Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer


UPDATE 18 FEBRUARY 2011: a more detailed definition of feminicidio can be found in this post

When I first came to Mexico in 1999, one of the only feminist issues I was aware of (such was my vast ignorance at the time) was the question of large numbers of women being tortured and murdered in the border town of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua [1] by what appeared to be organised groups of assailants, possibly linked to the city’s drug cartels. It was a subject that had made it into the media in the UK, albeit in small amounts, mostly due to ghoulish speculations concerning the possible motives for the murders and who might be the perpetrators. This was a phenomenon that gave rise to the use of the word “feminicido” by feminist groups, appropriating, translating and adapting the English word “femicide” that had itself been adopted by feminist authors, especially, Diana E. Russell [2] to describe the murder of women “simply for being women”. What was, and unfortunately still is, startling about this phenomenon was the lack of disposition on the part of the police and investigating authorities (called “Ministerio Público” or Public Ministry in Mexico) to look into these crimes and bring the murderers to justice. As I have mentioned in passing in a previous post, relatives of three victims of femicide in Ciudad Juárez, Esmeralda Herrera Monreal, Laura Berenice Ramos Monárrez and Claudia Yvette González, took their cases to the Inter American Court of Human Rights, where on the 10 December 2010, judges ruled that the Mexican judicial authorities had not done sufficient to protect the human rights of these women, whose bodies were found mutilated and abandoned in a place known locally as the Cotton Field (Campo Algodonero), and condemned the same institutions for not making proper investigations into their deaths [3].

In the last ten years the word feminicido has become a much used term by feminist and women’s rights groups to denounce the murder of women all over the Republic, not just the systemic kidnapping, torture and murder of women by organised groups. Results of this generalization have been both positive and negative. On the positive side, the adoption of this term has enabled women’s groups to publicise Mexico’s shocking rates of female murders and campaign for a more adequate response to the problem by the police and judicial authorities. This had led to the creation in 2007 of the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Women and People Trafficking (Fiscalía Especial para los Delitos de Violencia contra las Mujeres y Trata de Personas or Fevimtra). On the negative, the generalised employment of the term simply as a shorthand way of referring to the murder of a women, threatens to undermine this very battle, as over-use can generate over-familiarity and even to the questioning of the validity of the term. For example, State Prosecutors (Procuradores Estatales) routinely attempt to claim that women who die at the hands of their partners are not victims of femicide but domestic violence; a claim that can only hold water if the public is unsure of exactly what the definition of femicide actually is. Victims of domestic violence, according to the definition provided by Russell are most clearly killed as a result of their gender and their spouses’ attempts to control them. As I reported last week, Ángeles López García, the director of the Centro de Derechos Humanos Victoria Diez (Human Right Centre Victoria Diez) in the state of Guanajuato, alleges that it is common for the investigating authorities there to deny that a women’s murder counts as a feminicidio, but rather to claim that their deaths resulted from a consequence of the victim’s personal circumstances: they had an abusive partner or their jobs were high risk, or that they were in involved with drug gangs [4].

Aside from the quibble over the use of the term feminicidio, the figures available showing how many females are murder victims in Mexico are horrifying. As I have mentioned in other posts, between 1999 and 2005, 6, 000 women and girls have been murdered in the states of México, Veracruz, Chiapas, Guerrero, the Federal District, Chihuahua, Oaxaca, Sonora, Baja California and Morelos. This works out at three women
murdered every day in the Republic as a whole [5]. In the state of Mexico (in the centre of the Republic) the figure is one woman murdered every day. Equally disturbing is the fact that the prosecution of this type of crime is erratic. In the state of Mexico, only 35% of murders were convicted between 2000 and 2005; in 20% of cases an arrest warrant has been issued, but no one has been arrested; and, in the other 45% of cases the investigation is still ongoing [6]. In the case of the Campo Algodonero women, reports this week indicate that the Mexican state has done very little to comply with the Inter American Court’s ruling beyond publishing the ruling on its websites. The federal government alleges it is not liable to pay the damages that the Court has indicated, and authorities in the State of Chihuahua have promised to pay only half the sum stipulated. Meanwhile, half-hearted attempts have been made to reopen the cases in Chihuahua with little success [7].

Paternalist and misogynist attitudes seem to be at the root of the authorities’ lack of interest in pursuing investigations into the assassination of women. The National Congress’s Special Commission for Femicide, noted last month that the state of Guanajuato shows more dedication in prosecuting women accused of procuring abortion than men accused of murdering women [8]. As I have stated above, the Procurador of this state has implied that the lifestyles and jobs of a women are used to imply that their murders are not sufficiently important to warrant the vigorous pursuit of the assailant. The women’s groups who help the victims’ families in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua also denounce a similar attitude on the part of the authorities who should be investigating the feminicidos there [3]. In short, the idea still prevails that women of low income, who work in a bar or strip club or a maquiladora (factory) or have the misfortunate to have a violent father or husband, are somehow to blame for their own deaths.

