Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Mexico Before CEDAW: A Catalogue of Woes

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination and Violence Against Women (or CEDAW) was established in 1982 and is composed of 23 experts on women’s issues. The objective of the committee is to watch over the situation of women in those countries that signed the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Each country periodically presents a report to the committee which is then discussed by the committee. NGOs and human rights groups can also present a review of the situation to the committee. The committee then draws up recommendations based on this discussion.

This year the countries presenting reports to the CEDAW include the Bahamas, Bulgaria, Guayana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Mexico, New Zealand and Samoa. Mexico’s report was presented and discussed this week. Various national and international NGOs also submitted evaluations to CEDAW, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, World Organization Against Torture, Mexico’s Commission for Human Rights, Justice for Our Daughters and Centre for Women’s Rights in Chiapas.

The papers submitted by human rights organizations make for depressing reading. In general they highlight a series of issues which make life for women in Mexico –especially poor and/or indigenous women– extremely fraught with danger. In the coming weeks I shall look into the issues in more detail. However, this week I want to provide a general overview.

Killing of women: In November 2011 a joint report by Mexico’s government and UNIFEM concluded that at least 34, 000 women had been murdered in Mexico between 1985-2009. It also demonstrated that there had been a marked fall in the murder rate amongst men after 2007, but that the equivalent rate for women had stayed the same. Murder rates for both sexes have increased dramatically since then, partly as a result of the insecurity and violence created by the crackdown on drug gangs. In 2010 it is estimated that there were 2, 418 murders of women and 23, 285 murders of men.

Amnesty notes that murders of women however are frequently undocumented and that there is a routine failure to conduct autopsies. It also points to the fact that the manner in which murders of women are documented make it impossible to determine the rate with which women murderers are arrested and prosecuted.

Amnesty also highlights the brutality in which women are murdered and concludes that violence against them is very frequently of a misogynistic nature:

“Women are three times more likely than men to die by the cruelest means, such as hanging, strangulation, drowning, immersion and knives. Women are also three times more likely to be murdered by poisoning or burns with chemicals or fire.”

Abuse of migrant women: Tens of thousands of irregular migrants from Central America cross Mexico each year on their way to the US. They are regularly targeted by criminal gangs for kidnapping, extortion, trafficking and murder often with the full complicity of the police. In 2011, the Mexican National Commission for Human Rights found that some 11, 000 migrants had been kidnapped. Amnesty estimated that at least six of every ten migrant women are sexually assaulted during their passage through Mexico.

Imprisonment of women: Approximately 5% of Mexico’s prison population is female. However only 13 out of 455 prisons, 2.8%, are exclusively female, the rest are mixed. In a study of 92 mixed prisons it was found that in 22 women’s dormitories were inside male facilities and the inmates used shared facilities.

Women form a disproportionate number of remand prisoners. The great majority of them are between 18 and 37, usually mothers and often single parents. More than 85% are first time offenders and 65% are accused of crimes related to drugs, usually relating to the possession of small amounts of prohibited sustances.

Women are often badly treated and tortured during their arrest and imprisonment. The World Organization Against Torture highlights the case of a group of 47 women arrested for protesting in town of San Salvador Atenco in Mexico State in 2006. 26 later made formal complaints after they were raped and sexually assaulted by the police who transported them to prison. The report highlights the Mexican “state’s lack of will” to prosecute those involved.

Sexual and Reproductive Rights: Human Rights Watch and Amnesty point to the difficulty women have to obtain contraception and legal abortion. They emphasize how constitutional reforms passed in numerous Mexican states which guarantee life from conception have had the “chilling effect” of reinforcing barriers to legal abortion. Moreover, they highlight the wide-spread practice of arresting women after miscarriage and still birth on charges of foeticide or infanticide.

Maternal Mortality Amongst Indigenous Women: The risk of maternal death amongst indigenous women is considerably higher than amongst no-indigenous women. This is the result of inadequate or inaccessible health care facilities, discriminatory practices towards indigenous women by health care professionals and a lack of translators.

As might be expected, the Mexican government’s statement to CEDAW tried to paint a rather different picture of life for women in Mexico. It highlighted the advances in education amongst girls, for example raising primary school attendance from 94% to 96% and secondary school attendance from 75% to 86%. It also made much of recent constitutional reforms by which Mexico adopted the UN’s declaration of human rights. It also talked of government reforms to widen health-care provision; it mentioned family planning policies in passing but did not address the issue of abortion. Finally, it recognized the “violence against women is one of the biggest challenges faced by the actual administration”. However, it asked the Committee to take into account the context of violence in which Mexico currently lives in assessing this situation.

An edited version of this article is available on e-feminist.

Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, Maternal Health, Violence Against Women, Women's Right to Choose, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Heart-Breaking Report from Chihuahua, Mexico by the NGO Justice for Our Daughters

This post is a report I recently translated for the NGO Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (Justice For Our Daughters). It makes for sad reading. It also should be prefixed with a trigger warning.


The following pages outline some statistics about murder, sexual violence and disappearances which show the violent reality in which the women of the state of Chihuahua live. The information is taken from official sources, newspaper investigations and non-governmental organizations.

Murders of Women

Between 1993 to 2011 at least 1, 776 women and children have been violently murdered in the state of Chihuahua [1]. According to the Mexican Institute of Geography and Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía or INEGI), this region probably has the highest murder rate in the world for women, with 34.73 murders for every 100, 000 women [2].

Since 2008, the state of Chihuahua has the highest murder rate for women in Mexico [3]. There have been multiple recommendations from international organisations that the Mexican State guarantee the victims’ access to justice; that it take steps to punish those responsible; and, that it prevent these murders continuing. Despite this, the number of women murdered in 2009, 2010 and 2011 are unprecedented in the state’s history. In only one year (2011), more women have been murdered that in the whole of the previous decade [4].

