Among the most serious manifestations of the growing violence against most social groups in Mexico is violence against women. It is seen in not only the physical, sexual, psychological and verbal violence that occurs all over and mostly in the family environment but also in the murder of women simply because they are women. This has been called feminicide, and both the term and the crime are spreading throughout the world.
Experts have failed to establish its specific causes other than the misogyny inherent in the prevailing machismo, a lack of civility, and growing violence in general stemming from recurring economic crises, poverty, inequality, the rise of urban robberies and assaults, and the role of organized crime in drug trafficking for users in the United States and Europe.
When President Felipe Calderón declared war on drugs in 2007, violence intensified. Important mob bosses were captured or eliminated, resulting in the rearrangement of criminal leaders who began to diversify their businesses into kidnappings, disappearings, extortions, robberies, human trafficking, and threats to the police and other authorities through which the latter were corrupted and controlled across large areas of Mexico. Now, authorities had to obey criminals under penalty of death. The killing of disobedient authorities or political candidates from all parties increased, along with the assassination of journalists who reported on traffickers and collusion by authorities.
Add to this hectic situation easy access to assault weapons that were readily available from the United States, where, as we know, control on such weapons is lax. As a result, criminals now are better armed than the police and even the military, navy and federal police sent to the streets by President Calderón.
Without effective state opposition against crime and violence—and given the corrupt and inefficient judicial system where impunity, torture and the fabrication of crimes prevail and where the powerful and wealthy are favored—anyone can assault, rob, and even kill without official retribution. This is the environment inhabited by today’s Mexican woman exposed to abuse, rape and murder.
In the 1990s, Juarez, a border city in the state of Chihuahua, began to experience an increase in crimes of all sorts as a result of the great economic crisis of 1994 and 1995, including a number of female homicides. At the time, these were considered somewhat unusual. Organized crime controlled the city and the “maquiladoras”—the industries of globalization—hired young women who came from everywhere.
When I was a child, I had to chaperone my older sister when she went out to meet her friends so that the men in the streets wouldn’t bother her with compliments or unwanted advances. As a child I impressed no one, so I too was a victim of the abusive and vulgar comments. Such scenes are still very common in Mexico today. On the street or on public transportation, many men feel entitled to say or do almost anything to any woman, especially if she is alone, young and attractive.
Although in my family we were brought up to respect women, it was clear to me from an early age that men were supposed to see women as objects at our disposal, even though that actual possibility was nonexistent. Therefore, even though men knew that a young woman like my sister was off limits to them, machismo demanded that they try, knowing their unequal social status denied them any real access.
Recently, a girl was raped in a patrol car by police officers who said they were protecting her as she returned from a party. Following this incident, and against the backdrop of so much violence, abuse, rape and feminicide, a women’s march took place in Mexico City on Aug. 16. Groups from other cities and states joined the protest or marched in other cities.
In the capital, the protesters were many and diverse: from feminists and intellectuals to street people and anarchists. The marchers had asked that men not attend and that the media send women reporters, but many men marched alongside and the march was covered by media representatives of both sexes. Among the petitions sent to Claudia Sheinbaum, the city’s mayor, were several that asked that the guilty officers be prosecuted. Other petitions called for the police force to be educated against gender-based violence; still others called for the cessation of abuse against women.
Unfortunately, the goal and intentions of the march were derailed when men and women with covered faces began vandalizing a bus station, a police station, the main city monument and other buildings. Protesters beat men they encountered as well as reporters and cameramen. In the worst case, a young man knocked out a reporter who was broadcasting the scene live. The march’s sponsors accused infiltrators of these actions, saying the outsiders were sent to sabotage the march, as often happens. Thus the great march against gender violence lost much of its original purpose and, of course, the violence against women continues.
Victor Reyes is a translator, teacher, and a native of Puebla, Mexico with decades-old ties to the Light. He lives in Cotati.