All this leads to me to end with an invitation. The Unifem campaign Say NOUNiTE to End Violence against Women which seeks to end violence against women and girls is circulating a petition on its website in favour of women being included in peace-keeping measures and against sexual violence against women in war. They are going to hand the petition to the UN next week. The link to the petition is on the right hand side of my blog page. Sign please. As Mexico drifts closer and closer to a war-like situation such matters are in the interest of Mexican women.



[1] Trawling the internet I have only found articles dating from 2002, although I do remember reading about the issue before going to Mexico in 1999. See for example: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/mar/25/gender.uk; and http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/nov/02/mexico

[2] See Diana E. Russell and Roberta A. Harmes, Femicide: A Global Perspective, New York, Teachers’ College Press, 2001; A translation this text entitled Feminicidio: Una perspective global, with an introduction by Mexican academic Marcela Legarde y de los Ríos was published by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México en 2006. Available (in fragments) at http://books.google.com.mx

[3] See, http://www.campoalgodonero.org.mx/

[4] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/711565.html?awesm=fbshare.me_ATqfU

[5] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10091302-CONTEXTO-Estado-inc.44116.0.html. A good study of the violence perpetrated against women in Mexico available on-line is Violencia contra la mujer en México, ed. Teresa Fernández de Juan, México, Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, 2004. See: http://www.mujereshoy.com/imagenes/3640_a_MEXICO_Violencia_Mujer%2019%20MARZO.pdf

[6] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10091301-REPORTAJE-Cuanto-ma.44114.0.html

[7] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2010/10/11/index.php?section=politica&article=023n1pol; and http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10101508-Ni-se-cumple-senten.44676.0.html

[8] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10092907-En-Guanajuato-se-ca.44424.0.htmlhttp://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10092907-En-Guanajuato-se-ca.44424.0.html

Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Violence Against Women, , , , , , , ,


Let me start with the good news. On Tuesday, the six women in prison in Guanajuato for interrupting their pregnancies were freed [1]. They did not have their sentences quashed, however. Rather, as I commented last week, they were released thanks to a change in Guanajuato’s penal code which reduced the penalty imposed on them for the alleged crime of “homicidio por razón de parentesco” (murder by a relative). This measure was presented to the state Congress by the governor, José Manuel Ramírez Oliva, and passed by the deputies, with the expectation that the national (and international) spotlight would move away from their state once the women were freed. I sincerely hope that this will not be the case. The laws that criminalise abortion are still in force in Guanajuato as well as in all other Mexican states [2]. As has been proven in the case of three of the women from Guanajuato, these laws often result in witch-hunts organised against those unfortunate enough to suffer miscarriages and not to possess the means by which to defend themselves. In fact, the political commentator and long time critic of Mexico’s right-wing, Jaime Avilés, affirms today in his daily column in the left-wing newspaper, La Jornada, that the municipal authorities of San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato are currently hunting for a young women accused of “homicidio por razón de parentesco” or abortion [3].

It goes without saying that the criminalisation of abortion in Mexico is intimately related to the cultural hegemony that the Catholic Church has held over the population since this faith was first brought to these shores by the Spanish conquistadores nearly 500 years ago. Officially, Mexico has been a secular nation for just over 150 years, even so during the last 130 years or so the Church has rarely encountered any challenges to its cultural dominance. This is all changing at the moment: provoking what seems to be a general sense of panic amongst the ecclesiastical hierarchy. On the one hand is the general decline in the number of adherents in the face of fierce competition from evangelistic protestant groups and religions such as that practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons; this is also not helped by the pedophile scandals which have engulfed both the Mexican and the international Church in recent years. Both of these phenomena undermine the legitimacy of the Church and its pretension of being the moral guardian of the Mexican nation. On the other hand is the challenge from the gradual acceptation of the idea of universal human rights amongst the population, especially in those related to gender politics. This goes from the most documented and obvious: such as the widespread use of contraceptives amongst otherwise obedient parishioners; to the less popular introduction of laws in Mexico’s Federal District (D. F.) which sanction abortion during the first 12 weeks of gestation; as well as permitting marriages and adoption for same-sex couples [4]. All three measures have provoked horror and condemnation from the ecclesiastical hierarchy: even so their increasingly histrionic pronouncements suggest that they fear that their words are falling on deaf ears. Certainly the gay movement is vocally campaigning for a law in favor gay marriage to be adopted in other states, including Tamaulipas [5].

