the per capita murder rate for women in Juarez is higher than any other major city in Mexico or the United States. What is tragically persistent is the ineffective response by state or federal government in dealing with the continued brutal assault and murder of women on a systematic basis in Juarez. In fact, the Mexican federal government’s response to endemic violence against an entire class of people, solely on the basis of gender, has been so lackluster that the widespread violence has attracted international attention. In 2004, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) conducted an inquiry into the allegations of hundreds of femicides upon the urging of various NGOs. In 2009, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued an adverse decision against Mexico, holding that Mexico was guilty of discrimination, had failed to protect three young women who had been murdered in Juarez and had failed to conduct an adequate investigation into the crimes.

It is hoped that with persistent international pressure, the Mexican federal government (and in turn, the individual state governments) will be held accountable for failing to prevent the past allegations of sexual assault and femicides on Mexican women and investigate same. Ideally, this accountability will translate into real reforms of the security and justice systems to prevent police brutality and encourage government-sponsored investigation and prosecution of these gender-based crimes against women.

In the meantime, there is a cadre of Mexican women human rights defenders hard at work on the front lines seeking justice for their murdered sisters, wives, mothers, daughters, etc. One notable defender is Lidia Cacho, a journalist based in Cancun, Mexico, who has been arrested, physically assaulted, raped and threatened repeatedly in retaliation for her investigative journalism work on child pornography and sex trafficking in Mexico. Her safety has become so endangered that Amnesty International has released several Urgent Actions calling for the Mexican government to ensure her safety and provide her with adequate protections. This was reiterated by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, which also urged the Mexican government to provide Ms. Cacho with proper protection. Nonetheless, Ms. Cacho and other human rights defenders continue to fight tirelessly on behalf of Mexican women who continue to disappear, endure sexual assault and femicide. Their work is integral to promoting the rule of law.

In short, there is much work to be done on behalf of women in Mexico, both at the grassroots level and on the governmental level. With the combined efforts of Mexican human rights defenders like Ms. Cacho, Amnesty International and other NGOs, and international pressure from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and other international actors, we can anticipate real change in Mexico. We can envision a Mexico that does not tolerate police brutality, that does not condone violence against its women, that diligently investigates all allegations of violence against women and that unflinchingly prosecutes all crimes against women, in the name of human rights for all.

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The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is a global campaign dedicated to ending gender-based violence. In participation with The Center for Women’s Global Leadership, The Women Worldwide Initiative is hosting a Blog Series entitled, More Than 16 Days, from the start of the Campaign on the International Day for the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence on November 25th, to Human Rights Day on December 10th with contributions from one of our Board Members, founder of Everyday Ambassador, Take Back the Tech!, Young Professionals Amnesty International (NYC), writers for the International Political Forum and young women from Women LEAD, based in post-conflict Nepal.

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