Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Three Years in Prison Without Trial

Virginia, a young indigenous women from Guerrero, suffered a miscarriage in 2009. Since then she has been in prison in Huamuxtitlan, Guanajuato, charged with murder. There has never been an autopsy to determine the cause of fetal death. All judicial proceedings against Virginia have been carried in out in Spanish and she was not offered a translator who could explain proceeding in her native Nahuatl. Neither did she have access to a defense lawyer who could speak her language.

In January this year, thanks to the work of the NGO Las Libres and the volunteer law students from the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica (CIDE) in Mexico City, a federal judge ruled that her human rights had not been respected. In the light of the fact that there was no evidence to support the charge against her, the judge also ordered that she should be released. However, this has not happened. Instead, the local judge re-issued a warrant for her arrest on the same charges.

Verónica Cruz, director of Las Libres, told news agencies that this new warrant was a “reprisal” against Virginia for exposing the abuses committed by the judicial authorities in Huamuxtitlan. She also observed that her plight was the result of the “triple discrimination” Virginia has been subjected to in the judicial process as a poor, indigenous woman.

As I reported last week, this “triple discrimination” is sadly the norm for the Mexican justice system. However, in the case of Virginia, there is also a further difficulty. Guanajuato is one of the most conservative states in Mexico. It was one of the first states to reform its constitution in 2010 in to declare that the right to life began at conception. As I reported recently, its governor has openly opposed federal directives which oblige health service providers to grant abortions to women who have suffered sexual assault.

Guanajuato has a long track record of imprisoning women for miscarriages and still-births. As is the case with Virginia, the strategy of the judicial authorities is to charge them with murder –which can be punished with sentences as long as 25 years– rather than for procuring an abortion, which has a five-year tariff. Two years ago, Las Libres and students from the CIDE law school successfully championed the cases of six women who had been in prison for as long as eight years. Like Virginia they were convicted of murder after losing their pregnancies. None of the women jailed had actually procured an abortion; rather each one had suffered a miscarriage, which due to family circumstances, poverty and/or ignorance they had tried to conceal. Once they had been forced to seek medical attention, one of the people who attended them (doctor/social worker) had then made the accusation with the relevant authorities. All of the women were from the poorest areas of the state and lived in conditions of poverty and social marginalization. They were unable to neither defend themselves personally against such charges nor pay someone competent to do it for them.

Cruz is certain that Virginia can be absolved if only the judicial process could be concluded. The fact that she is merely charged and not formally sentenced means that there is a limit to what her defense lawyers are able to do. It is evident that the local authorities in Huamuxtitlan know this and are purposely dragging their feet to stall the case being sentenced. As a result, Virigina has now been in prison for three years.

As I wrote last week, life is extremely difficult inside prison for women such as Virginia who don’t speak Spanish and are far away from home and access to support networks. It is testament to the deep misogyny of Mexican society that its most vulnerable women are treated in this way.

An edited version of this article was published on e-feminist

Advertisements

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Maternal Health, Violence Against Women, Women's Right to Choose, , , , , ,

FEMINICIDIO IN MEXICO. KILLING WOMEN FOR BEING FEMALE

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.

[ADDITION 26 JANUARY 2011: FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THIS SUBJECT YOU CAN SEE MY LATER POSTS HERE, HERE, HERE AND HERE.]

 

[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, , , , , , , ,

“NO ONE CAN MAKE YOU FEEL INFERIOR WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT.” IF ONLY IT WERE THAT SIMPLE…

I thought I’d do something different in my blog this week. I have generally opted for a journalistic approach to this space; with the aim of bringing Mexican women´s issues to an English-speaking audience. Not that I flatter myself that my audience is huge, obviously; but I am of the opinion that even a little publicity is better than none at all. My proudest moment so far is being credited on the “Women’s Views on News” website last week when it reported the Inter American Court of Human Rights ruling on the case of the two indigenous women raped by soldiers [1]. As I am sure is more than evident, little of the material I present is my own; rather it is all gathered from the press and women’s activist sites here in Mexico.

This week I thought I’d try a reflection instead. Not there is shortage of material, but because as I was thinking about what to write today, I couldn’t get a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that I read this week out of my head: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent [2].” Why? Because it reminded me of many conversations I have had over the years, when people have put it to me that advocating women’s equality (usually in the context of the workplace or education) is all very well, but that given the fact that there is much legislation in place in Mexico with the aim of promoting this laudable aim, the fact that women are generally underrepresented in the workforce, or don’t continue with education or work once they have children, is due to the fact that they don’t want to.

