Mexican Women Activists Put Reforms Under the Gun


MEXICO CITY (WOMENSENEWS)–Mexico’s federal government in 2007 passed a domestic violence law to protect victims, created a national anti-violence commission and appointed a special prosecutor to rein in gender abuse.


Yet, these efforts have been "ineffective," said outgoing federal legislator Maricela Contreras, who heads Congress’ gender equality committee, in a recent statement.


More than half of all Mexican states, for example, have not yet put the domestic violence law into effect, said Yuriria Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Mexico City-based National Citizen’s Observatory of Femicide in Mexico, a network with affiliates in 17 states.


In addition, activists say that the national commission is an expansion of a local agency that did little to resolve homicide investigations in Juarez, the border city whose unsolved murders of more than 400 women has drawn international notoriety.


By turning the Juarez commission into a national body, the Interior Ministry is only drawing attention further away from the violent city, where many of the killers still roam free, the citizen’s observatory said. Authorities, however, say that more than half of Juarez’s serial murderers have been caught.


Activists also worry that the special prosecutor for crimes against women has no real power to resolve murder cases.


Femicide Cases Nationwide


Special prosecutor Guadalupe Morfin defended her office, saying that while murder is not a federal crime, she has worked tirelessly to aid state-level investigations and has resolved more than 100 human trafficking and disappearance cases.


"We are the only prosecutors of the Attorney General’s Office that have the specific experience and focus on victims’ rights. It’s a model that works to empower victims and one where a team of psychologists, social workers and lawyers work in coordination" with investigators, Morfin said.


Morfin acknowledged that female homicides are not a problem exclusive to Juarez, citing the central state of Guerrero as having the highest murder rate–5 of every 100,000 women–and Mexico State as having the largest number of murders. But she also says there are signs that the cases are beginning to diminish: In 2007, killings of women in the nation dropped to 1,083 from 1,298 in 2006.


Activists say actual numbers are much higher than reported.


Mexico State–a collection of crowded suburbs that surround Mexico City–has become a flashpoint for female homicides that, by some counts, overshadow the wave of murders in Juarez.


Murders Steadily Increase


Since 2005, over 650 women have been brutally murdered in Mexico State–many of them raped and mutilated. The number has increased steadily to 176 cases in 2008 from 26 in 2001.


Few of the criminals have been brought to justice; only 12 percent have been convicted.


Like Juarez, the murders in Mexico State often occur in areas of mass migration where solid social networks have not been formed.


Low-income Mexican families looking for work in nearby Mexico City settle in shanty towns on the outskirts, which often lack paved roads, street lights and police presence–precarious conditions that may contribute to gender violence.


But unlike the serial killings associated with Juarez, many murders in Mexico State are carried out by family members. The state has the highest rate of spousal abuse in the nation: 52.6 percent, according to a 2006 National Statistics Institute survey.


Adriana Cabrera, a prosecutor who has been assigned to deal with the rising female murder rate in the state, says she has managed to increase the proportion of solved cases to around 50 percent in one year from 35 percent.


Arresting the killers, however, has proven more challenging–31 percent have been detained.


Cabrera says it’s unfair to draw parallels to Juarez because Mexico State’s 14 million people make it the most populous in the country, and therefore bound to have more murders.


She conceded, however, for a state of that size there are "insufficient" prosecuting investigators.


Nacha Cattan is a journalist based in Mexico City who has covered women’s issues for several news outlets. She can be reached at [email protected] .

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