While the government suggests that the increase in murders may be linked to the war it is undertaking against the drug traffickers in the region, three aspects of these murders worry local organizations. Firstly, the huge increase in the number of these crimes; secondly, the fact that none of these murders have been properly investigated; and thirdly, the obvious pattern and similarity between the crimes which suggest that they are the results of people trafficking. In February 2012 at least three bodies were recovered from a field in Praxexis Guerrero, in the state of Chihuahua.

  • Andrea Guerrero Venzor, 15 year old. Reported missing on 19 August 2010.
  • Jessica Leticia Peña García, 17 years old. Reported missing on 16 June 2010.
  • Lizbeth Aviles García, 17 years old. Reported missing 22 April 2009 [5].

In the case of these three missing girls, their mothers filed the required missing persons report, but the authorities failed to undertake their obligation to activate the Alba protocol or use another form of immediate search for the women and girls reported missing. This contravenes the Inter-American Court of Human Right’s order in this respect. From the girls’ files it is clear that the authorities did not undertake the search immediately or thoroughly. Quite the opposite, it is clear that they minimized the facts and limited themselves to writing the missing persons reports. As a result, the girls’ mothers carried out the search. In the field, the authorities have found various other bones but have been unable or unwilling to identify them.

Sexual violence

In the last four years, military presence has increased in the northern border and with it, every day dangers to the population. No measures have been implemented to reduce these risks, mostly in terms of abuse and the violation of women’s human rights. In April 2008, as a response to the increase in violence caused by organized crime in the region, the national government set in motion Operation All Chihuahua (Operative Conjunto Chihuahua). This was a joint operation between the military, federal and state police. However, this did not help to quell the violence. Statistical evidence shows the relation between these types of mixed operations and the increase in murders in some regions of Mexico [6].

As part of these operations, the Federal Government sent 9, 000 federal police and soldiers to the state of Chihuahua. However, the state did not foresee the consequences for women of the military/police occupation. According to official data, between March 2009 and April 2010, there were 1, 017 reports of abuse against the police and soldiers in Ciudad Juarez; that is to say three per day. Nearly half of these (445) were filed by women.

Just like the murder rate, sexual violence has incremented considerably. In 2011 alone, 698 people reported being the victims of sexual violence in the State, 598 were women; the majority of which (399), were younger than 17 years old [7]. Chihuahua is among the states with the highest rate of rape in Mexico. Between 2007 and 2011, an average of 727 reports of sexual violence were made each year. That is to say, two per day [8]. This figure could easily be other as a large number of victims do not report this type of crime for fear of being victimized once more or because of the high rate of impunity,

Disappeared Women

The number of women and girls who have disappeared in the state of Chihuahua has increased considerably. Many of these women are probably victims of people traffickers.

According to official figures obtained by local organisations, in 2011 alone, at least 91 women were reported missing (and remain missing today). Of these, 50 went missing in Ciudad Juarez. The graph shoes the drastic increase in the number of women reported missing in the State of Chihuahua and in Ciudad Juarez between 1993 and 2011. Of these women, 60% are minors. Girls between 13 and 17 make up the majority of cases [9]. Local NGOs believe that the women could be victims of people traffickers, deprived of their liberty for prolonged periods, and sexually assaulted before being murdered.

National Institutions Established to Help Female Victims of Violence

The creation of the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women (Comisión Nactional para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia Contra Mujeres or CONAVIM) and the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes of Violence Against Women and People Trafficking (Fiscalía Especial para los Delitos de Violencia contra las Mujeres y Trata de Personas or FEVIMTRA), set up to help those affected by violence resulting from their gender has not led to better strategies to reduce violence against women or improve access to justice for victims of these crimes. The scant diffusion of these institutions’ objectives and the lack of control mechanisms implemented to evaluate their performance and effectiveness is very worrying. On a local level, Justicia para Nuestras Hijas, has successfully lobbied for the creation of a special prosecutor’s office to deal with victims of gendered violence and femicide. However, NGOs are concerned that not enough resources are assigned to this office and their staff are not properly trained.

Penal Justice System

The State of Chihuahua was the first to change over to the accusatory system (oral trial system like that of the US) in 2007. Various NGOs participated in the drawing up of new legislation dealing with gendered violence and the inclusion of a number of articles designed to protect women’s and victims’ rights. This wide-ranging and unprecedented participation meant that Chihuahua has one of the most advanced laws on the subject of women’s human rights in Latin America. However, NGOs are worried by recently proposed laws that would go against this legislation and whose proposers exclude them from their discussion.

[1] Information obtained by Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (JPNH) through freedom of information requests and a daily revision of newspaper articles.

[2] INEGI. Mortality Statistics, 2000-2010. Figures are preliminary for 2010. As a reference point, the World Health Organization indicates that South Africa has the highest female murder rate with an indicator of 8.8 murders per 100, 000.

[3] INEGI. Mortality Statistics, 2000-2010. Figures are preliminary for 2010.

[4] Between 1993 and 2003, between 260 and 370 women were murdered. Inter-American Court for Human Rights. González and others vs. Mexico (“Campo Algodonero” or Cotton Field Case). Sentence of 16 November 2009. C Series no. 205.

[5] The dates quoted were published by the Chief Prosecuting Officer of the State of Chihuahua (Fiscalía General de Justicia del Estado de Chihuahua) in January 2012.

[6] Source: Fernando Escalante, “Homicidios 2008-2009. La muerte tiene permiso,” Nexos, January 2011. (The operations began in 2007).

[7] Information provided by Chihuahua’s Chief Prosecuting Officer in response to a freedom of information request filed by JPNH on 8 February 2012 (folio 005352012).

[8] Source: Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública.

[9]Information provided by Chihuahua’s Chief Prosecuting Officer. This information is provided due to an order by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, Violence Against Women, , , , , , ,

Press Release Justice for our Daughters, February 2012

Chihuahua City, Chihuahua, Mexico

8th March 2012

Release 03/12

For its immediate circulation

  • Figures show at least 56 women have been murdered in Chihuahua in 2012
  • Young girls’ disappearances show evidence of worrying similarities.

