Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Three Years in Prison Without Trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am just one example of the terrible life led by women in Chiapas” Margarita López Gómez

Margarita López Gómez was freed on 10 February, after spending seven years in prison for a crime she did not commit. She spent four years in a cage in a male prison, where was raped and became pregnant. In a press conference after her release (see story here). In a press conference following her release Margarita López Gómez rejected offers of psychological and economic assistance from the governor of Chiapas, Juan Sabines Guerrero, and stated that:

In Chiapas women’s rights are not respected, even less so if they are indigenous, poor and don’t speak Spanish. Mr. Governor I don’t want your help. I have my hands, I have my feet to work for my children. During your government you and your functionaries ignored me and didn’t offer anything for me or my children. I am free today thanks to national and international solidarity which showed how far injustice can be taken.


They [the state government] want to help me in order to have their photo taken which me and benefit from the publicity, forgetting that they have had me unjustly imprisoned for seven years. I am just one example of the terrible life led by women in Chiapas.

Accompanied by her 78 year old mother and four of her six children, Margarita said she was pleased by the solidarity offered by many people via social networks and their campaign for her release. She also expressed her anger towards the state of Chiapas, which kept her locked up and marginalized for so long.

During the press conference her lawyer, Martha Figueroa indicated that in Chiapas there were at least 250 documented cases of indigenous women imprisoned unfairly due to irregularities in their prosecution.

Sources: https://hidingunderthebedisnottheanswer.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/freedom-for-margarita/#comment-84


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

Teen Mother Dies of Septic Poisoning After Being Fitted With an IUD Coil Without Her Consent

Further to the story I reported here a couple of weeks ago, it appears that the practice of implanting the IUD or coil into women without their consent is not confined to Oaxaca. Yesterday the CIMAC news website published a story by Chantel Martínez Díaz about the death of 17 year old Perla Gacela from Tamaulipas. She died of septicemia after an IUD coil was fitted in her uterus post-partum without her consent. The following is a translated summary of the story:

Perla Gacela did not have access to contraception and last year, became pregnant at 17. After she gave birth to her son Valentín at the “Norberto Treviño Zapata” General Hospital in Ciudad Victoria (the state capital) in December 2010, the gynecologist who treated her fitted an IUD coil in her uterus without telling her or her mother. The coil caused her uterus to become infected and, as a result Perla died on 10 February 2011. Her mother has taken charge of Valentín, but still cannot pay the hospital fees her daughter incurred nor the debts related to her funeral. She is understandable very angry and upset about what happened to her daughter and called for the practice of implanting coils into patients without their permission to be stopped immediately.

Susana Collado, a gynecologist and obstetrician at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, quoted in the article, points out quite correctly that this type of behaviour by doctors is “a flagrant violation of women’s human rights” as well as contravening the Mexican Constitution, which guarantees women the liberty to make her own choices about contraception. Moreover, she says the practice “points not only to the inhuman and degrading treatment [given to the women] but also to ignorance about the use of contraception” since the IUD coil is not the only contraception available to post partum women.

According to a local NGO, Observatorio de la Mortalidad Materna (Maternal Mortality Watch), 4.2% of maternal deaths in Tamaulipas are in the 11-19 age group. This report leads me to ask how many young girls have died due to the meddling of paternalistic doctors?

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

Abortion, Women’s Reproductive Rights and Mexico’s Supreme Court

This week Mexico’s Supreme Court debated the question of whether recent reforms to the constitutions of the states of Baja California and San Luis Potosí were constitutional. Both these constitutions, in common with 17 other states, have included a clause that guarantees the “right to life” from the moment of conception. As I have mentioned on this blog, these reforms have been enacted in response to the legalisation of abortion during the first trimester of gestation in Mexico’s Federal District in 2007 (see here, here and here). In 2008, the Supreme Court upheld the right of Mexico’s federal entities (the 32 states and the Federal District) to legislate on the issue of abortion and rejected a motion for this law to be declared unconstitutional, signalling that the Federal Constitution did not grant the right to life to unborn foetus or embryos.

