Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Institutionalized Misogyny: Two Women Tortured and Publicly Shamed by Public Prosecutor in Ciudad Juárez

Two women from  Ciudad Juárez in the northern state of Chihuahua, were arrested and charged with provoking the abortion of one of the women’s fetus of five months gestation earlier this month. Both women do not have the resources to pay their own legal defense (they earn 700 pesos -3 pounds fifty in UK money, 42 dollars in US money a week as factory hands)  and were assigned public defense barristers. In every stage of their trial their human rights have been violated and their dignity trampled on. Both women allege that they were tortured by police authorities in Juárez: local media reports that one attended her trial in a wheelchair due to the physical and sexual violence she has suffered. Yet, at their trial their lawyers presented no arguments to defend them from the charges. As a result they were found guilty on the basis of the confessions they had made to the prosecutors and have been provisionally released. Sadly, the manner in which they have been treated is unsurprising in the context of Mexico’s inefficient and corrupt justice system. Evidence and confessions are routinely obtained via torture as the UN High Commissioner who recently visited Mexico was moved to note. As I have had cause to mention on this blog, Mexican state authorities tend to pursue charges of abortion with a commitment rarely seen in crimes against women. However, in the case of the two women from Juárez, the public prosecutor has also violated their human rights by exposing the women to public shaming and ridicule. After they were charged they were presented to the press, where details about their lives were revealed. It appears that one woman supplemented her income via the reading of tarot cards and the like. As a result, the local -extremely conservative- press has dedicated itself to publishing sensationalist stories about the “witch who told [her friend] to have an abortion” and “abortion induced via witchcraft“. Juárez remains one of the areas in Mexico in which women are regularly murdered and “disappeared” and where the indifference of the same police authorities who have pursued this case with such zeal have meant that very few of these murders and disappearances have actually been resolved or even adequately investigated. If the humiliation and torture of the women was not proof enough of Ciudad Juárez’s police and prosecutors’ institutionalized misogyny, the comparison in the treatment given to these cases only serves to underline the women-hating practices that inform everyday law enforcement in this part of Mexico. Source: Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida (GIRE), Puestas en la picota“, El Universal Blogs, 10 June 2015.

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

Mexico Continues to Illegally Deny Sexual Assault Victims Access to Abortions

In comparison to some Latin American countries (like for example, Nicaragua), Mexico does not prohibit abortions in all circumstances. Legislation on abortion is a matter for each state to decide and all allow for the interruption of pregnancy in the case of sexual assault or if the mother’s life is in danger. Only the national capital, Mexico City permits elective abortion until 12 weeks of pregnancy.

20120714-123013.jpg Unfortunately, having a right to abortion enshrined in law does not guarantee that local health authorities will provide them if requested. Paulina Ramírez Jacinta was 14 when she was raped in the State of Baja California in 1999. Her parents reported the crime and obtained legal permission for their daughter to have an abortion. However, they could not find a doctor or hospital ready to perform the procedure. They made a complaint to the International Court of Human Rights and as a result of the court’s ruling, the Mexican Health Service was obliged to issue a directive (NOM 046) which obliges health workers to provide an abortion to those who are legally entitled to one.

Despite this, it is still extremely difficult for a sexual assault victim to be given a abortion. This year, the NGO Human Rights Watch has prepared a report for the Committee for the Eradication of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) in which it describes how women and girls in this situation face “excessively complicated procedures, illegal hold-ups, lack of information or misinformation and even intimidation from health care professionals”. HRW also notes that rape victims are very rarely informed of their right to an abortion when they report the crime. As a result, it is not uncommon for even the youngest and at-risk victims to be forced to continue with a pregnancy after an assault. In 2010, an 11 year-old indigenous (Mayan) girl became the Republic’s youngest reported mother in the state of Quintana Roo (in South-Eastern Mexico), after being denied abortion despite the fact she had been raped.