8th March 2012. Chihuahua City, Chihuahua, Mexico. – The organization Justicia para Nuestras Hijas has evidence that at least 56 women and girls have been murdered in Chihuahua State so far this year.

The NGO collates its evidence from the daily review of newspapers in order to build a true picture of the number of murders and disappearances in this state. They point out that this is a preliminarily figure and believe that this is very likely that more femicides have occurred. They still have not been allowed access to official databases and for that reason, they insist that the authorities present a monthly report giving an accurate account of how many murders of women are registered during this time period.

Among the murders logged by Justicia para Nuestras Hijas this month include those of four girls whose bodies were found in a field in Paxedis, near the town of Guerrero in Chihuahua State: Andrea Guerrero Venzor, 15, reported missing on 19 August 2010; Deysy Ramírez Muñoz, 16, reported missing on 22 July 2010; Jessica Leticia Peña García, 17, reported missing on 16 June 2010; and Lizbeth Aviles García, 17, reported missing on 22 April 2009.

This discovery shows how the murders of girls have a similar pattern and are generally preceded by their disappearance. The negligence shown by the authorities ten years ago again becomes apparent. It is particularly worrying that in the case of a number of women and girls who have been reported missing in the last few years, especially in 2009, 2010 and 2011, their disappearances show many similarities with those of the four girls murdered in Praxedis: a medium or low socioeconomic origins, aged between 13 and 19 and last seen in the northern part of the state, principally in Ciudad Juárez.

On this 8 March, the organization Justicia para Nuestras Hijas remembers the girls and women who have been murdered in Chihuahua State and whose aggressors remain without punishment. It also remembers the hundreds of those missing who cases have been neglected, despite the fact they could be in grave danger.

For more information, contact: Tel. +52 (614) 413-33-55



Filed under: Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, Violence Against Women, , , , , , ,

Justicia para Nuestras Hijas Press Releases (October 2011-January 2012)

From now on I shall be publishing the monthly press releases of Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (Justice For Our Daughters), an NGO based in Chihuahua City, Chihuahua. The organization is run by a group of parents whose daughters have gone missing or been killed in the state of Chihuahua. It was founded in 2002 and works to find those missing, while campaigning for the efficient investigation and prosecution of crimes of violence against women. The statements are available on their website; however, as I translate these documents, I thought that including them on my blog would aid their diffusion.

    In this first post, I include releases I have on archive (October 2011 to January 2012). In subsequent posts I shall publish each statement as and when they are released.


Chihuahua, Chihuahua State, Mexico 25 November 2011

  • What is “gender perspective”?
  • 323 femicides between January and November 2011
  • 219 women have disappeared between 1994 and 2011

Understanding “gender perspective” can help us comprehend how men can be violent to women. Violence that could be almost imperceptible ill-treatment, like ignoring her or “giving her the silent treatment” as it is called colloquially, or could be extreme as killing her.

Gender perspective” is a position or point of view that allows us to see how men and women develop within society in a wide panorama.

Humans have been classified by their natural characteristics, like their sex, which refers to their male or female biology. However, it has often been assumed that the different and sometimes opposing ways in which men and women behave, feel and think are natural. That is to say that a man is expected to be independent, strong, dominant, aggressive and self-assured; he doesn’t get carried away by his emotions; he undertakes most of his activities in public, etc. Meeting those expectations would therefore confirm his masculine gender. In the case of the feminine gender it is expected that she will be dependent (on her father, brothers or partner), sensitive, submissive, caring and helpful and that she will undertake most of her activities in private (at home), etc. Even so, it has been shown that –independent of biological sex– humans have the capacity or can develop the ability to undertake activities apparently opposed to their sex. As a result, it has been claimed that gender roles, far from being natural, are socially constructed by the culture in which we live.

The arbitrary assignation of these gender roles and their rigid and inflexible application has given the male gender superiority over the female. As a result, it limits women to such an extent that it puts her at a disadvantage. Women are less capable of doing things, that’s to say, that have less power to control a situation and obviously, less power over themselves. An organization has been established in which gender-based differences are used to justify undervaluing women. She is placed in an unequal position, she is inferior and subordinate.

The above explains, then, the context of the discrimination in which the female gender has been historically placed. The figures relating to violence against women show this; in Chihuahua 8 out of 10 women have suffered some kind of violence (Institute for Women in Chiuhuahua, 2008). It is evident how physical, emotional and economic violence in private and in public is used to control and keep women under masculine hegemony.

Thus, using “gender perspective” allows us to make visible how the female gender has been historically -and still is today- in a position of inferiority. This position allows us to recognize that our biological differences should not justify inequality between genders, and stop us naturalizing and normalizing violence against women.

For this reason, gender perspective is important to permit us to avoid the types of violence that could end up with fatal consequences, like the murder of women.

The number of women murdered in the state of Chihuahua carries on rising: between January and November of this year, there have been 233 violent homicides of women, according to our daily study of newspapers. Moreover, 219 women have gone missing since 1994 to the present (FGECHI, 2011).

For more information telephone: +52 (614) 413-33-55



Web Page consulted:

FGECH, http://fiscalia.chihuahua.gob.mx/; Mujeres, niños y niñas extraviados; consulted on 15 November 2011


  • What should you do if a woman or girl disappears?
  • There have been 342 femicides in Chihuahua state so far this year
  • There are 207 active reports of women and girls going missing so far in 2011

It is well known that in our state of Chihuahua the disappearance of women is everyday news. Since January this year there have been 207 reports of women going missing according to the Chihuahua State Prosecutor’s Office. It is for this reason that the actions taken during the first 24 hours that a woman or girl has gone missing –for example, not arrived home from school, work or a meeting after her workday is done– are crucial when looking for her. In this statement Justicia para Nuestras Hijas would like to make public a guide to taking action that could help the prompt localization of a lost loved one:

  1. The first thing that you should do when a woman or girl has disappeared is go to place a report at the “Unidad Especializada de Personas Ausentes o Extraviadas” (Special Unit for Missing or Lost Persons), which is located between street 25 and Teófilo Borunda street in Chihuahua City, Chihuahua. Here you will deal with a functionary of the Prosecutor’s Office (known as the Ministerio Público or MP), who will make the report. The report should contain basic details, such as:
    1. The full name of the missing person, their age, physical characteristics (hair, eye and skin color, complexion, height, etc.), as well as any distinguishing marks they might have, like a mole or a scar. Try to remember what the person was wearing the last time you saw her.
    2. A photo of the missing person to leave with the Prosecutor’s Office for use in their report (this should be distributed immediately to bus stations, toll booths, airports etc.).
    3. You should also say where the person was last seen and her cellular phone number, if she was carrying one. This last detail is very important, as it can be used to locate the missing person, as will be explained in step 4.