Given this earlier ruling, prochoice groups had been hopeful that the Court would declare the recent reforms in Baja California and San Luis Potosí unconstitutional, thus paving the way for these same reforms to be challenged in the other states where this amendment had been adopted. This was not to be, however; the Court ruled 7-4 in favour of declaring the reforms unconstitutional, but the motion was dismissed because in votes on questions of constitutionality statute requires the minimum of 8 votes to pass.

What does this decision mean? In the first place, it seems to reiterate the 2008 ruling that Mexico’s federal entities have the faculty to decide on the question of abortion. This is the conclusion that most English reports have emphasised (see for example the Washington Post). However, the implications appear to be more wide-ranging than that. Upholding the idea that life can be legally defined as beginning at conception could also have other consequences; namely in the area of anti-contraceptive use and assisted pregnancy. [1] Some anti-contraceptive devices work by preventing a fertilised egg establishing itself in the womb (like the morning after pill or the coil) for example. IVF treatment usually involves the fertilisation of more eggs than are eventually implanted in the womb; the rest of are usually frozen. Will the constitutional amendments also trigger a revision of what is legal in these cases? Leading Mexican legal scholars think so.[2]

Moreover, the precise wording of the Baja Californian amendment which read: “from the moment an individual is conceived, she/he falls under the protection of the law and is considered born for all legal effects” (“desde el momento en que un individuo es concebido, entra bajo la protección de la ley y se le reputa como nacido para todos los efectos legales correspondientes” [3]) suggests further issues; some apparently trivial, some more serious.

For example, does this recognition of the juridical existence of an embryo/foetus mean that it should be named and issued with identification documents? If the mother needs to travel abroad will she need to acquire a passport for the contents of her womb? More worryingly, the reform seems to give constitutional legitimacy to the already widespread practise in Mexico (see my posts here and here) of prosecuting a women for a suspected induced abortion for murder, rather than for illegally terminating their pregnancy. This allows them to be sentenced for custodial sentences of 20 plus years rather than the 4 or 5 stipulated in the penal codes for abortion. Finally, it appears inevitable that the upholding of the reforms will also mean the criminalising of nearly all women whose pregnancies end in unexplained circumstances, since miscarriages and still-births might be liable to be considered suspected terminations unless it can be proved otherwise. This is concerning as a high number of pregnancy ends in miscarriage in the first trimester of gestation. It is estimated for example that up to half of all fertilized eggs die and are aborted spontaneously, usually before the 6th week of pregnancy. After that, the miscarriage rate is calculated at between 15 and 20%. Moreover 80% of miscarriages occur before 12 weeks of pregnancy, many with no obvious cause [4]. Can Mexico’s already over-stretched and inefficient justice system deal with this number of investigations? The criminalisation of miscarriage and still-birth is also likely to prevent many women seeking medical attention, putting their lives at risk and increasing Mexico’s already high maternal mortality rates (see my post here).

Abortion is a contentious subject in Mexico, as is in most Catholic countries there is strong antiabortion feeling amongst the faithful, encouraged by the Church. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, the Archbishop of Mexcali (in Baja California) claimed that the Pope had been in communication with one or more of the Supreme Court judges in attempt to influence their vote. This accusation was denied by the Vatican [5]. The political party currently in control of Mexico’s Presidency, the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional or PAN), is resolutely opposed to abortion; and the party with a majority in Congress –the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido de la Revolución Institucional or PRI) – has sponsored many of the states’ constitutional amendments on the subject of the right to life. Only the minority Democratic Revolution Party (Partido de la Revolución Demcrática or PRD) is prochoice, as evidenced by the legislation in the Federal District, one of the very few entities controlled by this party.

The situation then looks grim in the short-term for prochoice activists in Mexico. However, it must be borne in mind that the Supreme Court did in fact produce a majority in favour of striking down the reforms; it just wasn’t a big enough majority. It can only be hoped that at some future date, the composition of the Court will be more favourable to the protection of women’s rights.

