“Femicidios”: Unsolved Murders Against Women in Mexico and the Caribbean (Part I)

También en español ”Death to the b**ches, I’m back” read a sign found next to the body of one of the nearly 1,700 Guatemalan women who have been murdered in the past five years. Since 1993, some 500 women of limited means have been killed or disappeared from the streets of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The authorities have not resolved these female murders. “Women of all ages, educational levels, social-economic backgrounds, races, ethnicities and sexual orientations may be the eventual victim of this extreme form of gender-based violence”, explains the scholar Diana Russell.

While femicide is committed around the world, the border city of Ciudad Juárez’s infamy as the capital of feminicide is by now common knowledge. The term “feminicidio” was first used in the late 1990s to describe a phenomenon of unsolved murders and disappearances in Ciudad Juárez, dating to 1993, the year women’s rights groups first noticed an unusual increase in murders and disappearances of women and girls. It was this alarming rate of violence against women in the border region and the near-absolute impunity for gender crimes that catalyzed transnational activism: the hemispheric “Por la Vida de las Mujeres” (For the Life of Women) initiative launched by the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights (known by its Spanish acronym, CLADEM); research on the subject matter; and, eventually, the elaboration of “feminicide.”

Most of the bodies of murdered women exhibit high levels of sexual violence. The murders and disappearances of women occur within the context of a patriarchal society with high levels of sexism, discrimination and misogyny. Mexico, for example, has one of the highest rates of gender violence in the world, with 38 percent of Mexican women affected by physical, sexual or psychological abuse, compared with 33 percent of women worldwide. Two-thirds of female homicides occur in the home, and 67 percent of women in Mexico suffer domestic violence. For Guatemala, the figure is 47 percent.

In Mexico, women’s human rights groups have long held that police failed to respond to gender crimes because “they feared organized crime was involved, or because they were involved themselves, or both.” Police indifference to gender crimes is rooted in a system of illegality so interpenetrated in the state structure that it blurs the distinction between state institutions and criminal networks, and between government agents and criminal agents.

After Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched Operation Chihuahua in 2008, deploying thousands of soldiers and military police to the region, violence and criminality have reached pandemic proportions, together with a disturbing trend of human rights violations committed by the very same security forces sent to restore order.

Parte 2, to come.

Thanks to Eduardo Carrasco for contributing to this story.