HRW also mentions how recent constitutional reforms in Mexico have made the access to abortion even more difficult. The reforms in question are a reaction to the legalization of elective abortion in Mexico City. This was introduced in 2007 and has proved very controversial. Shortly after it became law, the President’s Office, the PGR and most depressingly of all, the National Commission for Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos), initiated proceedings in the Supreme Court of Justice (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, or SCJN) with the hope of having it declared unconstitutional on the grounds that (amongst other things) it was a violation of the unborn foetus’s life. In 2010, the SCJN presented its verdict, rejecting all the petitions. It affirmed that life was not defined as starting at conception in the Federal Constitution and upheld the constitutional right of the DF government to legislate on such matters as abortion.

In the light of this, conservative groups in the rest of Mexico’s states have pushed for the reform of their individual constitutions to ensure that the articles which refer to the inhabitants right to life and/or the duty of the state to ensure that this right is protected, explicitly define life as beginning at conception.. So far, 18 of Mexico’s federal entities (comprising of 31 states and DF) have passed this legislation.

It would appear that these reforms have two principal objectives. One is to prevent the legalization of elective abortion outside Mexico City. The second appears to be an attempt to circumvent the directive NOM 046 which obliges regional health services to provide abortion to victims of sexual violence. No one has been clearer on this subject than the governor of Jalisco, a traditionally conservative state. In 2009 Emilio González Márquez declared that the directive promoted abortion and affirmed that the national Secretary of Health “could not legislate over the wishes of the Jalisco’s constitution nor oblige it to practice abortions, even in the case of rape.”

This article was first published

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

The Continued Harassment of Margarita López Gomez

Margarita López Gómez, an indigenous women from Chiapas, Mexico, was recently released from prison after a sustained campaign by human rights activists. Margarita had been convicted of killing her partner and imprisoned for seven years based on a confession allegedly obtained during her interrogation, which she later repudiated repeatedly. It was also proved later that her partner was killed by someone else. The interrogation was conducted in Spanish, a language she did not speak at the time. For more details you can see my original posts here and here. It emerged this week that the terms of Margarita’s release include the requirement to go to the state capital, San Cristobal de las Casas each month to sign a report in the local prison. She must also send a monthly report of her work activities via registered mail every month. Her suspended prison sentence is due to expire in 2016. This might seem a small price to pay for her freedom, however Margarita lives in a small village many hours away from the state capital. She has a very ill mother and young children to care for and no settled means of income. Paying to go to San Cristobal each month is practically impossible for her, and makes it very likely she will be unable to meet the terms of her sentence. Margarita was wrongly convicted. The State of Chiapas kept her in prison seven years, a number of them in solitary confinement in a male prison, where she was raped and gave birth to her youngest child. The authorities released her in February due to the hard work of her lawyer and human rights activists in Chiapas and Mexico. However, with these terms it appears that the authorities continue to unfairly punish Margarita and her family and aim to return her to prison. This is scandalous and unacceptable.

******
Update 14 May 2012

The Centre for Woman’s Rights in Chiapas is organising a petition to send to the magistrate in charge of Margarita’s case, Dr. Juan Gabriel Coutiño Gomez, to ask him to grant her an unconditional release. See here for details. Please sign the petition -with an English language explication- on www.change.org

Source: http://www.cimacnoticias.com.mx/site/12050305-Imponen-a-indigena.49613.0.html

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

The Slutwalk Phenomen –aka “La Marcha de las Putas”– Arrives in Mexico

The Slutwalks that have taken place in Canada, the United States, Britain and countless other places have generally divided the feminist community. In the UK, some, such as the London Anti-Street Harassment Campaign founder Vicky Simister, have been enthusiastic supporters; others like campaigners Gail Dines and Wendy J. Murphy, have been extremely critical of the idea. The whole thing was triggered by a group of women in Toronto who decided they had had enough of sexual violence being attributed to what women wear (and specifically as a response to a police officer who told students that the best way to avoid getting raped was to avoid dressing like a “slut”). On their blog they write, for example:

SlutWalk started because a few people were angry at the status quo, we were angry at the Toronto Police, because we were too tired of seeing sexual assault overlooked by many, because we demand better for the survivors of sexual assault, for those damaged by blaming and shaming language, and for the respect that everyone deserves and should be given.