  2. You must inform the Prosecutor’s Office about the people the missing person generally associated with, where she liked to go etc. If she is still at school, you should mention the school, the names of her teachers, classmates and friends. If she works, you should mention the names of her coworkers. In fact, you should try and give all the names, telephone numbers and addresses of the people she was with just before she went missing. You should ask the Prosecutor’s Office that these people be interviewed immediately. Any detail of her disappearance, however minor or vague it might seem, should be made known to the authorities, as they can be very important in helping localize the missing person.

  3. This is what the initial report contains. The person who makes the report should be given a copy and it is important to note the folder number –which should be a two digit number- and the year in which the report is being made. It is also imperative to note the name of the functionary who took down the report and to immediately obtain an asignación de la unidad; that is to say, that the case be referred to a team of two ministerial police who will take charge of the investigation. You should be given their names and contact details, including the telephone number of the Prosecutor’s Office and the policemen’s extension numbers so you can get in touch with them). After this, these two agents should get in contact with the person making the report as soon as possible, in one or two hours at most. If this doesn’t happen you have the right to telephone them to ask them to take action to investigate the case.

  4. As has already been mentioned, the cellular telephone number is very important as it can be used to find the missing person’s approximate location. In order for this to be done, you must insist that the cellular phones’ antenna is located. This information can ascertain the whereabouts of the person, or if she has already left town. Another thing you should ask for is that the persons’ cell phone records be analyzed right up until the day she went missing. This can provide valuable information about who she was in contact with and unknown numbers can be traced by the Police Investigation Unit to find out who they belong to. Once this information is known, it might be possible to find out who else the person was in contact with and establish a network of contacts which can help determine the direction of the investigation.

  5. Another recourse you can ask for is the Alba Protocol, although this is not very well established in Chihuahua. This Protocol requires that all relevant bodies be put on alert to look for the missing person.

  6. You should maintain uninterrupted dialogue with the investigative police. Make sure that you get documentary evidence of all that you ask for. This way you can keep track of what has or has not been done, demand that something is done, or complain if it was done badly.

    It is thought that if these basic steps are followed between the first three or six hours that a person is missing, many women and young girls will be immediately found. This way many of the femicides, which often begin with the kidnapping of a woman or girl can be avoided. Sadly this year (up until 13 December) Justicia para Nuestras Hijas has already counted 342 violent murders of women in our State.

    For more information, please contact: tel. +52 (614) 413-33-55




    Chihuahua City, Chihuahua, Mexico 17 February 2012

    Communication 02/12

  • In response to pression from Human Rights Organizations and a recommendation from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Report 87/10: Case: Caso Paloma Angélica Escobar Ledezma and others) the Mexican government creates the Special Prosecutor’s Office for the Attention of Women Victims of Crimes Relating to Their Gender (Fiscalía Especializada en Atención a Mujeres Víctimas de Delito por Razones de Género)

17 February 2010. Chihuahua City, Chihuahua, Mexico. – As a consequence of several recommendations from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, on 7 February this year, the Special Prosecutor’s Office for the Attention of Women Victims of Crimes Relating to Gender (Fiscalía Especializada en Atención a Mujeres Víctimas de Delito por Razones de Género) was created. The recommendations came in a case presented to the Court by Justicia para Nuestras Hijas and other organizations in relation to Paloma Angélica Escobar Ledezma, who disappeared on 2 March 2002, and whose dead body was found 27 days later on the highway between Chihuahua City and Aldama.

Norma Ledezma, Paloma’s mother and coordinator of Justicia para Nuestras Hijas, stated that “the new prosecutor’s office faces the challenge of reducing the rates of impunity surrounding gender crimes and [must] resolve the –at least- 16 murders of women in the State of Chihuahua that our organization has documented during the first month of this year alone. Moreover, [it must resolve] the hundreds of femicides that have been registered in previous years, including that of my daughter.”

The Special Prosecutor’s Office principal remit is to investigate the cases of women who were murdered because of their gender (“femicide”); situations that attack women’s liberty and their sexuality; as well as domestic violence, amongst other things.

Justicia para Nuestras Hijas will monitor and closely follow the work of this new Prosecutor’s Office in order to analyze its efficiency in the light of the fact that violence against women remains alarming. During the first month of this year, a woman was murdered in State of Chihuahua every two days.

For more information contact: Tel. +52 (614) 413-33-55



Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, Violence Against Women, , , , , , ,

Norma Andrade, Activist who Works to Find Missing and Kidnapped Women, Attacked for Second Time

Yesterday at about 9am, Norma Esther Andrade, one of the cofounders of the charity Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (“May Our Daughters Return Home”), was attacked by a man with a knife at her home in Mexico City. She is currently in hospital in a serious condition. This is the second time Andrade has been attacked. On 2 December 2011, she was shot repeatedly outside her home in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. She was later discharged from hospital after a couple of days because death threats were made to those treating her. Andrade subsequently moved to Mexico City for her own safety and was supposed to be under police protection at the time of this second attack.

Norma Andrade cofounded Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa in 2001 after her daughter, Lilia Alejandra García Andrade, was kidnapped in Ciudad Juárez. Her body was later found in a field, strangled and with signs of having been severely tortured. The aim of the organization is to bring the situation in Juárez and Chihuahua to the attention of the world and to campaign for improvements to Mexico’s justice system to ensure that those responsible for these types of crimes are punished. (For more details on the murder of women in Chihuahua see my post here. For a discussion of femicide in a Mexican context see another post here).

