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, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sexual Abuse Only “the Tip of the Iceburg” as Regards Violence Against Women in Mexico According to the UN

The problem of sexual violence against women in Mexico was the subject of the forum, Mujeres en Resistencia. Alto a la tortura sexual (Rebelling Women. An End to Sexual Torture), which took place on Wednesday organized by the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Centre or Prodh), Amnesty International, the Mexican Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the National Autonomous University’s Gender Studies Programe. The forum concentrated on the cases of the women arrested in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico State in May 2006 (see my post here for more details), some of whom attended the event to share their stories.

During the event, the director of Prodh. José Rosario Marroquin, indicated that the abuse suffered by the women arrested in San Salvador Atenco was a typical example of how sexual violence was used by Mexico State Governor (and 2012 presidential hopeful, Enrique Peña Nieto) against women as a means of punishing and silencing them. Alberto Herrera, the executive director of Amnesty International in Mexico, said sexual abuse of this kind was only the “tip of the iceburg” as far as violence against women was concerned in Mexico, adding that the fact that the abusers has gone unpunished shows that Mexico “has not learnt the lesson” from the experience of Inés Fernández and Valentina Rosendo, who were raped by soldiers in 2002 and subsequently took their case to the Inter American Court of Human Rights in an attempt to force Mexico’s government to carry out a full investigation into their attack (for more details see my post here). The Court returned a sentence condemning the Mexican state for not respecting the human rights of the two women and ordered that steps be taken to remedy this. So far the Mexican government has been reluctant to comply with the ruling. The prospects are not very hopeful: a similar sentence imposed by the Inter American Court in the case of three indigenous sisters raped by the military in Chiapas ten years ago has yet to be implemented (see my post here)

The eleven survivors of San Salvador Atenco have also taken their case to the Inter American Court of Human Rights, which after a preliminary examination of the facts has decided that the situation merits their attention. It remains to be seen if this step will ensure that the policemen who abused the women in San Salvador Atenco will eventually face trial.


1. http://sdpnoticias.com/nota/239244/Justicia_para_las_mujeres_de_Atenco_una_obligacion_ineludible_del_Estado_mexicano

2. http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2011/11/24/index.php?section=politica&article=023n1pol

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, 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, , , , , ,


Protests by the People's Front for the Defence of their Land

UPDATE: Today, 4 May 2011, marks the fifth anniversay of the assault described below on women arrested in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico State, Mexico. You can link to the Amnesty blog and petition page here.


Each year Amnesty International organises a letter-writing event, the Write-a-thon, to coincide with International Human Rights Day (10 December). In the week of 4-12 December participants from over 50 countries will send letters to twelve governments with the aim of putting pressure on them to free political prisoners, protect and help human rights activists or, to seek justice for those whose human rights have been abused. Of the twelve cases featured by Amnesty this year, one is from Mexico. It concerns forty-seven women who were arrested in 2006 in a police operation in San Salvador Atenco, in the state of Mexico. According to the case sheet available on Amnesty International’s webpage, dozens of the arrested were subjected to physical, psychological and sexual abuse by the police officers arresting them. Once they were in the Saniaguito prison in Toluca, they were examined by doctors who then failed to properly document their injuries or gather evidence of the sexual abuse they had suffered. 26 women claim to have been sexually abused; 14 of whom latter pressed charges via the entonces Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos relacionados con Actos de Violencia contra las Mujeres (Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Relating to Acts of Violence Against Women, or FEVIM) [1].

Here are testimonies from three of the women arrested that day taken from a report drawn up by the Centro de Derechos Humanos Pro Miguel Agustín Juárez and the Organización Mundial contra la Tortura in 2006[2]:

“[When the policemen entered the house] They ordered us kneel down in front of a wall with our hands on the back of our necks and our blouses covering our faces and started beating us on the head with their truncheons. They started touching my breasts and bottom, and suddenly I felt a hand touching my genitals and inserting their fingers inside me. Then they ordered us to stand up […], they carried on hitting us and told us to leave the house and then kept us on the pavement, I remember that more than five or six policemen were brutally beating a compañero [male member of the group] and others were feeling a compañera‘s [female member of the group] breasts, and then there was me […] One policeman, I think he was the Commander asked me where I was from, and when I replied he shouted to another “Look this bitch is from Tepito [3]”, he pulled my hair and started to hit me until I started bleeding […] [Then they put us in the back of a van where] one said, “we have to give this bitch calzón chino [4]”. He then began pulling my knickers and realized that I was menstruating because I was wearing a sanitary towel. He shouted to the other policemen “look this bitch is bleeding, let’s make her even more dirty” and then I felt him violently insert his fingers in my vagina repeatedly for a long time, I was not thinking straight by then, but I remember wondering “My God what are they going to do to me?”

“Alejandra” a 22-year-old student.

“As they put us in the van they were hitting us, I was hit in the left eye with a truncheon. Three people forced me to sit in the back seats, they only put women, and I was one of them. One of them [the policemen] asked me my address, age and took a photograph. Then they started to grab my breasts […], putting their hands in my mouth and making me suck them. Then one made me give him oral sex. He finished and the second came, and he wanted the same oral sex. He finished and left. Then the third one arrived and he said that if I wanted him to help me I would have to be his puta [prostitute] for a year and go to live where he wanted […] he also put his hand in my vagina […] I gave him oral sex because he had me by my hair and was threatening to beat me up if I didn’t. He stole my mobile phone and 300 pesos [about 15 UKP], he took off my jumper that I had spat out his sperm on. Then the fourth arrived and started to masturbate when another said to him “not now mate we’re here”. They cleaned me up and gave me a cigarette, but I don’t smoke. Then they took me to the prison.”

