Development & Aid, Gender, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population, Women's Health

MEXICO: Gender Violence Continues to Claim Its Victims

Adrián Reyes

MEXICO CITY, Aug 14 2006 (IPS) - No longer able to bear the physical and emotional violence she endured for years at the hands of her husband, Amelia finally committed suicide – just one more victim of gender violence in Mexico, which cost the lives of more than 6,000 girls and women between 1999 and 2005, according to official statistics.

Mexico’s laws have failed to make a dent in violence against women, psychologist Carla Moreno told IPS. Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) figures show that seven out of every 10 Mexican women have suffered some form of abusive treatment at some time in their lives.

Moreno has plenty of experience on this issue, as the director of the non-governmental Association of Women Survivors of Sexual Abuse (MUSAS), which provides legal and psychological support to an average of 1,200 women a year, victims of violence at home or at work.

The latest abuse scandal in Mexico was the beating and repeated rape of 13 women at the hands of 20 soldiers who were guarding ballot boxes from the Jul. 2 national elections, in the northern state of Coahuila, on the border with the United States.

The local Catholic bishop, Raúl Vera López, asked the non-governmental National Commission on Human Rights to require the Vicente Fox administration, the army and the courts to address the victims’ claims. But so far his calls have fallen on deaf ears, although the crime occurred over a month ago.

On Jul. 11, according to witnesses, 20 soldiers on guard at a storage depot holding ballot boxes stormed a bar in a slum neighbourhood in Castaños, located 810 kilometres northwest of Mexico City.

The soldiers disarmed the local police and stripped them naked, then beat and repeatedly raped the women who worked in the bar. One pregnant woman miscarried as a result. Others suffered vaginal injuries.

More than 800 women were killed in Mexico in 2004 alone. The wave of killings, which includes the ongoing disappearance and murder of large numbers of women in Ciudad Juárez, on the U.S. border, led the Chamber of Deputies to create a Special Commission on “Femicide”, also in 2004, which is due to be dissolved on Aug. 31.

According to the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Information Technology (INEGI), over 6,000 girls, teenagers and women were murdered for gender-related reasons in the last six years, up to the end of 2005.

“Mexican women are often seen as objects to be used and discarded, to be thrown on the rubbish heap, as literally happens in Ciudad Juárez. This has got to change, but no visible improvement is on the horizon,” Deputy Eliana García, of the leftwing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and a member of the commission, told IPS.

Ciudad Juárez, a city of 1.3 million people just across the border from El Paso, Texas, has the dubious distinction of being known as “the femicide capital” because of the constant disappearances and murders of women since 1993, many of whom had been raped. Human rights organisations say the total number of murders could surpass 4,000.

“In Mexico, Spain and Guatemala, violence against women is on the rise. But here the circle of impunity has not been broken, unlike what is happening in Spain,” the legislator added.

Spain is “attacking the impunity surrounding these crimes with laws cracking down on gender violence,” García added.

“Violence is increasing in ‘machista’ and misogynist societies, where the authorities are in de facto complicity and allow the aggressors to get off scot-free. Women’s advances in social, intellectual, economic and political affairs annoy some men who are afraid of being left behind or pushed aside,” she said.

That, she explained, is why “a state policy must urgently be developed, to promote a new culture of gender and respect through education.” Such a strategy must include funding from the national budget, to design, among other things, campaigns against discrimination based on gender, she said.

The present administration which Fox, of the rightwing National Action Party (PAN), has presided over since 2000, created the National Institute for Women to concentrate on problems such as domestic violence.

Furthermore, in February the office of the attorney general established the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Dealing with Crimes Related to Acts of Violence Against Women, which replaced the prosecutor’s office that was previously investigating the Ciudad Juárez murders.

The office of the attorney general admitted that the Ciudad Juárez investigations had shown that the murders of women are just one of many manifestations of a nationwide phenomenon.

Presidential spokesman Rubén Aguilar said that the state is committed to eradicating violence against women, and that this administration had taken an important step in that direction.

Although rape, physical assault and murder are the most extreme forms of gender violence faced by Mexican women, they also frequently have to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, Deputy García pointed out.

The lawmaker believes that the struggle for gender equality has made only minimal progress in Mexico, and that this is why, a month after the gang-rape of 13 women by soldiers in Coahuila, neither the authorities nor society as a whole have reacted with indignation.

She compared the crimes in Coahuila with the rape of 16 women by municipal police in May in the wake of disturbances in the town of San Salvador Atenco, in Mexico state (in the centre of the country), where an all-out street battle between the townspeople and local and federal law enforcement personnel was triggered by a dispute with roadside flower vendors.

Patricia Espinosa, the head of the government’s National Institute for Women, asked Fox for justice to be applied “without gender discrimination, and with equal treatment for women in the courts, whether they are plaintiffs or defendants.”

She said women in Mexico face a justice system that devalues their complaints, and that there is gender bias in the interpretation of the law.

Violence against women is also a concern of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), whose Violence Reduction Group allocates funds for research into its causes, in order to identify and support successful government policies to combat the phenomenon.

Figures from the prosecutor’s office in Mexico state indicate that they registered 19,150 complaints of physical assault and 9,984 of rape against women and minors in the first half of the year alone.

Meanwhile, dead bodies continue to show up in Ciudad Juárez. Fifteen women have been murdered so far this year, taking the total number of such crimes in the area since 1993 to 400, according to official statistics, although activists put the number much higher.

In order to gather facts about the incidence of violence against women, and design strategies to stamp it out, INEGI is carrying out a nationwide study, the results of which will be released this year, said PRD legislator Marcela Lagarde, chairwoman of the Special Commission on Femicide.

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