The slogan for the 4 June London Slutwalk is “Society teaches ‘Don’t get raped’ rather than ‘don’t rape.'” To which supporter Vicky Simister adds :

Slutwalk’s response to this attitude is clear: “NO. Let’s raise our voices and tell the world that rape is never, ever OK. Not if she was wearing a miniskirt. Not if she was naked. Not if she was your wife, girlfriend or friend. Not if she was a prostitute. Not if she was drunk. Not if you thought she wanted to.”
No means no. Rape, by definition, means non-consensual sex. Rape is NEVER the victim’s fault. It’s about time society faced the facts.

On the website of the London Slutwalk you can read a number of people explaining why they propose to march. In general, they are people who have suffered sexual assault or know someone who have. The common theme is anger over how the survivor of the assault has been treated; by the police, by their friends, by society in general.

No one (in the feminist community that is) argues with this. However many do take issue with the use of the word “slut” which is charged with negative connotations and a well-loved word of the misogynist. As Dines and Murphy argued in a comment piece in the Guardian:

The organisers claim that celebrating the word “slut”, and promoting sluttishness in general, will help women achieve full autonomy over their sexuality. But the focus on “reclaiming” the word slut fails to address the real issue. The term slut is so deeply rooted in the patriarchal “madonna/whore” view of women’s sexuality that it is beyond redemption. The word is so saturated with the ideology that female sexual energy deserves punishment that trying to change its meaning is a waste of precious feminist resources.

The critics think that the marches’ emphasis on women and what they are wearing is merely buying into the idea that prevention of sexual assault is merely a women’s issue. Journalist Julie Bindal, for example, argued in The Guardian:

Why aren’t we telling men: stop raping women? Rather than women celebrating this misogynistic term “sluttiness”. What is different about what the Canadian police officer said and what police officers have said through time immemorial when killers and serial rapists are on the loose, which is: “Women, don’t go out on your own at night, stay indoors.” They don’t say to men: “There’s a curfew on you.” The curfew is on us.

Another general feeling amongst the critics seems to be that they would prefer a march that didn’t buy into the capitalist notion –sold to us by advertisements and the like- that choice equals freedom. In an excellent article by Harsha Walia, a feminist activist from Canada, this position is resumed thus:

Slutwalk – in its slick branding – runs the risk of facilitating the dominant discourse of ‘liberated’ women as only those women wearing mini-skirts and high heels in/on their way to professional jobs. In reality, capitalism mediates the feminist façade of choice by creating an entire industry that commodifies women’s sexuality and links a woman’s self-esteem and self-worth to fashion and beauty. Slutwalk itself consistently refuses any connection to feminism and fixates solely around liberal questions of individual choice – the palatable “I can wear what I want” feminism that is intentionally devoid of an analysis of power dynamics.

A further objection to the marches is that they provide a perfect excuse to the media to run pictures of “scantily clad” girls (witness the recent Daily Mail –who else?- headline to that effect). Why should women let lend themselves to a march that will simply be wilfully misunderstood and misrepresented in the press? Joanna Chui, a Canadian journalist has a great piece on how the media, and the photos it has chosen to print, has distorted both the image and the message of the Slutwalkers:

[…] photographs from the protest in The Toronto Star primarily featured images of young, white women. It seemed consistent with the typical underrepresentation of people of color and the overrepresentation of young, attractive white women in the mainstream media […]The Toronto Sun, […] spent as many words describing the participants’ outfits as on the topic of victim-blaming itself: “Leading the march, Sierra ‘Chevy’ Harris danced in knee-high black boots, with Magdalena ‘Maggie’ Ivasecko sporting see-through, waist-high net stockings over white panties.”

