México Is More Dangerous Than Ever For Women's Rights Activists


As cartel- and corruption-related violence increases in México, journalists and activists are increasingly targeted. Among these horrors, but less reported-on, are the outspoken women’s rights activists whose willingness to be visible and lack of fear makes them a target. Last month, Nadia Vera became the 36th women’s rights advocate to be murdered since 2010.

The Guardian reports that Vera, a Chiapas-born 32-year-old who “wrote poems, staged dance workshops and theatre productions, and participated in street protests to demand political and social change,” was “raped, tortured, and shot in the head” July 31, along with her photojournalist friend Rubén Espinosa; her roommates Yesenia Quiroz and Mile Virginia Martín; and Alejandre Negrete, who was cleaning the apartment at the time.

Both Espinosa and Vera were seeking refuge in México City (DF), having fled from the dangerous, corrupt, and violence stricken state of Veracruz. Espinosa’s murder garnered headlines because formerly, no journalists who traveled to the capital seeking safety have been murdered there.

In 2014, Vera appeared in a documentary about the number of disappearances in Veracruz, where thousands of people have gone missing. From The Guardian:

Looking directly at the camera, Vera warned that if anything happened to her or her colleagues, then Veracruz’s governor, Javier Duarte, would be to blame. “We want to make it very clear that our security is totally the state’s responsibility, because they are the ones who send people to repress us,” she said.
Atziri Ávila, coordinator of the RNDDHM, said: “Nadia’s murder shows us that there is nowhere safe left in Mexico for defenders fleeing threats or violence. That’s how serious the human rights crisis has become.”

Of course, women murders in México aren’t limited to activists; the country has been experiencing an on-the-books femicide (“femicidio”) for about 20 years, both in the scourged city of Juarez and beyond; as of January, six women were being murdered per day in the country, according to el Observatorio Cuidadano Nacionel del Feminicido (OCNF). “Maybe a third or half of the cases involved sexual partners,” reported Al-Jazeera. “The balance—abductions, rapes and discarding the bodies like garbage — are probably linked to the generalized drug violence that is tearing Mexico apart.” A report filed in June by Vice’s Rafael Castillo noted the government’s methods for data collecting was deeply flawed, and there was still no definitive gauge on how much of the disappearances and murders were related to human trafficking:

Critics of its use point out the vast majority of victims of homicide in Mexico are male. But experts point out that a femicide stems from hate related to the gender of the victim — and evidenced by corpses that are mutilated, show signs of torture or rape, or are found dumped in fields or canals.
Although Mexico has the toughest prison sentences against a person charged with femicide in Latin America — with incarceration terms considered stricter than in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, and Costa Rica — the prospect of a long sentence is apparently not a deterrent to end the femicide wave.

The incidents are prevalent along border cities, and often, the women are indigenous, adding not just state and structural violence but racism and classism to the mix. In July, the Globe and Mail wrote,

“This issue’s been going on for a long time … the mistreatment of women, especially women of colour, the abuse of women, the disappearance of women. And it’s not only happening on the U.S.-Mexico border, it’s also happening on the U.S.-Canadian border,” says Enrique Morones who runs Border Angels, a volunteer group based in San Diego, that fights for immigration reform. “But you don’t hear those stories, and those stories are important that they be told.”
“There are various aspects of this extreme violence against women here,” Ms. Ortiz Rivera says. “There’s that machista culture, that male chauvinism, which is responsible for domestic violence, street violence, violence against women they don’t know. But there’s also groups – big syndicates – that exist on the border, that exist to kidnap and sell women. And there’s impunity … it’s big business.”

At the end of July, the OCNF declared a gender violence watch for Mexico State, in which 840 women were murdered between 2010 and 2013 and 1,258 women were found to have disappeared between 2011 and 2012; over half were between the ages of 10 and 17. And though the laws are tough in an effort to combat femicide in the country, the murders are not often investigated as such, a roundabout reflection of the systemic misogyny that creates such astonishing numbers of dead and disappeared.

In 2008, a report in ReVista (Harvard’s Latin American review) noted, “Occasionally, the United States and Mexico agreed to cooperate with one another over murdered women, though far less cooperation occurs than over such issues as stolen vehicles, drugs and insect control.”

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