Andrade and the other founders of Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa have received death threats since 2002. In 2008 the InterAmerican Commission of Human Rights directed the Mexican government to provide protection for Andrade and three other members of her organization. However, in September last year they were warned to leave Juárez immediately or be killed. Andrade was attacked in December and now, for a second time, in Mexico City. Under these circumstances, Amnesty International has issued a statement indicating that they believe her life to be in immediate danger.

There is currently a petition circulating on Twitter which asks the Mexican President, Felipe Calderón, to ensure that Norma Andrade receives the protection she requires. If the Mexican state is incapable of finding those responsible for her daughter’s murder, it is the least it can do to protect her from suffering the same fate. As I have occasion to mention in other posts, too many activists have already been killed for daring to search for their daughters. It has to stop. Not one more.

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

Murdered Because They Were Women or Because They Were Journalists?

Ana María Marcela Yarce Viveros and Rocío González Trápaga

 Ana María Marcela Yarce Viveros, journalist for the magazine Contralínea, and Rocío González Trápaga, freelance journalist and once a reporter on one of Mexico’s biggest television channels, Televisa, were found dead in a park in Mexico City by an early-morning jogger on Thursday. The two women had been strangled; they were discovered naked with their hands and feet tied and rope around their necks. It still is not clear why they were murdered. Yarce Viveros was close friends with González Trápaga; they were last seen having coffee together at quarter to ten on Wednesday night outside the offices of Contralínea.

 This story has made the headlines in Mexico and other countries for a number of reasons. The first is the fact that both women were journalists: according to a variety of sources, including a UN report from last year and information gathered by the NGO Reporters Without Borders, Mexico is the most dangerous place to be a journalist in the American continent. Eight reporters have been killed in 2011 alone and somewhere between 74 and 80 in the last decade. Violence against reporters seems to be one of the consequences of Mexico’s struggle with the drug cartels; although there also well-documented cases of intimidation and violence employed by rich and powerful citizens against journalists they perceive as a threat (see my previous blog post here). Those murdered by the gangs generally show signs of torture or mutilation postmortem. According to reports made by the Mexico City authorities up until now, Yarce Viveros or González Trápaga had also suffered gunshot wounds prior to death, but it isn’t clear how these were received.

    The second reason that this story appears to have made headlines is that the Public Prosecutor in Mexico City, Miguel Ángel Mancera has indicated that the crimes will be investigated as “femicide” (feminicidio) or, as the Associated Press has translated it, “gender crimes”. This class of crime has only been recently adopted in Mexico City and is still quite controversial. Briefly it defines femicide as the murder of women, whose bodies’ present signs of sexual abuse and/or mutilation prior to death or postmortem or have been dumped in a public place. Women whose murderers later prove to be relations or (ex)partners, or whose killers can be showed to have previously made threats against the victim should also be classified this way. The circumstances in which the women’s corpses were dumped –tied up and left naked in a public park– oblige the Mexico City police to investigate their murder in this way. However, thus far the authorities have not commented that the women’s bodies evidence that they were tortured or sexually abused before their deaths. (You can see my other posts on the subject of feminicidio in Mexico here and here).

    So were Yarce Viveros and González Trápaga murdered for their work as journalists or targeted simply for being women? So far the evidence points to the former: it appears both women had been writing a story about the real estate business in Mexico for prominent broker, Víctor Javier Perera Calero, who was also murdered three days before the women disappeared. It is likely that the fact that they were women merely determined the manner in which the murderers decided to dispose of the bodies.

English sources:







Spanish sources:





Filed under: Politics, Violence Against Women, , , , , , ,


Further to my posts about presidential hopeful, Enrique Peña Nieto and the debate provoked by his attempts to avoid a federal investigation into the deaths of more than 900 women in Mexico State since 2005, I am pleased to report that this week Peña Nieto announced he would be establishing a special investigative office to look into hate crimes against women, staffed –he promises– by experts who are not connected to the state’s own prosecution service (Procuraduría General del Estado de Justice del Estado de México), whose sorry record on this issue was one of the reasons that prompted women’s rights groups to demand intervention by the federal government. Obviously, it must be remembered that this is election season in Mexico State (elections for the governorship will take place later this year) and so this promise could just be part of Peña Nieto’s strategy. There are also some questions about the project; not least for the inclusion of a clause which would require the office to subject the emotional state of the victim to a forensic examination (called a psychological autopsy) via interviews with family and friends. This is an examination usually used to determine if a person was murdered or committed suicide. David Peña Rodríguez, a lawyer and representative of Asociación Nacional de Abogados Democráticos (National Association of Democratic Lawyers or ANAD) affirms that such inquiries are generally reflect the stereotypes and prejudices of the people interviewed and cannot therefore be considered an objective source of evidence. Despite all this, the announcement is worth celebrating in the sense that it marks a victory in the long campaign by women’s rights groups to make violence against women a national point of debate, in a country where this topic has generally been not been on the mainstream political agenda.

One of the results of this new media exposure has been the discussion (and derision) of the term used by women’s groups to describe the murders of these women: “feminicidio” (femicide). The most common objections that I have heard are that the term is meaningless as a legal definition (along the lines of “if femicide exists, do we also have to invent special terms for all murder victims?”); or, that it is discriminatory (ie. it focuses only on women). I have offered a brief definition of feminicidio in earlier posts, but I think that perhaps a more detailed examination is necessary to ensure clarity for future posts and arguments.