[1] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/editoriales/54864.html

[2] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2011/09/26/politica/007n2pol

[3] http://eljuegodelacorte.nexos.com.mx/?p=1457

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miscarriage

[5] http://www.sinembargo.mx/30-09-2011/48652

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

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, , , , , , , ,

Petition in Favour of the Release of Lesly: A Young Mother Imprisoned For 23 Years For Murder After Suffering a Miscarriage

As I reported last week, in Baja California, there are at least 14 women currently in prison on remand charged with murder after their pregnancies ended before gestation was complete. This number includes at least one woman who insists that she suffered a miscarriage. This woman, Lesly Karina Díaz Zamora, who is now 21, is already the mother of a five year old child (you can see a video –in Spanish– about the case here). Lesly was arrested at the hospital she had gone to looking for medical attention in the summer of 2008, and was later remanded in custody without bail. She was finally sentenced on 20 January to a 23 year custodial sentence after already having passed more than two years already in detention. She is currently appealing this sentence on the grounds that the prosecution were unable to prove intentionality and the investigation against her did not follow due process. The other accused face similar sentences and have also all been refused bail.

The maximum tariff allowed by Baja Californian law for the crime of abortion is 4 years. In common with the other women in prison, Lesly was accused of murder in accordance with the amendment of the state constitution that defines life as beginning at conception.

This week women’s right groups, led by the Red Iberoamericana Pro Derechos Humanos (Ibero American Network for Human Rights); the Federación de Mujeres Universitarias (Federation of University Women); the Coordinación Nacional de Mujeres por un Milenio Feminista de Baja California (National Coordination for a Feminist Millennium in Baja California); and the Comisión Ciudadana de Derechos Humanos del Noroeste (Citizens’ Committee for Human Rights in the North-West) have undertaken a number of events to campaign for the release of Lesly.

At the moment they are circulating a petition to be presented to the governor of Baja California, José Guadaulpe Osuna Millán; the state’s Procurador General de Justicia (Chief Prosecuting Officer), Rommel Moreno Manjarrez; the Human Rights Commissioner for the State of Baja California, Heriberto García García; and the Prosecuting Officer for Mexicali, María Elena Andrade Ramírez to demand that Lesly be released on the grounds that her human rights were not respected during the investigation or her sentencing. The following is a translation of the petition:


We, the undersigned citizens and organizations wish to express our profound indignation at the persecution and criminalisation of Lesly, a 21 year-old young woman from Mexicali, who has been sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Punished for the crime of homicidio agravada por parentesco (aggravated murder by reason of relationship), Lesly’s case is yet one more of series in which women’s fundamental rights and liberties have been violated leading to their unjustified imprisonment. A recent example of this occurring is in the state of Guanajuato.

We are directing this petition to you as members of bodies involved in this injustice, since you should play a fundamental part in assuring that these offices respect Lesly’s right to equality and to freedom from discrimination.

As a result of the above, we make an urgent appeal for:

The Human Rights Commissioner for the State of Baja California, Heriberto García García to make the relevant recommendation for an inquiry into the human rights violations to which Lesly has been subjected.

The Prosecuting Officer for Mexicali, María Elena Andrade Ramírez to revise and investigate the sentence passed against Lesly in Mexicali by the presiding judge of its 4th District, taking into account the testimonies of abuse presented by lawyers acting in her defence.

The Governor of the state of Baja California, José Guadalupe Osuna Millán, to do all that is in his power to order Lesly’s immediate release.

We wish to ensure that the Mexican state respects the secular nature and human rights enshrined in our Constitution; as well as the international treaties Mexico has signed concerning human rights.

Immediate freedom for Lesly!

Yours Sincerely,


You can add your signature to the petition here.

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


The recent law amendment submitted by state representative Bobby Franklin in Georgia which seeks to introduce a law creating “prenatal murder” which proposes to criminalise any “human involvement” in a miscarriage or abortion, and make it carry a penalty of life in prison or death has caused much comment in the US and UK. Feminists in both countries (and I imagine further afield as well) have united in their condemnation of such legislation (see here and here). Their rage is justified and necessary in my opinion. However, reading their twits, comments and blogs from my computer in Mexico I feel like entering I am entering another world. I hope I can argue that legislation of the kind proposed in Franklin is unlikely to make it to the statute books, not least because it is ill-thought out and unenforceable. In Mexico however, this type of legislation is already in existence. As I pointed out in my first blog post back in September, abortion is a hot topic here due to the reforms that have been undertaken in Mexico City, which introduced the legalisation of abortion during the first twelve weeks of gestation in 2007. Shortly after the measure 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’ life. Last year, 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.

