Mexico’s Second Epidemic – Femicide

Jennie Sarama

TW: This article discusses femicides/murder

Whilst social, political and economic discourses across the globe have, for the past year, been dominated by discussions of coronavirus, other vital topics have resultantly been overlooked. Latin America has suffered from high femicide levels since the 1990s but, in recent years, these have become unprecedented with femicide rates increasing by 137% in Mexico alone from 2015-2020. Whilst femicides are by no means anomalous to western societies, the overwhelming sense of this particularly high trend in Mexico being accompanied by little legislation to help reduce the issue, distinguishes their case from others.

After the nationwide strike of March 2020, that went viral with the hashtag #OneDayWithoutWomen, awareness toward Mexico’s long-standing history of female violence and murder has slowly gained traction. Ironically, in accordance with the response of the authorities to spray tear gas on female protestors. However, despite officials continually vowing to make the issue a ‘priority’ of government, a consensus remains that not enough is being done. The New York Times in their investigation on the subject cited how the President, Andres Manuel Lopez, associated the violence more with ‘the neoliberal model’ of the Mexican economy and manipulation by the media than any inherently gender-related cause.

Yet, although others have similarly acknowledged how dynamics between genders have been affected by economic policies, specifically increased unemployment and poverty, researcher Mercedes Olivera has expanded on this, and underscores how changes to gender roles and perceptions of gender remain directly connected to this. She identifies how increased numbers of women joining the workforce – as a result of a poor economy – threatens the ‘concept of a division of labour between men and women’, having direct implications on the ability of Mexican males to conform to the performance of ‘machismo’, alongside increased female agency. This altogether provides an image of a society both outdated in its views on gender, but also undergoing a period of transition experienced by western societies a much longer time ago.

For the reader:

You may be reading this and thinking: ‘but what can I do?’ And whilst, in truth, tangible change relies predominantly on those institutions and people in power, social media – as a platform – should not be undermined for its role in ushering in support, particularly from international audiences. By publicising the injustices suffered by so many women in Mexico, the topic of these femicides becomes merged into public discourse, initiating a chain of awareness that has the power to put pressure on Mexican authorities, as well as to rally support for charities, pressure groups and other agents of change. Florence Pugh (@florencepugh), a British actress, is one example of a celebrity advocate who raises awareness about the treatment of women in Mexico. Her story reels and posts provide valuable information to her 2.2 million following on the crisis, but also share the words, stories and voices of Mexican women who have suffered at the hands of their society.

Sharing useful tools related to it on social media is the first step we can take to show our allegiance

Although Mexico and its femicides may be an issue out of the average reader’s control, speaking about it, educating others and sharing useful tools related to it on social media is the first step we can take to show our allegiance with those both seeking and deserving justice in Mexico.

Breaking down ‘femicide’:

In 2015, the World Health Organisation described ‘femicide’ as the ‘intentional murder of women because they are women.’ A definition which highlights the inherently gendered nature of the act but also more implicitly scrutinises that particular society, and its hierarchies, of which femicide is a feature.

However, within the derived meaning of the term, sub-strands of the word have developed, and the World Health Organisation specifically has underscored this growth of the term, identifying more specific categories and dividing them into four groups: non-intimate femicide, intimate femicide, dowry-related femicide and murders in the name of ‘honour’, when describing the crime.

Although the adoption and subsequent application of the word ‘femicide’ – without the further use of a more confined grouping – has created nuances in what is altogether associated with ‘femicides’, its meaning remains rooted in the translation of this violence against women because of their gender into a wider representation of a decaying society and outdated culture.

What does this say about the society in question?

Impunity for femicides has also been acknowledged by multiple sources as further evidence of how female violence and murder stems from an ingrained problem within a society and its values. The very fact that female homicides have gone, and continue to go, unrecognised by authorities confirms the inadequacies of Mexico’s justice system, but also poses the question of to what extent this is connected to pre-existing beliefs and frameworks that reinforce the superiority of men. Male privilege in Western societies has been gradually diminished as a result of crucial strides to reduce the gender gap, but Mexican culture and its gender binaries remain a pertinent reminder of how far the country still has to go.

Researchers from the Mexican Institute for Family and Population Research examined the culture of ‘machismo’ further and highlighted its impact on femicide levels by drawing on how polarised perceptions of men and women dictate broader relationships between genders in Mexican society. They consider how violence against women is more than a product of the economy or any kind of belief in gender imbalances but rather ‘an expression of male power.’ A conclusion supporting the urgent need for a reformation of the male Mexican mentality and a revision of the ideals centred on the subservient female and dominant male.

The challenge behind change:

Since 2013, tackling the femicides in Mexico has been part of a national development plan to combat violence against women, but given the relative absence of direct progress and the continued murder of innocent women, it seems that the issue has been raised, but not enough action taken. Activist, Maria Salguero, who for the past four years has created an online map documenting the death toll for female violence in Mexico, articulated her concern for this in an interview:

“If the president plays down the problem then what can you expect from the rest of society? I feel that if I don’t do something then it could be my nieces next. It could happen to any one of the women around me.”

Femicide has been criminalised in just 13 of Mexico’s states

Although legislation has been passed over the decades in efforts to reduce violence against women, the failure of enforcing these laws consistently distinguishes the more radical change that is needed within the cultural and social fabric of society. Salguero represents just one voice out of many asking for governmental intervention on the femicide crisis.

According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography in Mexico, 66.1% of all women aged 15 and older have experienced some kind of violence in their lives, and this, when considered alongside the reports that femicide has been criminalised in just 13 of Mexico’s states, testifies to the vast amount of work that is yet to be done.

For more information on the femicides in Mexico find attached the links below:

Jennie Sarama

Featured image courtesy of Mika Baumeister on Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

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