Mexican anthropologist and feminist, Marcela Lagarde y de los Ríos, invented the term femincidio in 2006 when she translated Femicide: The Politics of Women Killing (New York, 1992) a collective work edited by feminist scholars Diana Russell and Jill Radford, as Feminicidio. La política de las mujeres (Mexico City, 2006). This book uses feminist theory to show how much violence used against women all over the world and girls is a direct result of their gender, from pornography to genital mutilation, in an attempt to control them and their sexuality. In this context, femicide is not simple homicide but a “misogynist murder”; a hate crime against women. It is pervasive and generally unacknowledged, because it culture and social norms allow for it to be explained away, ignored and accepted as a normal feature of a male/female relationship. Lagarde y los Ríos explains that “[t]he translation of femicide is femicidio. However, I translated femicide as feminicidio […] [because] in Spanish femicidio is a homologue of homicide and only means the murder of women”. Lagarde y De los Ríos wanted to make sure that the term feminicidio should be taken to refer to the phenomenon of hate crime against women and thus avoid it becoming a meaningless catch-all term for the murder of women as has been implied by the criticism that I mentioned above.

In no small part due to the fact that the term feminicidio was first coined in relation to the high rates of murders among women in Ciudad Juárez in the last fifteen years, the idea that feminicidio refers exclusively to this type of crime is a common stereotype. Lagarde y De los Ríos insists that while the categorisation of the typical victim in the Juárez murders (young, living in poverty and working in a sweatshop) is valid for these murders; neither this nor the hallmarks of such crimes (kidnapping and sexual abused before dumping the body on wasteground) is true for the vast majority of the victims of feminicidio. She is keen to stress that the great majority of women victims of this type of hate crime are in fact murdered in their homes by their partners. In other words, feminicidio is a definition of violence that refers both to violent sexual assault by strangers as well as attacks suffered within the home and/or perpetrated by someone with a close relationship to the victim (which, as feminist research has amply demonstrated, the type of violence most likely to affect women in any culture or country).

The statistics which place Mexico State as the entity with most feminicidios in the Mexican Republic (922 since 2005) do so precisely because of the inclusion of women who died at the hands of their partners or other family member. It is probably fair to say that part of Peña Nieto’s refusal to accept the figures derived from his misconception of the term and his belief that the serial sexual assault and murder of women such as experienced in Chihuahua (the state in which Ciudad Juárez is situated) was not prevalent in his state. It is to be hoped that the scandal in which he found himself engulfed in January has served to educate him on this point. The stereotype of feminicidio as a crime perpetrated by strangers on young, vulnerable women is also perhaps the reason why some commentators think it is discriminatory, as figures for violent crime show that men are much more likely to be victims of violence at the hands of strangers than women.

As Lagarde y Los Ríos asserts, femicide exists in Mexico, as it does elsewhere, as a result of a misogynistic culture which routinely ignores violence against women and generally holds the victim to be responsible for the violence she suffers. The phenomenon of the Juárez murders has never been adequately investigated despite rulings by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the subject. In most cases, the authorities avoid looking into the crimes with the well-worn arguments that they were prostitutes (in the case that the attacker was a stranger); or (in the case of domestic violence) that they had chosen to enter into a relationship with a violent man. When the murders are investigated, incompetence and the failure to follow due process often allow the murderer to escape punishment (see the cases of Nadia Alejandra here and that of Rubí Marisol Freyre Escobedo here).

Largely thanks to campaigns against femicide in Mexico institutional policies are in place to prevent on violence against women. During her period as a federal deputy, Lagarde y De los Ríos was instrumental in the passing of the 2007 federal statue Ley General de Acceso de las Mujeres a Una Vida Libre de Violencia (General Law to Provide Women With Access to a Life Free of Violence). This law defines violence against women as “misogynistic violence against women [product] of their situation […] in unequal relationships” and typifies it in four ways “physical, psychological, sexual [and] economic”. According to the law, feminicidio is “an extreme form” of misogynistic violence against women which often leads to their death. This law was invoked by campaigners against Peña Nieto in January when, as I reported, they tried unsuccessfully to oblige the Federation to declare an alerta de violencia de género (gender violence alert) in Mexico state, which according to the terms of the legislation would have obliged to look into the deaths attributed to feminicidio in a particular entity. Other measures in place to ensure that hate crimes against women are properly investigated also include the Fiscalía Especial para los Delitos de Violencia contra las Mujeres y Trata de Personas (Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Women and People Trafficking or Fevimtra) and the Fondo Nacional para la Alerta de Violencia de Género (National Fund for Alerts Against Gender Violence).

At the moment there are campaigns for feminicidio to be codified into the laws of the different states, for example, Chihuahua, home of Ciudad Juárez; although there appears to be little institutional support for this. In this context, the project proposed by Peña Nieto, for all its defects and despite the obvious electioneering behind it, is a step forward. The media discussions of feminicidio and its proper definition, even the criticisms of it, all serve to chip away at the protective wall of silence that normally surrounds the issue. Moreover, giving the violence suffered by women as a result of their gender a name is a not a meaningless exercise, in fact it works to raise consciousness about this problem, especially among women. Describing the murders of women by their partners as feminicidio leaves us in no doubt that such an act is a heinous crime that should be investigated and not ignored. Words are power, after all.

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

55% Women Murdered in Mexico State Are Killed By Their Partners

Further to my blog post on femicide in Mexico State:

The Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México has published a study showing that 55% of women murdered in that state since 2005 have died at the hands of their partners. The study also reveals that the bulk of the victims are between 16 and 40 years of age, living in marginalised areas of the state. See the following link for details (in Spanish)

Mataron parejas a 55% de mujeres en Edomex: estudio – El Universal – Estado de Mexico.

In my view, the inescapable conclusion of this report is that the rise in violence in general in Mexico in the last couple of years (well documented by Fernando Escalante in this month’s issue of Nexos) and with it, the perceived rise in femicide, must be linked to the high levels of impunity which perpetrators enjoy. As I have documented before, the state of Mexico has a sorry record in prosecuting femicide and violence against women. A report published this week by CIMAC Noticias exemplifies this situation: Nadia Alejandra was killed  by her husband, Bernardo López Gutiérrez and her brother-in-law in front of her three children (of 2, 4 and 5 years of age), seven years ago. The investigating authorities (Ministerio Público) “lost” the cord used to strangle her; alledging motives of “hygiene” they refused to analyse blood found at the murder scene; and, worse still, they “forgot” to seal the scene allowing the family of the murderers to burn all other evidence.  Efforts by her mother finally resulted in López Gutiérrez being captured and sentenced, but the problems and deficiencies of the evidence meant that he could appeal his conviction and was subsequently released. The case is now before the International Court for Human Rights.