The most obvious consequence of the controversy has been the move by conservative groups in the rest of Mexico’s states to push 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. The objective is to ensure that laws such as that passed in DF are clearly unconstitutional in their states. So far, 18 of Mexico’s federal entities (comprising of 31 states and DF) have approved such reforms, including my home state of Tamaulipas (in December 2010). At the federal level, in 2009 the then governor of Veracruz state, Fidel Herrera submitted a proposed amendment to the constitution in-line with those already enacted in the states (“El derecho a la vida será garantizado por el Estado desde el momento de la concepción. La ley establecerá los casos de excepción a la protección de la vida del no nacido.” “The State will guarantee the right to life from the moment of conception. The circumstances in which the unborn [foetus] will not enjoy this right shall be defined by a separate law.”) This giving of rights to an unborn foetus means, just as in Frankin’s proposed reform, that an abortion is classed as murder; specifically, what the penal code determines as “murder by a relative” (homicidio por razón de parentesco). Sadly, this reform seems to confirm the already widespread practise in Mexico of prosecuting women suspected o abortion for murder, as this allows them to be given much longer custodial sentences.

A positive outcome of the reformist zeal against women who wish to end their pregnancies, has been the publicity awarded to the cases where women have already been prosecuted or are on remand for this act. As I reported in my aforementioned blog post in September, in Guanajuato six women were found to be serving prison sentences after having been accused of procuring an abortion. The women had not been sentenced for this “crime”, but rather for “murder by a relative.” Their sentences had been received long before the constitutional reforms and appear to show, as I mentioned previously, that it was already common practise to punish women for ending their pregnancy in this way. They were sentenced to up to of 20 years imprisonment. Another 30 women were facing similar charges. More distressingly still, it also emerged that four of these women had not actually had an abortion, but rather had suffered spontaneous miscarriages, which due to family circumstances, poverty and/or lack of education, they had tried to conceal. Once their condition had forced them to seek medical attention, one of the people treating them (doctor, nurse or social worker) had then made the accusation with the relevant authorities [see here and here]. The women were subsequently unable to neither defend themselves personally against such charges nor pay someone competent to do it for them. Some of the women involved have been in prison for eight years [see here and here]. All of them came from the most deprived regions of the state. As a result of the publicity, relentless campaigning by prochoice groups in Guanajuato and the help of lawyers from a Mexico City law school (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas or CIDE), the State Congress of Guanajuato passed a measure which reduces the sentence facing these women and should result in their immediate release. However, this does not mean that the women were declared innocent, nor has the law been modified to prevent prosecutions of this nature occurring in the future.

Unfortunately, in other states numerous women are still in jail for voluntarily and involuntarily ending their pregnancies. This is the case of Baja California, another state where, like Guanajuato, the conservative Partido de Acción Nacional (National Action Party or PAN) is a considerable political force. Here there are at least 14 women currently in prison on remand charged with “murder by relative”; all of whose pregnancies ended before gestation was complete. I put it this way because, just as in the case of Guanajuato, this number includes at least one woman who insists that she suffered a miscarriage. This woman, who was still at school when the alleged event took place, was finally sentenced on 20 January to a 23 year custodial sentence after having passed two years already in detention without bail. She is currently appealing this sentence on the grounds that the prosecution were unable to prove intentionality. The other accused face similar sentences and have also all been refused bail.

In response to this, various feminist organizations in Baja California are campaigning for the release of all these women. Leading the campaign is Marixtel Calderón Vargas, member of the Red Iberoamericana Pro Derechos Humanos (Ibero American Network for Human Rights) with the help of the Federación de Mujeres Universitarias (Federation of University Women), Coordinación Nacional de Mujeres por un Milenio Feminista de Baja California (National Coordination for a Feminist Millennium in Baja California), and the Comisión Ciudadana de Derechos Humanos del Noroeste (Citizens’ Committee for Human Rights in the North-West). You can find their blog page here. Obviously the page is in Spanish, however there is a window (in English) on the right hand side about halfway down which invites to you to sign the declaration in favour of the release of the women prisoners that these groups are going to present on Tuesday to the Governor of Baja California and the State Congress. Please sign and help these women.