This quote also echoed in my head as I read follow-up stories on the  two women from Guerrero I mentioned last week. Both of them are exceptionally brave and determined women. Neither has consented to accept second class treatment from the police and judicial authorities in Mexico, nor have they allowed themselves to be intimidated by the threats made against them by the same authorities. In the case of Valentina Rosendo, it appears that she even had to fight against the social stigma of being a rape victim in her own village, a traditional community which, she says, discriminated against her and ultimately expelled her for being “a raped woman, a women who is no longer worth anything” (“me discriminaron por mujer violada,
como mujer que ya no vale“) [3].

Finally, it also made me remember other news stories I have read recently: for example, about hate crimes against women (feminicidio) in the state of Guanajuato [4]. This report quotes Ángeles López García, the director of the Centro de Derechos Humanos Victoria Diez (Human Right Centre Victoria Diez) who alleges that it is common for the investigating authorities 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. What she objects to is the fact that the majority of the 31 female deaths registered in the state so far this year have not been properly investigated because many of the victims, due to such personal circumstances, were not deemed sufficiently important to warrant the vigorous pursuit of the assailant.

My reflection on all this being? Not consenting to discrimination; or, refusing to accept the inferior position Mexican society accords to women is not as easy as simply quoting Eleanor Roosevelt. It involves confronting and rejecting stereotypes and prejudices, from the small yet insidious idea that women don’t make up half the workforce because they don’t want to work; to the more preposterous and insulting idea that some victims are not important enough to warrant that the crimes against them go punished. This is not to say Roosevelt is not right; but rather that standing up for women’s rights and equality can be a hard and thankless task. Those women who do, especially in circumstances as difficult as those faced by Valentina Rosendo, are special people whose struggle deserves to be recognised far beyond the borders of Mexico.

[1] http://www.womensviewsonnews.org/wvon/2010/10/two-mexican-women-finally-find-justice-after-being-raped-eight-years-ago/

[2] http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/a/qu_e_roosevelt.htm

[3] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/columnas/86450.html

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

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

PUT AN END TO THE WINDOW DRESSING. MEXICAN WOMEN DESERVE MORE THAN FINE WORDS AND EMPTY PROMISES

My motive for starting this blog was to talk about women’s rights and other feminist issues in Mexico. I choose to write in English partly because this is my native language, but mostly because I think that creating interest in Mexican matters outside of Mexico is important. Moreover, there are innumerable Mexican feminists better qualified and better informed than I who do much the same through the medium of Spanish [1]. One of the constant questions that concern defenders of women’s rights here is that of violence against women. Mexico has an unenviable record in that respect, both in terms of the violence perpetrated and the shockingly low prosecution and conviction rates for this type of offence. Perhaps the most famous example is that of the “feminicidios” (word which feminists use to describe women murdered simply for being female: a gender hate crime) that plague the towns on the border with the US, principally Ciudad Juárez in the state of Chihuahua. These are the murders and/or disappearances of mainly working-class young women, employed for the most part in the maquilladoras (factories) that operate on the border. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is not confined to Juárez, or even to the territories that border the United States. As recent studies have shown, 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 [2]. In the state of Mexico (in the centre of the Republic) the figure is one woman murdered every day [3].

On paper it would seem that all levels of government are taking the problem of violence against women seriously. As I mentioned in an earlier post: the current president, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, a member of the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party
–- or PAN, the most conservative in Mexico) has officially budgeted nearly 26 billion pesos too fund projects for vulnerable women. As part of this policy, in 2008 he announced the creation of various new programmes, including the Fondo Nacional para la Alerta de Violencia de Genero (National Foundation for Awareness of Violence against Women). Similarly in 2008 and 2009, 16.6 billion pesos were destined to 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) which forms part of the Procuraduría General de La República (Federal Prosecutor’s Office or PGR). In my home state of Tamaulipas the current governor championed the adoption of the Ley para equidad de género (law in favour of equality between sexes) in 2005 which brought the Instituto de la Mujer Tamaulipeca (Tamaulipas Women’s Institute) into being with the aim of ending discrimination against women and promoting their rights [4]. This same measure has also been adopted in the majority of Mexico’s states.

All this is extremely commendable; yet, as I said a couple of weeks ago, the strength of these institutions is questionable. At federal level, none of the schemes inaugurated in 2008 have made the leap from promise to reality. Instead, the money budgeted for them has been spent on the federal child-poverty reduction programme Oportunidades (Opportunities). At state level, this story is repeated many times over. In the state of Jalisco, for example, the state programme in place to help victims of domestic violence somehow managed not to spend 4 million pesos of the money it was budgeted in 2009. As a result, in 2010, its budget was cut by 88.9% [5]. Equally worrying is the fact that the prosecution of this type of crime is erratic. In the state of Mexico, which as we saw has a female murder rate of one woman a day, 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].

