At the San Miguel Writers’ Conference this year, keynote speaker, Mexican writer and academic Rosa Beltran, spoke about images of women through literature and art. In the course of her remarks, she talked about the rates of violence against women in Mexico: nine women a day killed, 60% of women subjected to family violence, 40% of women raped.
The news would seem to support her comments. According to Mexico’s Attorney General Alejandro Gertz, femicide has increased by 137% over the past five years. Claudia Sheinbaum, the mayor of Mexico City, recently said to the media:
“Femicide is an absolutely condemnable crime.”
Mexican feminists take the position that, statements to the media aside, politicians do not take gender-based violence seriously enough. The National Institute of Women says:
“Mexico faces a major challenge in terms of violence against women.”
Ni una mas
Many of us first heard of the city of Juarez in northern Mexico in the 1990s, when maquiladoras opened their doors faster than anyone could count. These sweat shops employed mostly women, who moved into Juarez by the thousands to work for a pittance in unsafe conditions, making clothing and other products for export. The rate of violence against women in and around Juarez shot through the ceiling, with hundreds of women a year murdered or gone missing.
In January of this year, a young artist named Isabel Cabanillas de la Torre, was shot to death as she rode her bicycle home one evening in Juarez. She was a member of Hijas de su Maquila Madres (Daughters of Maquila Mothers), who are vocal in their concerns about ongoing levels of violence against women in that city. Her murder is seen by most to have been a targeted execution.
Because I am in Mexico now, I find myself paying particular attention to violence against women here. But, of course, it is not just in Mexico that women are at risk of violence, including homicide.
Last week saw a terrible triple murder/suicide in Australia in which Rowan Baxter doused his wife (who had recently left him), Hannah Clarke, and their three children, Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3, in lighter fluid and set them on fire as she drove the children to school. He then killed himself beside the family car.
Their story is not dissimilar from stories in Canada: abuse almost always continues post-separation, often escalating, as the abuser, first, needs to regain the control he had over his partner before she left him and, then, when he is unable to do that, he moved to punishment and revenge. Criminologists call this “changing the project.”
Not every case of family violence ends as tragically as did the recent Australian situation, but there is plenty of violence in families in Canada. According to Toronto Police Superintendent Pauline Gray, there has been a rise in the number of domestic violence calls received by the five police forces across the Greater Toronto Area: in 2019, there were 47,000 such calls. And, as Gray notes, not every victim calls the police. In fact, it is generally accepted that only about 25% of women who are subjected to intimate partner abuse call the police. In other words, those almost 50,000 calls may be as little as 25% of the number of domestic violence situations in the GTA.
Women’s Shelters Canada takes an annual “snapshot” of life in the country’s shelters for abused women and their children. In 2019, it found that almost 80% of women who sought refuge in a shelter were turned away because there was no room.
The federal government is quick to point to its feminist prime minister and a cabinet with gender equity but, five years after the United Nations recommended that all member countries develop and implement a national action plan to address violence against women, Canada has yet to do so.
That is just not good enough for the women and children of this country.