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


This is a translation of the declaration issued by the National Reunion of Female Human Rights Activists in Mexico on 16 October 2010:

“We, more than sixty female human rights’ activists, from twenty of Mexico’s states and from diverse sectors and social movements declare the following:

1. Our work and commitment to human rights’ sustains, nurtures and reconstructs democracy, the rule of law and the development of decent life opportunities for the whole of society. Particularly, our actions favour liberty, citizen’s access to justice and the end to discrimination against women. As a result, the state, society, human rights’ organizations and our own organizations must recognize, strengthen and support our contributions as female human rights’ activists.

2. We are facing a failed state that has renounced its obligation to guarantee the population’s rights; one which, on repeated occasions, has used public institutions and funds to attack, criminalize and undermine our work. In this context, it has limited our ability to exercise our citizenship and has aggravated the patriarchal, misogynist culture that discriminates against women; the impunity, corruption and the worsening of violence against women; the undermining of the secular nature of the state; the violation of human rights committed by soldiers in their new role as functionaries of public security; and the protection of private interest that attack social and economic rights, among other things.

3. Female human rights activists are at increased risk of attack in all of the Mexican Republic, particularly those in the states of Chihuahua, Monterrey [sic] [1], Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guerrero. As are activists who denounce feminicidio (femicide); those who run and work in shelters for female victims of domestic violence; those who denounce the army’s violations of human rights; those who defend women’s reproductive autonomy; those who defend the family members of the “disappeared”, persecuted or detained for political reasons; those who defend indigenous rights; and those who work in the Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual and Transgender movements.

4. Threats, police raids, defamation of character, violence, sexual torture, judicial persecution, attacks on family members, murder and extrajudicial executions are some of the ways we have been attacked for being female and for our work in defending human rights. These aggressions have been carried out by federal and local authorities, as well as by private individuals and de facto powers that operate thanks to the tolerance and complicity of the authorities; such as, traffickers of women and children, drug gangs, transnational companies, religious hierarchies, conservative and paramilitary groups and local caciques (local strongmen).

5. The impunity with which these aggressions are perpetrated is alarming; it sustains the culture of violence against female human rights’ activists. In the face of this situation, it is urgent that the Mexican state assume its responsibility to ensure their safety, protection and support. This necessitates the investigation and prosecution of the culprits behind these threats, acts of hostility and attacks that we have been subject to as female human rights activists. Society for its part, and especially, Human Rights movements and our own organizations ought to better the conditions in which we carry out our work, providing us with the necessary resources and support.

6. The gravity of the attacks and the high risk field in which we operate, has led to dozens of activists to petition the Inter American Commission for Human Rights to award them protective measures. However, such measures, despite being accepted by the Mexican government, are not implemented properly. The authorities which should guarantee their implementation impose an excessive and unnecessary burden of bureaucracy on the activists, they do not provide sufficient coordination with federal and state authorities, and take very little account of individual needs. Often they hamper the imposition of protective measures, causing their erosion and increasing the vulnerability of the activists. We denounce the fact that our colleague, Margarita Guadalupe Martínez from the organization “Enlace, Comunicación y Capacitación, A. C” (Chiapas), who has been living with protective measures since March of this year, has been unable to attend this meeting because the Mexican state was unable to guarantee her safe passage to Mexico City.

7. The Mexican state must recognize its obligations in the matter of the protection of female human rights activists. This means fully complying with the Inter American Court of Human Rights’ ruling on the feminicidios in Ciudad Juárez, and the rape of two indigenous women by soldiers in Guerrero. Complying with the observations of the CEDAW [2] committee in matters relating to the voluntary interruption of pregnancy, which should lead to the abolition of any regulation limiting a women’s right to choose over her own body. And, modifying the current legislation to ensure that the civilian tribunals are the only ones permitted to investigate, prosecute and punish soldiers who infringe human rights and fundamental liberties.

