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GUATEMALA / MEXICO
Feminicides on the rise
Miriam Ruiz
4/25/2006
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Governments of both countries demonstrate their incapacity and lack of interest in preventing female genocide.

The number of women who are brutally killed in Mexico, particularly along the borders, and throughout Guatemala has showed no signs of slowing.

Authorities can no longer look away from the problem, but their few efforts have done little to console the families of women who have been violently mudered, or the other women in these communities, who feel unsafe in the street, at work or in their homes.

The frequent murders of women are a phenomenon recognized by governments in Guatemala and Mexico, but both countries continue “their silence, omission, negligence and collusion of authorities in charge of preventing and stopping these crimes,” said Mexican Rep. Marcela Lagarde.

Lagarde introduced in Mexico the term feminicide, meaning genocide committed against women, based on the term femicide, or murdering a woman for gender-based motives, coined by US feminists Jill Radford and Diana Russell and in the 1990s.

“Feminicide is when the state offers women no guarantees and creates no conditions of security for their lives in the community, at home, not even in work or recreational areas. Even worse, authorities do not even do their job efficiently,” Lagarde said.

Juarez: the emblematic case
According to local government data, since 1993, some 380 women have been violently killed in the city of Juarez, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, which until 2000 was considered Mexico’s clothing factory capital.

Estimates by local and international civil organizations, including Amnesty International, however, say otherwise: more than 430 women have been killed and 4,000 disappeared, according to their counts.

The chilling murders of women in Juarez, a city of 1.5 million, have become the subject of numerous books, films and studies and the phenomenon has received worldwide attention.

But feminicide in Mexico is not specific to Juarez. In the state of Mexico, 300 women are killed each year, according to an ongoing investigation by a special congressional commission in 11 of Mexico´s 32 states.

After Juarez, Guatemala has received the most notoriety in recent years as the country´s femicides increased both in number and cruelty. In 2005, there were 640 cases of murdered women — 113 more than in 2004 — according to figures of the Presidential Women´s Secretariat. Most cases also included signs of violence and torture. Bodies were mutilated or dismembered, information from the National Civil Police has shown.

In the last five years, more than 2,230 women were violently killed, say official figures.

What do the victims have in common?
The common threads linking the Guatemalan and Mexican cases are the victims´ poverty and their failure to speak up. In Ciudad Juarez, they were assembly plant workers, poor women, migrant women, who feared for their lives. In Guatemala, many were housewives.

The Center for Legal Action on Human Rights and other Guatemalan organizations say that 40 percent of the women killed to date were housewives.

Authorities credit these heinous attacks with organized crime — drug-traffickers in Mexico and youth gangs in Guatemala — but husbands, boyfriends, and male bosses are not discounted.

Guatemalan feminist organizations say that the Public Ministry has failed to launch a full-scale investigation, as it still lacks personnel and training, so it cannot determine whether these women had a direct relationship with gang members, alleges the Center for Informative Reports on Guatemala.

Investigations progress slowly
Victims´ relatives and human rights organizations accuse both governments of being uncapable and uninterested in solving these cases or preventing new ones.

After several years of national and international civil campaigns, the Mexican and Guatemalan governments are taking the first steps to combat femicides.

A special public prosecutor´s office was installed in Juarez in 2004, and another was created in mid-February at the federal level to deal with these crimes.

The Special Prosecutor´s Office for the Crimes Related to Acts of Violence against Women, reporting to the Attorney General, is headed by the former regional director for the World Organization against Torture, Alicia Elena Pérez Duarte.

For its part, Guatemala´s Presidential Secretariat on Women created the Specific Commission for Addressing Femicide, which will help the state develop strategies to eliminate this horrifying trend.

But because of slow advances by the Mexican and Guatemalan governements, victims´ families are putting their hope, instead, in the international legal system.

Such is the case for Evangelina Arce. In March, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission admitted the case of her daughter Silvia, who was seen for the last time in Juarez on March 11, 1998.

“This is very important for me, to get to this point,” she said. “It has been eight years and no one is doing anything. I really liked to know that [the case] is now over there.”


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With lax police investigations, the Juarez killings go unpunished. (Photo: Erika Cervantes)
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