Undoubtedly, the figures published in this report also indicate a high levels of social and cultural acceptance of violence against women in Mexico State, especially in deprived areas. But again, this leads back to the question of impunity. This culture of tolerance cannot be addressed properly until those in power, like the Chief Prosecuting Officer for the state, Alfredo Castillo Cervantes, abandon their misgynistic prejudices about the causes of violence against women. While it is still acceptable for the authorities to argue that femicides are the women’s fault for their lifestyle choices or appearences, public tolerance will continue.

Authorities in Mexico State (and Mexico as a whole) need to realise that no woman deserves to be murdered because they happen to be married to a violent man or because of their profession or because they have issues with drugs or alcohol. Violence against women is not a woman’s fault, it is the fault of the perpetrator. Is that so difficult to understand?


Filed under: Feminism, Politics, Violence Against Women, , , , , , ,


Presidential hopeful and Mexico State Governor Enrique Peña NietoEnrique Peña Nieto is the governor of Mexico State, the most populous in Mexico. After President Felipe Calderón, he is probably one of the best known political figures in the whole Mexican Republic. He is a handsome, charming person who also happens to have recently married a very famous, and highly photogenic, soap actress, Angélica Rivera. Peña Nieto belongs to the Partido de la Revolution Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI), where he is linked to a faction associated with ex President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994). His political office and connections within his party make him a very powerful figure, while the understanding he has forged with the principal television companies in Mexico (Televisa and TV Azteca) make sure that he receives a very favourable press on national television. He is, understandably therefore, a very ambitious man whose sights are firmly set on the 2012 presidential elections.

Unfortunately for him, not all is rosy on this front at the moment. As readers of this blog will be aware, Peña Nieto is also unlucky enough to be the governor of the state in which most feminicidios (femicide: the murder of a women for reasons linked to her gender, see my other blog post here) have occurred in the last few years. To be exact, 922 women have been murdered in Mexico State since 2005 and, just in the last 18 months, there have been 4, 773 reports of sexual violence in the state. As I reported last November, the Federal Senate had formally drawn the governor’s attention to this problem. Since then human rights groups have asked the Sistema Nacional para Prevenir, Atender, Sancionar y Erradicar la Violencia contra las Mujeres (National System for the Prevention, Attention, Sanction and Eradication of Violence Against Women) [1], a body set up in 2007 in response to pressure from groups campaigning against violence against women in Mexico to issue what is called a “alerto de género” or gender alert in the state, a process that would involve the investigation into the deaths of the women and the manner in which they have been handled by the authorities. That such a measure needs to be taken is quite clear. As I have mentioned repeatedly on this blog, the level of impunity enjoyed by the murderers of women in Mexico State (and, it must be noted, in the Republic as a whole) is quite lamentable. In the cases of women murdered between 2000 and 2005, only 35% of murders have been convicted; while 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 [2]. The Non-Governmental Organization, Observatorio Ciudadano Nacional del Feminicidio (National Citizen Femicide Observatory) estimates that in general 50% of femicides in Mexico State are mishandled and neglected [3]. Furthermore, as Amnesty International highlighted in last year’s “Write-a-thon” Campaign, cases of institutionalised abuse of women by policemen and federal officers have also not been adequately dealt with (see my blog post on the subject here).

Peña Nieto does not see things quite like that, though. In his opinion, the call for a “gender alert” in Mexico State is politically motive with the intention of undermining his presidential ambitions and the state governor elections which are due this year (and whose outcome, he obviously would like to control). Immediately prior to the meeting in which the Sistema Nacional para Prevenir, Atender, Sancionar y Erradicar la Violencia contra las Mujeres was to decide on this issue he denied that there had been more femicides in his state than any other in the last five years [4]. Moreover, he used his political muscle to lean on those members of the commission who came from state ruled by the PRI and as a result, the integrants voted against the measure. As journalist and human rights activist Lydia Cacho later reported, the Mexico State Prosecutor, Alfredo Castillo Cervantes tried to minimize the figures with arguments that laid bare his own misogyny and amply demonstrated why his officers are woefully incapable of confronting this problem. Castillo said that most of the women had been murdered “porque consumen drogas, alcohol o usan inhalantes; trabajan en bares en los que alternan con los clientes o salen a altas horas de la noche” (“because they used drugs or drank alcohol or sniffed glue; they worked in bars in which they mixed with their clients [this appears to a euphemism for being prostitutes] or they went out very late at night”). In a nutshell: they deserved what they got and their deaths were not worth looking into.[5]. He also made the faintly laughable excuse that not all of the women murdered had been born in Mexico State and so shouldn’t be included in the figures.

State and Federal deputies from the PRI also waded into the row, speaking out in favour of Peña Nieto. They highlighted Castillo Cervante’s argument that 60% of the victims were not natives of the state and pointed out that if the figures were broken down proportionally Mexico State was far from being the most violent: a ratio of 1.38 homicides for every 100, 000 inhabitants, lower than Baja California with 3.22, Sinaloa with 2.60, Sonora with 2.35, Michoacán and Morelos with 1.97, Hidalgo with 1.65 and Guanajuato with 1.53 [6] This was meant to defend their political overload, but the figures hardly help their case. So, proportionally, Mexico State is not more violent than its neighbours, but this is hardly a reason not to investigate the deaths. Rather in the light of these figures it is a reason to demand similar “gender alerts” be issued in other states if not nationwide. What is clear is that there is an unacceptable level of violence against women in Mexico as a whole, and that state governments plus their investigating and prosecuting officers (known as Ministerio Público orPublic Ministry) and Procuraduría del Estado or State Prosecutors ) need to take measures to deal with it.