Human rights’ activists in Mexico are a motor for the transformation of society and represent the hope for the full exercise of human rights and fundamental liberties for all, men and women alike.




Laura Gutiérrez (MUGAC, Baja California, Tecate), Silvia Vázquez Camacho (Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos A.C., Baja California, Tijuana), Blanca Mesina (Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción para Regreso a Casa A.C, Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Ileana Espinoza (Red Mesa de Mujeres Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Verónica Juárez A.C., Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Emilia González (Comisión de Solidaridad y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, A. C., Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Lucha Castro Rodríguez (Centro de Derechos de las Mujeres A.C. Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Martha Graciela Ramos Carrasco (Mujeres por México en Chihuahua A.C., Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez), Margarita Guadalupe Martínez Martínez (ENLACE, Comunicación y Capacitación, A.C., Chiapas), Martha Figueroa (Grupo de mujeres de San Cristóbal de las Casas A.C., Chiapas, San Cristobal), Diana Damián (Municipio Autónomo Zapatista, Chiapas), Ana Karen López Quintana (Tamaulipas Diversidad y VIHDA Trans A.C., Tamaulipas, Tampico), Alicia Leal Puertas (Alternativas Pacíficas A.C., Nuevo León, Monterrey), Consuelo Morales (Ciudadanos en Apoyo a los Derechos Humanos, A.C., Nuevo León, Monterrey), Angélica Araceli Reveles Soto (CLADEM‐México, Jalisco, Guadalajara), Guadalupe López García (Lesbianas en Patlatonalli A. C., Jalisco, Guadalajara), Dora Ávila (Centro para los derechos de la Mujer Nääxwiin, Red Nacional de Promotoras y Asesoras Rurales, Oaxaca, Matías Romero), Beatriz Teresa Casas Arellanes (BARCA, Oaxaca), Emelia Ortiz García (Campaña “Si no están ellas no estamos todas”, Oaxaca, Región Triqui), Beatriz Hernández (Círculo Profesional para la Formación con Equidad de Género ¡Ndudxa Ndandi!, Oaxaca, Tlaxiaco), Edita Alavez Ruiz (UNOSJO, Mujeres Organizadas Yuubani, Oaxaca, Guelatao), Ana María Hernández (Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca, Oaxaca), Theres Hoechli (Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca, Oaxaca), Yessica Maya Sánchez (Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad Oaxaca, Oaxaca), Nadia Altamirano Díaz (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer AC., Oaxaca), Leticia Burgos (Red Feminista Sonorense, Sonora, Ciudad Obregón), Sandra Peniche (Servicios Humanitarios en Salud Sexual y Reproductiva, Yucatán, Mérida), Espinoza Núñez (Zacatecas), Nora Isabel Bucio Nava (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer AC., Morelos, Cuernavaca), María del María del Montserrat Díaz (Colectivo Feminista de Xalapa A.C., Veracruz, Xalapa), Ofelia Cesareo Sánchez (Coordinadora Guerrense de Mujeres Indígenas y Afromexicana, Guerrero, Chilpancingo), Silvia Castillo Salgado (Instituto Guerrerense de Derechos Humanos A.C., Guerrero, Chilpancingo), Obtilia Eugenio Manuel (OPIM, Guerrero), Andrea Eugenio Manuel (OPIM, Guerrero), Soledad Eugenio (OPIM, Guerrero), Cristina Hardaga Fernández (Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña Tlachinollan, Guerrero, Tlapa), Carolina Cantú (Coordinadora Guerrense de Mujeres Indígenas y Afromexicanas, Guerrero, Tlacopa), Georgina Vargas Vera (Centro de Derechos Humanos Victoria Díez A.C. Guanajuato, León), Verónica Cruz (Las Libres A.C. Guanajuato, León), María Trinidad Ramírez (Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra, Estado de México, San Salvador Atenco), Martha (D.F.), Yunuhen Rangel (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer AC., DF), Lucía Lagunes Huerta (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer , DF), Cirenia Celestino Ortega (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer , DF), Alejandra Ancheita Pagaza (Proyecto Derechos Económicos Sociales y Culturales, DF), Elga Aguilar (Comité Cerezo México, DF), Eréndira Tania Ramírez Hernández (HIJOS, DF), Josefina Chávez (Cuadernos Feministas, PRT, DF), Andrea de la Barrera Montpellier Medina Rosas (Red Mesa de Mujeres de Ciudad Juárez A.C., D.F.), Orfe Castillo (D.F.), Laura García Coudurier (Sociedad AC, D.F.), Carmen Morales (Sociedad Mexicana Pro Derechos de la Mujer AC, D.F.), Alejandra González (Tlachinollan, D.F.), Irma Estrada Martínez (Tribunal Internacional de Conciencia, DF) [2].”