Furthermore, the effectiveness of these Women’s Institutes in defending women’s rights depends very much on the quality of the people charged to run them, not to mention the political climate in which they operate. In Guanajuato, for example –the state, which as you will remember has chosen to prosecute women who have aborted or miscarried for the crime of murder-, the director of the Women’s Institute, Luz María Ramírez Villapando, has publicly pronounced herself an opponent of abortion, even in the cases of rape or when the mother’s life is at risk [7]. In a recent talk before a town council meeting in Guanajuato she divulged her opinion that the increase in violence against women in her state is down to the loss of “values” amongst the population [8]. By that she means Catholic values, by the way, which as we saw last week, tends to blame women entirely for all social ills currently facing Mexico. It should come as no surprise for you to learn that Ramírez Villalpando exemplified her discourse on this loss of values with a photograph of a young girl with tattoos on her neck and arms [9]. As you can imagine, a Women’s Institute whose leader blames women for the violence they suffer and has no compassion for rape victims is unable to fulfil a more useful function in society than that of helping to uphold the patriarchy and its Catholic architects.

In Tamaulipas, the director of the Women’s Institute, Yoliria Joch González (whose sage pronouncements on domestic violence inspired the title of this blog) candidly recognizes that neither she nor her staff have the capacity to help women who suffer domestic violence. She insists that the Institute is merely an administrative body whose role is to offers workshops and courses to women. Neither does she appear to think that administratively she could look into the causes of domestic violence or even simply maintain a log of these crimes. When questioned in 2009 about the 30 feminicidos that had been reported in that year, she stated that her Institute does not collect information on the subject and merely finds out about them through the press. She went on to justify herself by adding that such crimes cannot be avoided “porque no sabemos cómo; generalmente todos los feminicidios no tienen denuncia” (“because we don’t know how to; generally, all feminicidos are not reported [to the judicial authorities]”) [10]. It is hard not to conclude that Joch González has little real interest in heading an institution designed to defend women and their rights; and, given the fact that Tamaulipas is governed in an extremely authoritarian manner, that the state government requires that Institute be merely window-dressing. Violence against women is something they need to appear to do something about, but not an issue worth promoting with any seriousness.

Finally, as regards to the question of domestic violence and feminicidos, the tendency in Tamaulipas (if not Mexico as a whole) appears to be that these are issues that merely concern women. Joch González affirms (quite rightly) that the state government has done much to legislate measures to ensure that these crimes are punished, but that the main problem at the moment is that either women do not denounce acts of violence perpetrated against them, or when they do the majority (6 out 10) later retract this complaint. She also (rightly) points out that this is mainly due to the fact that in Tamaulipas, especially in rural areas, domestic violence is considered normal. She hopes that once women learn about their rights this problem will end. In other words: it is a woman’s responsibility to end domestic violence. No mention is made of the role the man might play as the perpetrator of these crimes nor is the fact that, for popular culture to change its perspective on the issue it is also necessary for men to realise that such behaviour not normal [11].

For my part, I think that a change in cultural expectations cannot be expected until we realise that violence against women in all its forms is not simply a feminist issue, nor a question that merely concerns women, but rather is a subject that needs to be addressed as a society. Women cannot keep being made responsible for violence committed against them. Contrary to what the bishop of Querétaro may think, women are not the root of all evil and should not be treated as such. We must hold men responsible for the things they do and demand that they also recognise that ill-treatment of women and children is unacceptable. Only then perhaps will prosecution rates improve and “women’s issues” will be considered sufficiently important to be awarded greater status than that of mere window-dressing.

[1] An example being a site I have quoted frequently so far http://www.cimacnoticias.com; in Tamaulipas there is also a site run by local journalists, see http://www.mujerestam.com

[2] 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

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

[4] http://www.congresotamaulipas.gob.mx/legisla/leyes/leyes25.pdf; http://www.cimacnoticias.com/noticias/05mar/05030811.html.

[5] http://www.milenio.com/node/448653

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

[7] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2008/11/06/index.php?section=estados&article=042n1est

[8] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/695220.html. Inevitably there is a Facebook group campaigning for the resignation of Ramírez Villalpando; sign up at: http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=137013729653941&ref=ts

[9] You can see the photograph projected onto the wall behind the conference table in the following link http://sdpnoticias.com/sdp/contenido/nacional/2010/07/13/1010/1077459

[10] http://www.metronoticias.com.mx/id.pl?id=30381&relax=INSTITUTO%20DE%20LA%20MUJER&pub=Default

[11] “En una década mujer se defenderá de la violencia,” El Mercurio de Tamaulipas, 18 September 2010, p. 5ª. Perhaps inadvertently, but very revealingly, the caption accompanying a photograph included in this report “illustrating” domestic violence reads “la violencia sigue prevaleciendo por la falta de cultura en el seno materno” (“violence continues due to the lack of culture amongst women”). It says it all really.

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Violence Against Women, Women's Right to Choose, , , , ,

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,067 other followers