Mexico can be a violent place. According to a June 2021 Al Jazeera article, seven of the world’s 10 most violent cities are in Mexico. In each of 2019 and 2020, more than 34,000 people were victims of homicide.
The drug business in Mexico contributes significantly to this death toll. Some of that violence is the responsibility of the drug cartels, who use kidnapping, torture and murder as tools to control communities and terrorize possible competition. But the U.S.-backed “war on drugs” also contributes to the levels of violence and death. Since American militarized operations in Mexico began in 2006, 300,000 people have been murdered and 77,000 disappeared.
The situation is exacerbated by the more than 2.5 million illegal guns that have moved from the U.S. to Mexico in the past 10 years. While border patrols for both countries do everything they can to keep migrants from crossing into the United States ( see American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins for a powerful depiction of this), those travelling in the other direction with cars laden with illegal guns cross the border without challenge (read Jennifer Clement’s novel Gun Love for a good look at the trafficking of guns into Mexico).
Femicide writ large
Then, of course, there is violence against women; specifically, the murdering of women. In the late 1990s, those of us in the North first learned about the high rate of kidnappings, disappearances and murders of girls and women working in the maqiladoras of Juarez, a city just south of the American border. In response to this violence, a 2009 decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that Mexico had violated the right to life, personal integrity and dignity of the victims and had failed to meet its obligation to conduct a proper investigation into their deaths.
Not much seems to have improved in the 10+ years since that decision was handed down.
According to a recent Amnesty International report, more than 10 women and girls are killed every day in Mexico. Last year, 3,723 killings of women were recorded, of which 940 were investigated as “feminicides.”
In the Mexican criminal code a specific offence of feminicide is defined:
“Anyone who deprives a woman of life because of her gender commits the crime of feminicide. It is considered to be gender-based when any of the following circumstances are present:” (emphasis mine)
The list that follows includes such elements as signs of sexual violence; humiliating or degrading injuries; history of violence in the family, work or school environment by the perpetrator; a personal or emotional relationship or a relationship of trust between the perpetrator and the victim; prior threats or harassment by the perpetrator; forcible confinement or public display of the body. The law is clear that there does not have to be a relationship between the perpetrator and victim for the murder to be classified as an act of feminicide.
No political will
The fact that feminicide is a specific criminal offence does not seem to have had much of a positive impact on the rate of violence or the commitment of political leaders to do anything about it. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who was seen by many feminists before he was elected as offering hope for women’s equality and safety, has remained largely silent, other than to dismiss women’s calls for government action to address gender-based violence and to assert that most reports of domestic violence are fake.
As Queretaro women’s activist Maricruz Ocampo says:
One of the few legislators who will speak out about the President’s non-responsiveness, Lorena Villavicencio, says:
Amnesty International would agree. Its report reaches the conclusion that:
“Mexico is continuing to fail to fulfill its duty to investigate and, therefore, its duty to guarantee the rights to life and personal integrity of the victims as well as to prevent violence against women. Mexico is also continuing to violate the rights of access to justice and judicial protection of the families of victims of feminicide and disappearance, the duty of non-discrimination, and the right to personal integrity because of the suffering and harassment inflicted on the families.”
Lessons to be learned
There are lessons we can learn from our Mexican sisters.
Politicians, even – or perhaps especially — those who claim to be feminists, are not our allies. At the end of the day, they do what is expedient for them and their re-election.
The law does not protect us from gender-based violence; especially, it does not protect women who are Indigenous, Black, racialized, queer, poor, old, young, disabled or marginalized in any way.
We cannot be silent. As tens of thousands of courageous, audacious and inspiring Latina feminists say:
“Ni una mas.”