[1] Monterrey is the capital of the state of Nuevo León.

[2] The Committe for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. This is part of the UN Commission for Human Rights. See their webpage,


[3] The original Spanish text can be found at: http://filesocial.com/na2dj64

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


28 September is the international day set aside by activists to demand the decriminalizing of abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean. To mark this occasion, the Red de los derechos sexuales y reproductivos en México (Sexual and Reproductive Rights Network in Mexico) is organising a symbolic rally in Mexico City, the republic’s capital to call for the legalisation of abortion here. The rally will take place on Monday 27 September –a historically important date here, as Mexico’s Declaration of Independence was signed on this day in 1821- at the memorial to former president Benito Juárez, liberal architect of Mexico’s secular constitution. The focus of the rally is the presentation of the Declaration of Independence for Women’s Bodies, which participants will be invited to sign [1].

Readers of this blog will be aware that women’s sexual health and reproductive rights are a polemic issue here in Mexico, pitting traditional, conservative Catholic values against those who defend women’s right to control her own fertility. But the question is not quite that clear cut: in general, women’s sexual health is also a class and a race issue. The poorest and more marginalised women in rural areas –and most especially indigenous women- are those who most suffer as a result of a lack of access to contraception, sexual and reproductive education and health care during pregnancy.

A couple of recent news stories will suffice to illustrate my point. Last month, in the state of Quintana Roo (in South-Eastern Mexico), an 11 year-old indigenous (Mayan) girl became the Republic’s youngest reported mother. Needless to say, she had been raped. The state of Quintana Roo does permit therapeutic abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, but the girl out of ignorance or shame did not reveal what had happened until she was more than 4 months pregnant [2]. According to a different report, 96 women have died during labour in South-Western state of Guerrero, one of the most marginalised in Mexico (pop. 3.2 million). Shockingly, these women did not die from unavoidable complications, but rather neglect. As the report says, their deaths resulted from the lack of routine medical attention: their local hospital was simply not open; or, their doctor did not provide adequate care and they suffered fatal haemorrhages [3].

In the specific case of abortion, the draconian laws in place and predominance of Catholic opinion on the subject, means that the majority of those who do abort –legally or illegally- do not receive adequate medical attention. According to one activist, hundreds of women die in Mexico every year from botched amateur abortion; moreover, only one in six women who aborted received any kind of medical treatment [4]. Finally, as the case of the women imprisoned in Guanajuato that I have documented here shows, women from lower social classes are those whom the state will prefer to prosecute in the event that they take matters into their own hands or are unfortunate enough to miscarry in circumstances that give rise to the suspicion of them having induced their labour.

I perhaps do not need to add that the sisters and daughters of the politicians who decide state policies do not face these kinds of problems. Despite the Church’s condemnation of contraception they will take measures to control their fertility and, in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, will go abroad or to private institutions in Mexico City to “take care of the situation” discretely. Thus, at the heart of the anti-abortion policy there is a terrible hypocrisy that condemns women three times over: it denies them access to sex education and contraception; it denies them the right to terminate their pregnancies; and, once they are pregnant, it will permit their death in childbirth without so much as a blink of an eye.

Enough is enough. Respect women’s human rights. Let’s put an end to the hypocrisy and save  lives!

[1] http://www.ddeser.info/28sep2010/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=101

[2] http://www.awid.org/Issues-and-Analysis/Library/Mexico-Many-States-Crack-Down-on-Abortion

[3] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10092406-En-lo-que-va-del-an.44365.0.html

[4] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10092405-Cada-ano-el-aborto.44364.0.html

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

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