Finally, and most interestingly from a Mexican standpoint, the harshest critic comes from those who see the whole Slutwalk idea as yet another manifestation of privileged white western women complaining about discrimination and victim-blaming while simultaneously silencing and ignoring the plight of women of other colour and races. Perhaps the most eloquent expression of this can be found in Aura Blogando’s piece “Slutwalk: a Stroll Through White Supremacy” in her blog To the Curb:

If SlutWalk truly wanted to bring attention to the systematic ways in which women are harmed by regressive and misogynistic thinking, they could have done the heavy lifting of reaching out and supporting black, poor and transgender women in New Orleans, for whom the word “slut” carries a criminal sex offender record. Instead, they force us to keep bearing the multiple burdens that come with not only being a woman, but also being a working class woman of color. Had SlutWalk organizers considered New Orleans – or perhaps any city in the Northern Hemisphere where undocumented women possess a very real fear that a call to the police for any reason will result in her own deportation – they might have thought twice about sinking so much time and energy into their event. They might have had to listen to women of color, and actually involve them in visioning for what an equitable future would look like. Instead, they decided to celebrate a term not everyone is comfortable even saying. While I will not pretend to speak for women targeted in New Orleans, I doubt that the mere idea of naming themselves “sluts” would be welcomed. SlutWalk has proven itself to be a maddening distraction from the systematic and interpersonal violence that women of color face daily.

The charge is that by emphasizing the issue of clothing the Slutwalkers are ignoring “the fact that history of genocide against Indigenous women, the enslavement of Black women, and the forced sterilization of poor women goes beyond their attire” (Walia).

    The Mexico City Slutwalk (styled La Marcha de las Putas) is planned for 12 June. Others are being planned in Puebla and Cancun. The Mexico City one is being organised by the anti-street harassment group AtréveteDF (“Dare to DF!”), the group Feminicidios del Campo Algodonero
(“Femicides in the Cotton Field”; for more information on this subject see my post
here) as well as other feminist groups that work to prevent violence against women. The slogan they have chosen is “No means No” (no es no) or in its longer form: “Enough! I decide about my body and No means No.” (¡Basta! Yo decido sobre mi cuerpo y No, es No.) Although I have not been able to find many discussions on the subject of reclaiming the word “puta” (which is perhaps even more negatively charged than “slut”) and none whatsoever on the question of race or class, it is clear that the Mexican organizers are aware of the ongoing debates. Thus, while the emphasis of the marches is again on the clothing issue (“Si me pongo medias de red y tacones de aguja: no, significa no.” “Even if I put on fish net stockings and stilettos: no means no”); in their statement the Mexico City organisers are being very careful to make the march as inclusive as possible:

We aren’t just inviting women to join us, but rather everyone, whatever their gender, sexual orientation, profession, level of education, race, ethnicity, age [or] ability […] to come together and make a statement about sexual violence and the rights of victims. […] To demand respect for all women and men. Join us in this mission to spread the word that those who suffer sexual violence are, without exception, not to blame.

The organisers, with their background in social activism amongst victims of violence, are more than aware sexual assault in Mexico is extremely common and that poor, marginalised women and indigenous women are those who suffer most (see my post here and here). They may not emphasis other causes of violence against women in their flyers and publicity, but their actions –especially the efforts of the group Feminicidios to secure justice for the thousands of women raped and murdered in Ciudad Juárez. Chihuahua in the last few years- demonstrate they are committed to rights for all women, not just white or mestizo women, not just prosperous urbanites, but women of all classes and ethnicity.

Moreover, in the current context in which the mayor of one northern municipality, Novato, Sinaloa, has recently decided to prohibit miniskirts in secondary schools with the aim of reducing teenage pregnancy, the question of female attire is very much in the news. Moreover, it is an issue which also affects women in daily life, even if they are lucky enough not to experience harassment; public hospitals generally do not allow women wearing miniskirts or strapless dresses or vest tops to visit patients; and in many businesses employers oblige their female staff to wear makeup and abide by strict dress codes. Indigenous women wearing their traditional clothing can be barred from shops and hotels with impunity. What women wear, then, is one that Mexican society considers a public matter; one that demands rules and regulations. Those people who don’t obey such dress codes are discriminated against, harassed and considered unworthy of the protection of the law. The bottom line is that women’s clothing is a big deal here. Thus a march which demands respect for women, regardless of what they have on, is very important.