A clear example of the Catholic Church hierarchy’s hysterics can be found in the article that Mario Gasperín Gasperín, bishop of Querétaro, has published in the last couple of days on the homepage of his diocese [links 6 and 7], entitled, Crisis o país de zombis (Crisis or a Country of Zombies”). This text attempts to demonstrate that “el mal llamado feminismo” (“the evil known as feminism”) [8]  is the root of all Mexican society’s current ills: including -incredibly enough- organised crime (code words here in Mexico for the drug gangs and their violence). The crux of Gasperín’s argument is that today women are facing a crisis over what is means to be women (“ser mujer“) which, according to this text, has been brought about by the “separation of sexuality from that of reproduction” (“la separación de sexualidad de la reproducción“). Here it is clear that he is referring to the use of anti-contraception and the legalisation of abortion, although he makes no explicit mention of either at this point in the text. In all this, his misogyny shines brightly through: one his complaints, for example, is that this crisis facing women has had the knock on effect of provoking a similar one amongst men as well attacking the institution of marriage. Thus he blithely goes from blaming feminists for all Mexico’s problems to implying that, in fact, womankind in general is responsible. On this first point, his argument is simple: women define themselves in relation to men and vice versa; thus a crisis suffered by one is necessarily a crisis that is shared by the other. On the second, the crisis being suffered by the institution of marriage his arguments are non-existent. All he can think of to say is that the instability caused by the crisis of identity amongst men and women has caused them to search for other substitutes, leading them to perversion (he is, of course, referring here to same-sex relationships). In fact, his comment appears only to exist as an excuse for him to blame women in general, and feminism especially, for the legalisation of homosexual marriages in Mexico D.F. Finally, he manages to blame feminists for Mexico’s current climate of violence by describing it as the product of official sanction of “legalised crime” (ie abortion) and the terrible effects of political correctness which have brainwashed people into ignoring their consciences (“el hijo del crimen legalizado –impunedad- y de la consciencia callada“).

As you probably expect, I find this text highly risible and deeply hypocritical. Unlike the Catholic Church, the feminist movement can hardly be accused of having tried for decades to cover up abuse perpetrated against children by its own members; moreover, it is very difficult to see how Mexico’s current problem with violence can be placed at the door of feminism, which does not generally support the use of violence. In fact, in Mexico, feminist groups are at the forefront of denouncing violence suffered by people of both sexes at the hands o the gangs, the army and the police [9]. What is more, the bishop complains bitterly that the legalization of abortion and gay marriage have been brought about by the manipulation of the majority by an aggressive and intolerant minority; an affirmation which is not just ingenious to the extreme (since support for neither option can be described as being in the majority, even in DF, see link 4) but also demonstrates a complete lack of self-awareness, coming as it does at the end of a diatribe against women and the feminist movement. I can’t help but think that the most measured response to this text is to go no further than quote the Bible: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:5). Undoubtedly feminism has its faults, but I think that trying to argue that it is the root of all evil simply shows that the Mexican Church hierarchy is supremely confused about the origins of Mexico’s social problems.

[1] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10090712-Liberaran-hoy-a-7-m.44076.0.html I do not propose to name the women out of respect for their privacy.

[2] Even in the Federal District (Mexico D.F.) where abortion is permitted up to the twelfth week of gestation, women who abort in the later weeks of pregnancy are subject to prosecution and can be imprisoned for between three and six months. See art. 145 of the relevant law at http://www.gire.org.mx/publica2/DictamenFinal_Aborto_ALDF240407.pdf

[3] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2010/09/11/index.php?section=opinion&article=006o1pol.

[4] According to a survey carried out for the newspaper Milenio, 50% of D. F.’s residents support gay marriages, while 73% reject the idea of gay couple being allowed to adopt. See http://www.milenio.com/node/360517

[5] http://www.hoytamaulipas.net/notas/15384/Exigen-bodas-gay-en-Tamaulipas.html

[6] http://www.diocesisdequeretaro.org.mx/

[7] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2010/09/09/index.php?section=estados&article=034n2est&partner=rss

[8] It is also perfectly possible to translate this as “the badly named feminism”. Yet, I think that this is not the case, since at the end of his text he also refers to “el mal llamado crimen organizado“, for which the only translation is “the evil known as organised crime”).

[9] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/Violacion-ejercida-por-militar.738.0.html

Filed under: Feminism, Women's Right to Choose, , , , , , , ,

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