Pair of brutal murders cast light on Mexico’s femicide problem

. Mar 09, 2020
femicide rates Protest in Mexico City, Mexico, on March 8, 2020. Photo: Manuel Velasquez/Anadolu Agency/Getty

In Mexico City, Fátima Cecilia Aldrighett Anton and Ingrid Escamilla—the former just a child and the latter aged 25—recently became the latest names on the list of Mexican women and girls murdered because of their gender.

Last month, Ms. Escamilla’s body was found with several cuts and stab wounds, and her 46-year-old partner Francisco Robledo confessed to the crime. The exposure of the murder was quick and irresponsible, with several local newspapers publishing pictures of the corpse and Mexico City’s prosecution service investigating at least six people—among them law enforcement agents—for leaking the images.

</p> <p>The case of 7-year-old Fátima—found in the same week as Ms. Escamilla—was more harrowing still. The child was abducted while waiting to be picked up from school by her parents, and her body was discovered in a bag, showing signs of torture. Surveillance camera footage led police to a couple who later confessed the murder. One of the abductors said she had taken Fátima because her husband &#8220;wanted a young girlfriend.&#8221;</p> <p>As shocking as these two cases were, they are typical of a <a href="">wave of femicide sweeping across Mexico</a>. In 2019 alone, Mexico City recorded 68 murders of women on account of their gender, according to figures from the national public security system. The number of unsolved disappearances, meanwhile, is above 60,000.</p> <p>Feminist groups and civil society as a whole have led protests against these repeated murders, and are now turning their anger toward President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Having put public security at the head of his priority list ever since his 2018 presidential campaign—which became the bloodiest general election campaign in Mexican history with over than 130 candidates killed—Mr. López Obrador is now blaming the &#8220;neoliberal model&#8221; of previous presidents for this rise in femicides.</p> <p>“I maintain that it fell into a decline, it was a process of progressive degradation that had to do with the neoliberal model,” he said, targeting his predecessors Filipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, who led the country from 2006 to 2018.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Mr. López Obrador&#8217;s view, their bellicose war on drugs helped increase the lack of security around the country. Since the beginning of Mexico&#8217;s armed confrontation with organized crime gangs, at least 170,000 people died, with 70 percent of the population declaring they are afraid of living in Mexico, according to official research.&nbsp;</p> <p>But despite President López Obrador’s attempt to stop fighting fire with fire, violence continues to rise, and femicide rates are particularly worrying.</p> <h2>Latin America&#8217;s femicide capital</h2> <p>In Latin America, the first mention of the term &#8220;femicide&#8221; to denote the murder of a woman or girl on account of her gender came in Mexico. It was coined by Marcela Lagarde y de Los Ríós—feminist activist, academic and anthropologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico—in response to the murder spree of hundreds of women and girls in the northern city of Cidade Juarez.</p> <p>In 1993, a series of gang-related murders of women in the region left local authorities and the press grasping for a definition for this particular type of violence, clearly targeted at a single demographic and brutal in its execution. Ms. Lagarde adopted the term &#8220;femicide,&#8221; used previously in the U.S., as a way of helping the literature and exploring the social background behind the phenomenon.</p> <p>Since then, experts and the media began using the term, but according to Margarita Pintin-Perez, Ph.D. and Senior Coordinator of the ‘Initiative to End Gender-Based Violence’ in Ontario, the problem lies deeper.&nbsp;</p> <p>“When we talk about existing law, it remains in a rhetoric scope. There is a big gap between what the law says and the way it is implemented and practiced. The performative side of the state is seen not in how it may satisfy the public with a law on femicide, but in how it is implemented,” Ms. Pintin-Perez told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.&nbsp;</p> <p>In <a href="">Mexico&#8217;s case</a>, femicide became a specific crime in 2010. However, due to the federal nature of the country&#8217;s government—with individual states holding certain independence on legislative matters—some states define the crime differently, and &#8220;improperly,&#8221; warns Ms. Pintin-Perez.</p> <p>Meanwhile, feminist movements are growing stronger in the country, managing to put the left-leaning government against the wall.</p> <p>“We must demand investigation standards on femicide, demand protocols for investigating the crime of femicide with a gender perspective, and also change the narrative: in the way the cases are reported, they present the victims as being guilty, or try to see the case as an isolated incident that is not a part of a structural and systematic situation concerning gender.”&nbsp;</p> <h2>Gender-based violence elsewhere in the region</h2> <p>The &#8220;<em>Ni una menos&#8221;</em> (Not One Woman Less) movement was born in Argentine in 2014, after the disappearance of Chiara Páez in Santa Fé. The 14-year-old girl was killed by her boyfriend after he found out she was pregnant. Her body was found buried in the killer’s garden.&nbsp;</p> <p>The protests sparked by the brutal killing saw thousands of women from feminist movements taking to the streets and chanting the poems of Mexican activist Susana Chavez Castillo, one of the first to denounce the massacre of women in Cidade Juarez. “Not one more dead, not one less,” they said aloud.</p> <p>According to The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL), the absolute numbers of femicide in America reached an average of 308 per country, with Brasil (1,206), Mexico (898) and Argentina (255) having the worst results. El Salvador, however, has the highest proportional number, with 6.8 deaths for every 100 thousand inhabitants.&nbsp;</p> <p>As noted by Ms. Pintin-Perez and many feminist activists, the victims of femicide are often portrayed as being partially responsible for their harassment, rape, and murder, even by prominent public figures. On Monday, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera—already in hot water for accusations of rape against military forces in 2019—engaged in victim-blaming during a press conference to announce a new law expanding the country&#8217;s definition of femicide.</p> <p>&#8220;Sometimes it’s not just men’s desire to abuse women, but also the women’s position to be abused,” he said, alongside his wife and Minister for Women Isabel Plá. As feminist movements have repeated, a change is needed, and not just in legislation.

Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs—specializing Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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