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

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S GLOBAL WRITE-A-THON HIGHLIGHTS CASE OF ABUSED WOMEN FROM SAN SALVADOR ATENCO, MEXICO

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.

TRIGGER WARNING. CONTAINS GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT.

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, , , , , , , ,

THREE INDIGENOUS GIRLS RAPED BY SOLDIERS 16 YEARS AGO STILL AWAIT JUSTICE

On 4 June 1994, three indigenous sisters, aged 12, 13 and 14, were detained along with their mother, Delia Pérez de González, as they returned from selling vegetables in the market by a group of soldiers in a military roadblock in the municipality of Altamirano, in the southwestern state of Chiapas. They were held against their will for two hours, during which time the girls were beaten and repeatedly raped by the soldiers. Their mother was tortured and made to watch the rape of her daughters. Later on that month, the sisters reported the attacks against them to the Federal authorities and were subjected to a gynecological examination. The case was turned over the Procuraduría General de Justicia Militar, which administers Mexican military law in September of the same year. No soldiers were ever prosecuted as a result and the girls’ story was dismissed as “completely false” by the Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (Ministry of Defence).

Undeterred, the sisters sought the help of Mexican Human Rights groups and were able to present their case before the Inter American Court of Human Rights (CIHR) in November 1999. In April 2001 the court delivered its verdict, classifying as torture the sexual violence committed against the three girls and ordering the Mexican military authorities to investigate the crime and turn over the culprits to be prosecuted in a civilian tribunal. Nine years later these recommendations have still to be implemented.

In August, the governor of Chiapas, Juan Sabines Gutiérrez from the left-wing Partido de la Revolución Democrática or PRD (Democratic Revolution Party) offered each of the (now) women 500, 000 pesos (25, 000 GBP or 40, 500 USD) as compensation. This week the sisters gave a statement to the press on the subject. Citing their poverty as the reason why they are accepting this payment, the sisters also explained that they had refused to make public declarations on the subject until now. By way of a translator, they indicated that their statement was designed to make sure that none of the state or federal authorities were able to exploit their decision to accept compensation for their own gain. They pointed out the offer was “the only proof [they] have that the Mexican government publicly recognizes their responsibility” for the crime the suffered, but that, in no way did it excuse the Mexican government from obeying the CIHR sentence. Furthermore, they insisted that their mother be included in the payout and vowed to continue fighting for the soldiers who attacked them to be tried by civilian courts [1].

As I have mentioned before on this blog (01/10/2010), the CIHR has ordered the Mexican government to revise the application of military law on several occasions since, but that the Supreme Court of Justice has ruled against all proposals on the matter. This week the government presented another bill to Congress, in which it proposes to make the crimes of forced “disappearance”, torture and sexual violence prosecutable only in civilian tribunals. Experts in criminal and military law believe the bill is inadequate as it still leaves it up to the military authorities to decide whether or not to prosecute a case and does not comply with the CIHR ruling that all attacks on human rights perpetrated by soldiers should be pursued exclusively via civilian courts [2]. Even so, given the stance of the Supreme Court on other occasions, even this small reform looks unlikely to prosper.

[1] http://www.proceso.com.mx/rv/modHome/detalleExclusiva/84628

[2] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10102704-Incumple-estandares.44805.0.html

Filed under: 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, , , , , ,

MEXICO CONDEMNED FOR HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AGAINST WOMEN

