Violence against women plays an unfortunately prevalent role in many cultures. In fact, physical security for women remains an exception to the norm worldwide.
In the case of Mexico, recent protests on Women’s Day 2021 might seem like a sudden, unprecedented upsurge in activism against femicide, but the momentum behind this movement has been building for years. A recent Netflix documentary entitled “Las Tres Muertes de Marisela Escobedo” sheds light on what began as a small, local protest and ended up contributing to the growth of a movement that now encompasses tens of thousands of women all over Mexico.
“Las Tres Muertes”, the Pandemic, and the Feminist Movement
Maria Escobedo’s three deaths are the death of her daughter Rubi, who was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend, the symbolic death Rubi experienced when the court acquitted her killer, and Maria’s own death, when she was shot on the command of her daughter’s killer outside the Government Palace of Chihuahua, where she was protesting. Her daily marches from 2008-2010 to protest the acquittal of her daughter’s killer took her from Ciudad Juarez, near the US border, all the way to Mexico City, in Central Mexico.
This documentary sheds light on the role corruption and bureaucracy play in “denuncias”, the police reports filed against the perpetrator of the violence. One study suggests that 99% of all cases (harassment, abuse, rape) go unreported and it is common knowledge that most of the cases that are reported are passed over with impunity and simply drop off, completely unpunished, as protestors note in the video below.
This Vice report also sheds light on the negative impact that Covid-19 has had on the already challenging situation. More time at home has meant higher levels of domestic violence and even an increase in ordered killings of women.
Corruption and Silence
On top of all of this, the government has done little to nothing to address violence. In fact, President Obrador previously alleged that 90% of domestic violence calls are illegitimate, a baseless and damaging claim that only helps perpetuate the belief, which he shares, that the feminist movement is being used for political reasons only.
The country hit an all time record of 26,000 reports in the month of March 2020, though the Women’s Stats Project estimates that the already high rate of of violence against women is grossly underreported, suggesting that the real number could be much, much higher. As is seen in the above map, femicides span across the country, affecting nearly every community.
Privilege and Safety
After talking to two young Mexican women, Nicole and Erika, it became clear that through all areas of Mexico are impacted by violence against women, there are still distinct socio-economic factors to consider. Both residing in Mexico City, they expressed their initial hesitancy, but ultimate change of mind, in supporting the feminist movement in Mexico. These two interviews, though unique, provided many similar observations.
Both women grew up in relatively safe, wealthy areas, and have still felt unsafe nearly every time they leave their homes. Nicole noted that her parents would not let her out of the house alone until the age of 18. Both Nicole and Erika described many instances of catcalling, harassment, and generally feeling unsafe in public spaces. Both noted that these feelings went away when they were in the presence of a man, like their father or boyfriend.
While they felt that violent crimes, like rape, were less likely to happen in the areas that they live in, Nicole described an experience which took place at her own, private high school. After a girl at her school was raped by a fellow student, she filed a formal complaint which went through the Principal, HR Board, and a Disciplinary Committee in the presence of both sets of parents (that of the perpetrator and that of the victim). The maximum sentence for the perpetrator was being suspended from school for one day. As Nicole noted, this process, meant to protect students, ultimately does nothing but further hurt the victim.
Both Nicole and Erika expressed that they had previously not cared about and actively distanced themselves from the feminist movement. Terms like ‘femi-nazi’ were commonly used to describe feminists and many aspects of their culture made them feel as though the things happening to women were normal. For example, Nicole recalled watching porn at school in the second grade as her primary experience with sex-education, while Erika noted that nearly every man she knows, including her father and brother, have group chats with other men where pornographic images are shared between them.
Both women attributed the rate of femicide at least partially to the culture of machismo. Nicole noted that there is a disturbing frequency of incestual rape between older male family figures and underage female members. Erika brought up that she used to believe that only “bad girls” got raped and, as is commonly perpetrated in a patriarchal society, the women who were raped were somehow “asking for it”, though she has since changed her mind on this. Now they feel that it is slowly, but surely, becoming easier to openly discuss the problems women face, especially as more and more women come forward and they each realize how much closer these problems are to home than they previously imagined.
Erika noted that since joining the movement, people have accused her of only supporting feminism because it’s trendy, but she feels like her eyes have been opened recently to everything going on around her regarding women’s rights. When asked about men’s places in the movement, both women noted that getting men involved is crucial to implementing change, but that some facets of the feminist movement have actively excluded men from participating. In order for machismo to change, they expressed, men have to support feminism and actively fight against historic gender norms.
Politics and Feminism
Finally, both girls noted that the degree of corruption in the country is obvious. Both noted that everything begins and ends with education. While Nicole detailed how the public school system ultimately fails to properly educate people, even in very basic levels of math and science, Erika focused on the fact that no one is informed because no one trusts the media due to its close ties to and vast funding from the government, which she witnessed first-hand while working with a media company.
Neither Nicole nor Erika felt that change could come from a top-down government approach. In fact, Nicole noted that it was not an issue of legislation, as Mexico has extensive femicide legislation in place, but rather an issue of a functioning system and a cultural shift. Both agreed that changes start in the home, with men helping out and women taking on more prominent roles in society.
A Path Forward
In terms of government response, there is not likely to be any sort of change until new leadership is put in place. Despite appointing women to prominent positions, President Obrador has empowered men like Felix Salgado who openly describes himself as “a womanizer, a partygoer, a gambler, a drunkard” who has been accused of violent rape cases by multiple women, but who has silenced them with his power and influence. The latest in the long line of politicians who have been accused of rape to no avail in Mexico, Salgado was appointed by Obrador to run for governor in Guerrero but was recently dropped from the ballot, not for his rape accusals, but for not properly reporting campaign finances. In other words, while he may be off the ballot, it is certainly not a victory for the feminist movement.
That said, the recent growth of the movement and increased international attention have the potential to influence change. Ultimately, many cultural norms will need to shift, starting at home and extending all the way to the government. Finally, though the Mexican case is severe, women globally, even in “physically secure” countries for women, are all still very much fighting for their rights and that solidarity that extends beyond borders can help build empathy, community, and, ultimately, the change that all feminists want to see.
- How can global citizens best support Mexican women in their fight for their lives?
- Is it possible to completely eliminate damaging aspects of a culture, ie: machismo?
- How likely is a fundamental change in Mexican culture in the near future?