By Kary Vannice
In July 2015, major news outlets around the world reported that the Mexican government had issued the first ever “gender alert” for violence against women. The alert was issued in response to “systematic violence against women” and “an atmosphere of impunity and permissiveness” toward femicide (the killing of women), extreme gender violence and hate crimes. This alert lifted the veil off Mexico’s dirty, back-room secret of horrifying women’s rights abuse and domestic violence in a culture that, all too often, lays blame on the victim and not the victimizer.
The staggering statistics of female killings, sexual violence, and physical abuse made the world news, with news outlets like Aljazeera, NBC News and USA Today reporting on the state of women’s rights in Mexico.
Over the next year, The United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch all turned a critical eye toward Mexico’s treatment of women. The results of these investigations were sobering.
The UN described it as a “pandemic that affects two out of three women in Mexico.”
Human Rights Watch said, “Mexican laws do not adequately protect women and girls against domestic and sexual violence. Some provisions, including those that make the severity of punishments for some sexual offenses contingent upon the “chastity” of the victim, contradict international standards.”
Amnesty International focused one investigation on 100 women from “marginalized backgrounds” that had been drawn into the drug trade as small time dealers. The interesting twist in this report was that it focused its investigation on the authorities who were responsible for the care and well being of these women.
The report states…
“All of the 100 women held in federal prisons who reported torture or other ill-treatment to Amnesty International said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or psychological abuse during their arrest and interrogation by municipal, state or federal police officers or members of the Army and Navy. Seventy-two said they were sexually abused during their arrest or in the hours that followed. Thirty-three reported being raped.”
The report goes on to state that 62 of the women had reported the abuse to a judge or other authority, but at the time the report was published, not one legal action had been taken against the abusers.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas Director at Amnesty International, made this statement at the time the report was released, “These women’s stories paint an utterly shocking snapshot of the level of torture against women in Mexico, even by local standards. Sexual violence used as a form of torture seems to have become a routine part of interrogations.”
From a purely political standpoint, gender alerts represent a “call to action” to local and national authorities to be more deliberate and persistent when conducting investigations into violent crimes against women, to both take these crimes more seriously and provide more protective measures for women’s security, personal and legal.
However, when the victim often becomes the accused and when her protectors become her perpetrators, is it any wonder that more than a year later, headlines still read, “Despite ‘Gender Alert’ in Mexico, Violence Against Women Climbs.”
Awareness of this pandemic has finally reached the world political stage, with organizations like UNICEF speaking out about the sexual violence against teens in Mexico, stating that “more than 23,000, ages 12 to 17 suffered (violent sexual) aggression in 2014. Four of each 10 happened at home, school or work, abounded.”
And while women and men alike now frequently take to the streets outside the halls of government to raise awareness for women’s rights, the reality is, for lasting change to occur, this type of awareness needs to begin at home. All too often in Mexico, the home is a “safe haven” for abusers. It was only six months ago, on November 16, 2016, that the Supreme Court of Mexico finally declared marital rape illegal.
A recent survey conducted by the Mexican National Institute for Women reported that 45% of all women suffer some kind of violence in their lives-almost half of all women in the country. The rising number of victims and rising global awareness of this issue are bringing about some encouraging gains for women’s groups as women band together, forming support organizations, and raising funds to help victims.
More and more brave Mexican women continue to join the cause. They organize, protest, and find ingenious and artistic ways to “speak out” for the victims who are no longer able speak for themselves. Every November 25th, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, artist Elina Chauvet creates her well-known art instillation called Zapatos Rojos (Red Shoes). Hundreds of red shoes in all shapes, sizes, and styles line the streets of major Mexican cities to represent the “silent” march of women who have fallen victims to femicide. So impactful is this representation that women artists and activists around the world now recreate this scene to represent their own country’s fallen victims.
Unless more progress can be made by holding authorities responsible for equal treatment of women victims, and stronger legislation can be passed to improve the security of women in Mexico, more red shoes will be needed to “stand in silent protest” against continued violence against women and girls in 2017.