Institutions of justice and government continue to fail women as the situation grows worse
TW: This article covers rape, sexual assault, and other forms of violence against women in Mexico.
Image Source: BBC
By: Seamus Bozeman
In Mexico there is a crisis of gender targeted murder, rape and abuse. The statues, the names of women, scribbled in chalk or graffiti, and the living monuments and memorials with candles, notes and flowers, cover the streets of Mexico, a reminder of the countless femicides and other gender-based crimes. In a nation where those in positions of enforcement act with impunity, and systemic abuses have become normalized, protests and strikes are almost a daily occurrence to bring awareness to new femicides or gender-based crimes committed by men and the police. The protests and vigils are consistently met with intense police brutality. Threats in the workplace in response to continuous strikes and walkouts are also increasingly common. In the criminal justice system men can act with no fear of punishment. The Mexican government vastly underreported the murders and abuse of women, with their murderers and abusers running free. In Mexico’s world of corrupt officials and rampant drug wars, the justice system and government bureaucracy are unequipped to track the abuse and charge those who commit these heinous acts. The long history of government breakdown and silence has festered to create one of the most severe and troubling femicide crises globally, though slightly behind Brazil, another country with bureaucratic roadblocks and corrupted patriarchal governments. Other Latin American nations have been advocating for change and some have passed legislative reforms that expand the definition of ‘femicide’ and have broadened online systems that track abuses and prosecute perpetrators.
At its core, femicide is the term for women who are systematically killed because of their gender, but crimes like these are rarely categorized as such, signaling gaping holes in public policy, a sign of the deeply entrenched male-dominated social constructs that Mexico has upheld for so long. Since the days of colonization, social structures were led by men and held very patriarchal ideals, putting women in a place of always needing protection, a long-outdated, disturbing part of society, and history. Religious roles in Mexico have also played a part in this crisis, with men in positions of power, and women being treated as second class citizens, and in need of male protection. With this, it created the domination of men over women in nearly every aspect of life, leading to societal acceptance of violence against women.
The mainstream media has also bought into the deep culture of fetishization, sensationalist misogynistic, and sexist portrayals in film, TV and journalism, and “machismo”, the portrayal of men as strong, domineering, and violent, have contributed to the objectification of women through time. The media, when it has reported on violence against women, is frequently discreditied because the government claims they are false reports. This has led to multiple scandals, which prove the reporting is factual, but has ultimately allowed for men who commit these crimes to go unpunished, and become repeat offenders. There is no clear path to exposing the truth which complicates the issue even further. Media that is run by the Mexican government continually tries to cover up instances of femicide. This has given independent media a chance to blossom across the country, most of which are run by women, who face daily threats from well-established outlets and the government for their supposed false reporting. But in fact, their reporting on gender-based violence has led to the arrests of hundreds of men in the last few years.
Since 2015 data has been collected by groups independent of the Mexican government, and as of the end of 2020 have logged over 9,000 femicides, but that number is likely undercounted because some victim’s families do not share information with independent journalists for fear of public shaming among their communities, and larger networks.
During the height of Mexico’s Covid-19 lockdowns, femicides shot up to record highs overwhelming crisis hotlines and sparsely funded women’s shelters. Independent journalists were the only ones keeping track of the incidents of violence. During this time the government was waging a war to discredit the data and proven facts, claiming the climbing numbers and accusations of inaction were an attempt by conservatives to tarnish the presidential administration - which claims to be leftist, but actions in the face of crisis and past policies are in direct conflict with that claim. The record number of femicides have also increased because women’s shelters and safe houses which were funded by the government had steep cuts to their budgets, which has had far reaching and unmeasurable impacts. The funding cuts to safe houses inherently created more risk for women who could not distance themselves from their abusers, and were forced to be in situations that could be threatening to their lives and wellbeing.
Women and their systematic murders have recently become more intertwined with organized crime. More women, because of the economic disaster and workplace lays off due to the continued impacts of COVID-19 on industries dominated by women, have turned to organized for needed income, primarily prostitution. Also, women often become targets in organized crime or gang violence if their male partner has fled the home.
Women’s rights are human rights, but for hundreds of years they have been treated as second class citizens, against the laws and language of the United Nations, where it states that everyone is equal, no matter their gender, ethnicity, religion or race. These laws are clearly laid out for all humans, and should be considered when drafting future policy in Mexico to combat femicide and violence against women.
Press freedom is also extremely important when the media is being criminalized by the Mexican government, whether it be a single person news agency or major corporate outlet. The United Nations charter and at the recommendation of human rights groups and others have recommended that journalists should be able to report without fear of imprisonment or the silencing of their story, especially when it comes to the defense of women’s rights and the prosecution of abusive and murderous men.
The justice system in Mexico has completely collapsed, powered by corruption, bribes, and drug money, where incarceration is unlikely or time in front of a judge is slim, letting the cases one by one fall out of the grasp of the system. The murders and abuse of women have rarely been labeled as femicide, but instead, it is considered a homicide which likely drastically undercuts the issue. This has led to government investigations and databases being inaccurate, instead grouping these gender based crimes in the judicial arena as simply homicide, dismissing pre-meditation and whether gender had played a role. Even with recent reforms and expanded access to justice, 1 in 5 cases get tossed out due to prosecutor irregularities, corrupt investigations, and the uncertainty over who committed the crime or their motivations, which likely contributes to the undercounting of the number of femicides each year. In a corrupt system a fair trial is unlikely for women who have been raped, sexually abused, and/or killed based on their gender. There are also extremely high incarceration rates among women, who do not have equal access to lawyers, trials, or public defenders.
The government should invest in ways to track gender-based violence, as well as creating ways to fight corruption in the justice system, as drug trafficking and organized crime play such a large role in the extreme rates of femicide. Cultural shifts need to occur within the government to benefit women. Reforms that had been in place should be initiated and given the proper funding to provide services to women who need to flee abuse and threats to their life.
The future is uncertain for the rights of women in a country that’s grappled with the femicide crisis for so long. An end is not in sight, but as the world becomes more aware and less tolerable to discrimination and abuse, women’s rights can be fully protected. Future laws should also highlight the protection of indigenous Mexican women because they have less access to services, whether it is abortion clinics, healthcare or general services, because of their rural locations and the commonality of crumbling infrastructure outside of major cities.
A number of organizations are working to lessen the impacts of the femicide crisis through independent databases to track gender-based crime, journalism, and the increase of safe houses for women who face violence or threat of death in the home. Two of which are listed below.
Instituto de Liderazgo Simone de Beauvoir: https://ilsb.org.mx/que-hacemos/
Justice in Mexico: https://justiceinmexico.org/femicidesinmexico/