Maisie Davies graduated with a degree in Politics and Social Policy from the University of Leeds and currently works as a service organiser and writer for Ubiqus. She has lived and travelled extensively in Latin America and has volunteered for a number of charities working in the region. She specialises in the topic of violence against women, particularly during conflict.
The Mexican state of Edomex has been described as the most dangerous place in Mexico to be a woman. In 2011 and 2012, 1,258 women and girls were disappeared and 448 murdered. 53% of the disappeared were between the ages of 10 and 17. Up until recently, the state has largely denied that it has a problem with femicide. The mothers of daughters who have been murdered and disappeared accuse the state of underplaying violence against women. The state have also been accused of attempting to tar the reputation of female victims. This is a common concern in cases of femicide; victims are blamed for the crimes committed against them.
Femicide is defined as the killing of women by reason of their gender. Femicide killings tend to be brutal in nature, and have a variety of deep-rooted, structural causes. Central America has some of the highest rates of femicide in the world. High rates of drug-related gang violence, corruption, impunity and machismo have all contributed to the continuing high levels of violence against women.
Mexican federal law recognised femicide as a distinct hate crime in 2012. Mexican legislation allows for some of the toughest prison sentences against perpetrators of femicide in Latin America. Yet, this tough legislation has failed to deter perpetrators; the National Citizen Femicide Observatory suggests that six women are killed every day in Mexico, and this number is rising. While a significant proportion of violence against women takes place in the private sphere, an alarming number of bodies are dumped in public spaces, showing signs of torture and mutilation.
Last year, Guanajuato, a conservative state just north of Edomex, issued an emergency alert, only for the local government to abandon it a year later, claiming they had achieved the changes required to safeguard women. Last month, Edomex announced that it would be the second state to introduce such emergency measures, eight years after the ‘gender alert’ legislation was introduced. The emergency measures will be implemented in 11 municipalities and will require the state to launch in-depth investigations into violence against women. Under the measures, victims are expected to be compensated for damages, including access to ‘prompt, swift and impartial’ justice, as well as legal, health and psychological services.
Under the alert, the authorities must: acknowledge responsibility for the damage caused and commit to repairing it; investigate and punish remiss or negligent authorities; prevent crimes against women through public policy, as well as verify facts and publish the truth.
Maria de la Luz Estrada, director of the National Citizens Femicide Observatory, described the announcement as ‘historic’, noting that the measures would provide guarantees on women’s lives, as well as access to justice. However, she pointed out that it had taken five years of pressure and petitioning from her organisation to force authorities to take action.
The introduction of emergency measures in Edomex is, indeed, historic, but the actions laid out under the alert must be implemented swiftly and consistently. Impunity is an undeniable problem in Mexico. Despite tough legislation on sentencing, between 2012 and 2013, just 24% of femicides were investigated and just 1.6% of cases led to arrest and sentencing. In Edomex, high levels of impunity can be linked to the lack of official recognition of the problem of femicide. Officials have refused to recognise the issue, instead demanding further evidence of the systematic targeting of women because of their gender. The state governor’s spokesman argued that there were ‘more serious issues to deal with’ than gender based violence.
The state’s recognition of the problem, then, is significant. However, the real test will be in the consistent implementation of the measures. Needless to say, it is an inconsistent approach that targets just 11 municipalities in a state where violence against women impacts on the entire region. Violence against women is a structural, state-wide problem, requiring comprehensive state-wide responses. The various factors that lead to femicide – impunity, misogyny, poverty, inequality, amongst others – are deep rooted and structural; they exist across the whole state.
In order to adequately address the issue of femicide in Edomex, these structural causes need to be addressed. This will be a radical change from a state government who were so recently reluctant to recognise that femicide was a problem in Edomex. While this recognition is a positive step, it will unfortunately fall on civil society and local activists to hold the government to account on this issue.