“Sandra”, a 18-year-old worker.

“When they put me on the bus […] I was piled on top of other people who were lying on the floor. They dragged me to the back seat and undid my underwear. They pulled down my trousers round my ankles and pulled my blouse over my face. They smacked my buttocks with great force while threatening me with rape and death. The policeman who was beating me demanded that I said “cowboy” and he hit me five or six times until he heard what he wanted to hear. Then he penetrated my vagina with his fingers while second person (policeman) hit me in the stomach and put his tongue into my mouth. He also penetrated me while he called to other people, saying “come and hump this bitch”. Each of the three pinched my nipples and pressed my breasts very hard. Later they penetrated me with some kind of object that I could not clearly identify but it gave the impression of being metal. They forced me to travel naked with my head pressed against the seat and my buttocks in the air the whole time. They hit me on the buttocks, the legs and the ribs.”

“Ana”, a 27-year-old student.

As a result of pressure from Human Rights Organizations, a federal report later named 34 policemen suspected of being responsible for the attacks, but since then nothing has been done to bring them to justice. In fact, the FEVIM passed responsibility for prosecuting the policemen to the Procurador General del Estado de México (State of Mexico’s Prosecutor’s Office or PGEM) in July 2009. As I have had cause to mention a number of times on this blog, Mexico State has a terrible record in the Republic for prosecuting crimes of violence against women. So much so, that as I reported last week, the Federal State has issued a reprimand to the governor, Enrique Peña Nieto (a contender for 2012’s presidential elections), ordering him to better his state’s record. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that this case should be so ignored.

It is even more unlikely that Peña Nieto will favour bringing the police aggressors to justice, given the wider context of the Atenco women. Their arrests were part of a police operation against the organizers of the Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra (Peoples’ Front For the Defence of their Land, or FPDT), a local group in San Salvador Atenco which opposed the forcible expropriation of the village’s land by the government of ex President Vicente Fox for the relocation of Mexico City’s airport in 2006. Twelve members of this group, including its leader, Ignacio del Valle, who were also captured at the same time as the women mentioned, have only recently been released (in July 2010) after four years in prison [5]. For her part, América del Valle, sister to Ignacio and also a leader of the movement, had taken refuge in the Venezuelan Embassy to avoid being detained by the Federal authorities. Enrique Peña Nieto was the governor of the State of Mexico during all this period (his term runs from 2005 to 2011). Prosecuting the policemen makes his government look bad and might affect his presidential ambitions.

The Amnesty International Write-a-thon could therefore work to make it much more politically expedient for Peña Nieto to bring the abusers to justice rather than sweeping the affair under the carpet. Write your letter; don’t let this abuse go unpunished.

[1] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10072101-Esperan-justicia-la.43384.0.html

[2] The testimonies come from the report, Violencia de Estado contra mujeres en México, El caso San Salvador Atenco. Informe alternativo al CAT. 37º período de sesiones, México, ProDH, CAT, CLADEM, 2006, pp. 13-14. Available online http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cat/docs/ngos/omct_sp.pdf

[3] One of the roughest neighbourhoods of Mexico City with a very high crime rate.

[4] Which consists of pulling the victim’s underwear as hard as you can so that it wedges itself into their genitalia. In English it is often called a “wedgie”.

[5] http://www.milenio.com/node/477326

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


According to the Organization of American States, 1, 205 women are murdered every year in Mexico; nearly half of which (40%) are victims of domestic violence. As Margarita Guillé Tamayo, representative of this body highlighted yesterday, this is indicative of the culture of toleration and impunity towards violence against women in Mexico. In Spain, for example, only 80 such cases are recorded each year[1].

The most dangerous place to be a women in Mexico, as I have mentioned in other posts, is the state of Mexico (in the centre of the Republic) [2] According to the latest reports, the total of femicides in this entity during the last two years now stands at 556. If nationally, three women are
murdered every day. In the state of Mexico, the figure is one woman murdered every day. Equally disturbing is the fact that the prosecution of this type of crime is woeful here: only 35% of murderers 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 [3]. The second most dangerous place is in the capital’s Federal District , where 236 women have been murdered; followed by the northern states of Sinaloa (170) and Chihuahua (157), home to Ciudad Juárez.

Quite apart from being a morally important story; this is also a politically significant issue, as the governor of this state, Enrique Peña Nieto is the Partido de la Revolución Institucional‘s (Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI) favoured candidate for the 2012 presidential elections. It is interesting then, in this context that the Federal Senate should have agreed to exhort Peña Nieto to implement a policy to “stop this shameful situation of violence against women continuing” and to undertake measures to better his state’s record in prosecuting the perpetrators of these crimes. All parties represented in the Senate voted in favour of this exhortation, including the PRI. It can only be hoped that such unwelcome publicity will make Peña Nieto take more notice of the problems in his own backyard before postulating himself for a national government role.

[1] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/723269.html


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

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


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, , , , , , , ,

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