Police fired shots to break up a protest this weekend, directly injuring two women and harming others through the resulting chaos. The decision to fire at a protest against the violence of women (VAW) has, naturally, generated considerable outrage. The police fired air shots when the female activists attempted to remove the barricades blocking the entry into City Hall. Videos posted to social media after the incident depict chaos as protesters run for cover.
Mexico’s interior ministry, as well as President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, responded to the incident, both calling for a thorough investigation into the incident. The governor of the state of Quintana Roo, Carlos Joaquin González, was the most vocal in his condemnation of the chain of events, saying that the demonstrators suffered “intimidation and repression.” He told Televisa news that he had personally given orders that there should be no weapons and no aggression towards the VAW protesters. He further claims that the chief of police ignored his orders and should be suspended.
The demonstrators were protesting VAW following the recent murder of two women in Cancun. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Gender-based killings of women, often termed ‘femicide,’ is extremely prevalent in Mexico, and anger at its increasing presence has fueled countless demonstrations all over the country. Just a couple of months ago, tens of thousands of women took to the streets for mass protests on International Women’s Day. In February, demonstrators marched through inclement weather in response to a series of gruesome murders and the insensitive media coverage that followed. The women’s rights advocates have not always been law-abiding in their protesting. They have repeatedly turned to pointed vandalism, spraying graffiti on government property and destroying a vehicle belonging to a newspaper that published uncensored grisly images of a victims’ body along with the headline “It was cupid’s fault.” Maria de la Luz Estrada, the Coordinator of the National Citizen Observatory of Femicide and a prominent political figure, believes that the demonstrators’ radical action stems from their outrage following “…decades of indifference and widespread impunity… [and the fact that] they have never been listened to.”
Latin America is home to 14 of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world. With an average of over seven female homicides per day, Mexico has sixteenth-most incidents globally. Last year (2019), 3,825 women were killed in Mexico, a 7% increase from 2018. This rising trend appears to continue, as April of this year was the deadliest month in the last five years with a record 267 murders of women. Given this, the 2020 numbers are set to surpass last year’s. Shelters are also reporting a sharp rise in the number of Mexican women fleeing domestic violence, a situation likely exasperated by COVID-19’s preventative measures that mandate or encourage home isolation. In this context, the fact that 77% of Mexican women report feeling unsafe is not all that surprising. These statistics paint a problematic picture for women’s rights and, more broadly, human decency in Mexico.
As for the impunity that Maria de la Luz Estrada described, one does not have to look very far to find truth in her assertion. 98% of gender-related killings go unprosecuted, depriving devastated individuals and families of justice. Data on femicide only began to be collected in 2012 and is still non-existent in some states. Irene Tello Arista, the executive director of the Zero Impunity Organization, believes that this reality reflects systemic discrimination and prejudices held by Mexican authorities that make taking legal action undesirable and unsuccessful.
Government actions have done little to quell this unfortunate reality. In 2020 alone, the Government’s measures have been misguided and counterproductive. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in response to the current pandemic, launched a swingeing austerity program that featured severe cuts to government programs, including those working to combat VAW. There was also a 75% budget cut for the federal women’s institute and state funding withdrawal for non-for-profit women’s shelters.
In a widely criticized political gaff, the president claimed that 90% of calls to emergency services over VAW were “false.” In reality, this statistic comes not from the calls’ falsity but from the fact that many of these calls are cut short or do not lead to a resolution. Moreover, emergency service statistics reinforce VAW’s rising nature with a record number of calls to 911 services by women. In another misguided move, the government launched a series of public service videos on how to prevent VAW during the stay-at-home-order prompted by the pandemic. The videos advised people to count to ten slowly and take out a white flag of peace.
Unfortunately, the issues that women face in Mexico cannot be fixed with a white flag. This problem is severe, and its rising trend necessitates an urgent targeted strategy. Mexico needs specific mechanisms and increased services that can offer refuge to those in danger. The murder of over seven women and girls daily cannot be met with budget cuts and counting to ten. Additionally, protests over this terrible reality should not and cannot prompt gunshots and violence by police. The protesters should be seen for what they are—a cry for necessary change. How many more women will die before this change occurs?
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