On 16 February 2002, 17 year old indigenous girl Valentina Rosendo Cantú was approached by eight soldiers from the 41st Infantry Battalion as she washed clothes in a stream in Barranca Bejuca, in the municipality of Ayutla de los Libres in the State of Guerrero (see maps). The soldiers demanded to know the whereabouts of a gang of “hooded men”; and when Valentina denied having seen such a gang, they pointed their guns at her. As they continued interrogating her, the soldiers beat her and held her down by her hair, in the end two of the soldiers raped her in front of the others. On 22 March that same year, 25 year old Inés Fernández Ortega, from the nearby community of Barranca Tecuani, was attacked in her home while she cared for her four children. Eleven soldiers entered her house and after demanding to know the whereabouts of her husband, a member of the Organización del Pueblo Indígena Me’phaa (Me’phaa Indigenous Community Organization), they knocked her to the floor of her kitchen. One soldier raped her while her children were in the next room. Both Inés and Valentina bravely denounced what had happened to them, travelling eight hours from their village to the nearest town then they could report their rapes to the authorities. But the investigations did not prosper. First the cases were turned over to the military authorities who did little to look into the matter. Worse still, in the case of Inés, the investigating authority lost crucial evidence pertaining to her case. Needless to say, no one has been prosecuted for these crimes eight years later.

The women have refused to be silent, however. In 2003 with the help of their Indigenous Community Organization and Human Rights groups, Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña “Tlachinollan” and the Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL) they presented their case before the Inter American Commission for Human Rights. The Commission published a ruling in their favour and against the Mexican State for violating the women’s human rights in 2007. This ruling was ignored in Mexico, so as result it was passed to the Inter American Court of Human Rights. During this period, the women, their families and their community came under immense pressure from the State to abandon their case: five members of the Community Organization were imprisoned and Inés’s brother was murdered. Despite all this, both women agreed to take the stand in the Court in April and May of this year. In the proceedings, barristers for the Mexican State alleged that the women were lying and had suffered no violence at the hands of the military.

Yesterday (1 October 2010), the Inter-American Court published its ruling on both cases. It found that both women had unquestionable been tortured and sexually assaulted and that the Mexican State was directly responsible for violating their human rights to live without violence and without being tortured amongst others. Moreover, it found that the state had failed to adequately investigate these crimes and reiterated an earlier sentence ordering the Mexican state to reduce the fuero militar (the instances in which crimes perpetrated by members of the military are subject to the jurisdiction of military authorities) [1].

This ruling comes in the same week that the non-governmental organization, Human Rights Watch (HWR) sent a public letter to the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa. This letter roundly condemns the unwillingness of Calderón Hinojosa’s government to take human rights into consideration in the war he has been fighting against drug traffickers in Mexico since 2007. The HRW reminds the President that “In times of extreme violence [such as the ones we are experiencing now in Mexico], it is the government’s duty to protect its population’s fundamental human rights, rather than ignore them with the pretext of establishing security [2].” The HRW is referring to the numerous abuses committed by members of the armed forces and Federal Police against civilians and the state’s failure to protect human rights activists and journalists who have reported on the drug violence. It does not mention- but I will- that these abuses have usually been “whitewashed” by governmental spokespeople and ministers who invariably accuse those attacked or killed as being members of a drug gang.

Neither this letter nor the Inter American Court of Human Rights’s ruling is likely to go down very well here in Mexico, where criticism from outside is generally greeted with open hostility. It is notable that the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice has rejected its call for the reduction of the fuero militar on more than one occasion; most recently, on 7 September this year [3]. However, in the government´s favour, a similar sentence passed by the Court in December 2009 in the case of three women who had been “disappeared” in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, victims of feminicidio (hate crime against women) is being addressed [4], albeit very slowly. It is to be hoped that this latest ruling will also force the Mexican state to revise its policies to offer its population, and most especially its women, more protection against abuses perpetrated by the military.

[1] http://justiciaparanuestrashijas.blogspot.com/2010/10/el-estado-mexicano-es-responsable-de-la.html

[2] http://www.sergioaguayo.org/biblioteca/Carta_HRW_septiembre2010.pdf

[3] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/ultimas/2010/09/07/desecha-scjn-analizar-constitucionalidad-de-fuero-militar ; http://enmexicoseviolanlosderechoshumanos.blogspot.com/2010/09/desecha-scjn-declarar-inconstitucional.html

[4] http://www.campoalgodonero.org.mx/ The name of this case is “Campo Algodonero” (Cotton Field), the place where the women’s bodies were finally discovered.

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

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