Photographer: ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images

Women in Mexico Voting for Their Lives After Murders Overlooked

  • Politicians of all stripes pledge to tackle femicide epidemic
  • Government estimate femicides running at six a day in Mexico

A local election in Mexico is shedding light on a war that for years has gone under-reported and often unnoticed: the daily murder of women as a show of male power, known as femicide.

Overshadowed by the law enforcement offensive against drugs, the slayings may number six a day. They have been so ignored by the authorities that there are few reliable figures, poor legislation and even disputes over what classifies as femicide. What is clear, say local non-governmental organizations, is that the murder rate is increasing.

Now, voters in the regional state of Mexico are forcing politicians to recognize the problem and take action. After protests by tens of thousands of women in the past year, candidates in the June 4 state election are offering to train prosecutors on gender equality and open a special agency to support victims’ families.

“All candidates have had to address the issue of safety,” said Juan Carlos Villarreal, director of Ceplan, a political think tank in the state of Mexico. “Its most visible face is that of femicides. This wasn’t a common topic before, it’s exploded in the last couple of years.”

In a region famed for its machismo, Mexico is in a league of its own when it comes to violence against women. Figures compiled by the national institute on gender issues known as Inmujeres in 2014 showed that Mexico represents as many as half of all femicides in Latin America.

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Estimates are notoriously hard to make. A study done by an independent, investigative-journalism unit shows that out of the more than 10,000 violent murders of women with traces of a gender-based motive between 2012 and 2016, only 19 percent were classified by authorities as femicides.

That’s why it’s unclear whether the death of Yuritxi Medina, a 24-year-old woman bludgeoned to death by her husband as their child watched, amounts to femicide and how it was finally classified. Same with María Dolores Juarez, 27, suffocated in a hotel, and Saira Karina Ávila, who killed herself with a gunshot to the head while her physically abusive husband watched.

The victims’ families and NGOs often complain that the police and investigators treat a femicide as a suicide and that when a woman goes missing they merely shrug it off arguing that she must’ve fled with her lover.

National Disgrace

“In the state of Mexico the type of crime that women face is constant,” said Alejandro Hope, a security consultant and a former official for CISEN, Mexico’s intelligence agency. “It’s constant, constant, constant. It’s their entire surrounding.”

The office of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, a former governor of the state of Mexico, referred questions to the state agency Inmujeres. Their lawyer, Pablo Navarrete, said femicide is one of the biggest problems the government faces, calling it “disgraceful.” The violence is part of Mexico’s machista culture, “which is deeply rooted in our society,” Navarrete said.

The attitude of the authorities is beginning to change, though. In a televised debate, Delfina Gomez, a candidate from the new left-wing Morena party, who has a narrow lead in the latest polls, proposed educating prosecutors and police forces on the topic of gender inequality. She blamed the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, for the recent increase in murders.

Alfredo del Mazo

Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg

Alfredo del Mazo, the other top contender, running for the PRI and a relative of President Pena Nieto, suggested more colorful ideas. Saying he wanted to be “the women’s governor,” del Mazo would offer subsidies to housewives, which he calls “pink salaries.” He also proposed a safe, all-women “pink university,” and “pink transportation,” a public transit that would exclude men and have video surveillance.

“It’s all very frivolous,” said Hope, the security analyst. “Instead of making sure all transport is safe for women, they want to take women out of public transport and put them elsewhere. There is some evasion of responsibility there.”

Still, if pressure from civilian organizations continues, politicians will be unable to ignore the issue during the presidential campaigns next year, said Vidal Romero, chair of the political science department at the private university ITAM, in Mexico City.

“I see this as progress,” Romero said. “To see how this issue bothers politicians tells us that it’s an issue that must be on the agenda. What needs to happen now is that it must stay on the agenda.”

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