In the face of the negative media attention the decision not to impose a “gender alert” in Mexico state and the criticism levelled at Peña Nieto and Castillo Cervantes from human rights and women’s’ groups, the governor announced he would set up discussion fora at the end of the month in which experts on gender violence would be convened to look into the situation in the state. It can only be hoped that this will not be just a talking shop and an opportunity for Peña Nieto to have his photograph taken alongside the participants. But for now, it looks very much like a typical damage limitation exercise which aims to do nothing more than counteract all the negative publicity this situation has generated for the PRI’s golden boy and presidential hopeful.

See update to this post added on 25 January 2011 here.


[1] http://webapps01.un.org/vawdatabase/searchDetail.action?measureId=5801&baseHREF=country&baseHREFId=864 This a commission made up of representatives of the Secretaría de Gobernación (Equilavent of the Home Office or US State Department) Secretaría de Desarrollo Social (Ministry of Social Development); Secretaría de Seguridad Pública (Ministry of Public Security); Procuraduría General de la República (Federal Prosecution Office); Secretaría de Educación Pública (Ministry of Education); la Secretaría de Salud (Ministry of Health); el Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación (The National Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women) ; el Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (The National System for the Integral Development of the Family or DIF – the nearest thing Mexico has to Social Services) and the 32 Women’s Institutes from Mexico’s different states.

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


[4] http://www.proceso.com.mx/rv/modHome/pdfExclusiva/87263

[5] A very widespread opinion within both the police and prosecuting offices throughout Mexico, see my post here.

[6] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/738016.html

Filed under: Feminism, Politics, Violence Against Women, , , , , ,


Marisela Escobedo Ortiz’s daughter, Rubí Marisol Frayre Escobedo, was 16 when she disappeared from the house in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua in August 2008. From that moment on, Ms. Escobedo Ortiz worked tirelessly to find her daughter, who she believed dead, and to bring her murderer to justice. Thanks to her own investigations and the pressure she put on the authorities in Chihuahua, Ms. Frayre Escobedo’s boyfriend, Sergio Rafael Barraza Bocanegra, was arrested as a suspect and prosecuted for this crime in 2009. With his cooperation, the remains fo the murdered teenager were found and returned to her mother. Despite this, and although Barraza Bocanegra also confessed to the crime, he was absolved and released on 30 April 2010. Ms. Escobedo Ortiz did not give up her fight for justice, and largely thanks to her campaign, a second court revoked the original sentence and convicted Barraza Bocanegra for the murder of Ms. Fraye Escobedo. Barraza Bocanegra was nolonger in custody by this time and had fled to the state of Zacatecas. Due to a lack of cooperation between the different state authorities, nothing was done to arrest Barraza Bocanegra, so Ms Escobedo Ortiz tracked him down of her own accord and attempted to have him arrested. She visited the Procuradores de Justicia (Heads of the Prosecuting Services) in Chihuahua and Zacatecas and in July 2010 she travelled to Mexico City to speak to both President Felipe Calderón and the Procurador General de Justicia Federal (The Head of the Federal Prosecution Service), but both declined to receive her. On 3 December she set up a permanent protest in the city of Chihuahua declaring  “No me voy a mover de aquí hasta que detengan al asesino de mi hija” (I’m not leaving until my daughter’s murderer is arrested”) [1] She also denounced that she was subject to death threats from members of Barreza Bocanegra’s family. On 17 December 2010 she was murdered in front of Government Palace in Chihuahua City. Later, it transpired that her daughter’s murderer was also thought to be implicated in this crime.

Susana Chávez was a poet and human rights activist from Ciudad Juárez who worked with groups that protested against femicides in Chihuahua. Among other things she coined the phrase, “Ni una muerta más” (Not one more [female] death), which has been used in innumerable protests. She used her blog “Primera tormenta” (First storm) to publicise her poetry and activism. On 6 January 2011 she herself was murdered herself after going into the city centre with friends. Postmortum her hand was cut off.

Two female deaths in three weeks in Chihuahua is sadly not newsworthy. However, the fact that both murder victims were actively participated in the defence of human rights and the fight against femicide in Ciudad Juárez, has bought the state of Chihuahua to the attention of Mexico’s national media. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have published condemnations of the situation, and candle-lit protests have been organized for the victims in cities around Mexico. As a result, it has been politically imperative for the governor of the state, César Duarte, to be seen to be doing something. Unfortunately, so far it does not appear that he intends to address the root issues of the problem; in particular, the failures of the justice system and Prosecution Service in Chihuahua to adequately investigate and prosecute the murder of women in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua State as a whole. Rather the idea appears to be to look for scapegoats.

In the case of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, the judges that originally absolved Barrera Bocanegra have been suspended and are under investigation. No mention has been made of an investigation to look into to how the PGEC (Procuraduría General del Estado de Chihuahua) handled the investigation, or why, after Barrera Bocanegra was convicted, these authorities did nothing to arrest him even when they were informed of his whereabouts by Ms. Escobedo Ortiz. Neither has he addressed the question of why the state authorities failed to provide Ms. Escobedo Ortiz with adequate protection, when they were aware of the death threats against her.

In the case of Susana Chávez, the investigating officers deny that her murder had anything to do with her political activism. The state Fiscal Attorney claims that Ms. Chávez met three adolescent boys in a bar in the centre of Ciudad Juárez and decided to go back with them to their house to drink. According to the three boys, now under arrest, Ms. Chávez pretended to be a police officer and threatened to denounce them for being gang member. As a result they took her into the shower and smothered her. This story might be true, but seems very far-fetched. Ms. Chávez was 36, not 16. She was a political activist and defender of women’s human rights in the city which is most famous for its terrible record of femicide, not a naive factory worker. It is hard not to suspect that the story has been concocted and the boys arrested to ensure the case is concluded as soon as possible.

[1] For more details on Marisela Escobedo Ortiz’s campaign see http://www.cadhac.org/derechos_humanos/amnistia-internacional-condena-el-asesinato-de-la-activista-que-buscaba-justicia-para-su-hija/ and http://justiciaparanuestrashijas.blogspot.com/2010_12_19_archive.html

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