People outraged at the femicide crisis in Mexico City have taken to the streets to express their anger. The most recent wave of unrest began after the naked body of seven-year-old Fatima Cecilia Aldrighett Anton was found on the outskirts of Mexico City in a plastic bag.

Words by Joel Renouf-Cooke | News Print Sub-Editor

People outraged at the femicide crisis in Mexico City have taken to the streets to express their anger. The most recent wave of unrest began after the naked body of seven-year-old Fatima Cecilia Aldrighett Anton was found on the outskirts of Mexico City in a plastic bag. 

It happened just days after 25-year-old Ingred Escamilla’s body was also found in Mexico’s capital, skinned and mutilated. Activists gathered outside Mexico’s Presidential Palace earlier this month, accusing the Government of not doing enough to address the rising violence against women, which has risen to its highest level in 30 years. 

In a press release responding to the recent violence, Mexico president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador offered vague condolence to the families of the deceased, but distanced himself from the protesters outside the palace, referring to them as a “feminist collective” and saying that: “They oppose the moral regeneration we’re promoting. I respect their views but don’t share them. I believe we have to moralise the country, purify public life and strengthen cultural, moral and spiritual values.”

Responding to criticism regarding the inadequacy of his actions to stop the crisis he said:  

“I’m not going to give up my lifelong beliefs because they came and protested. We’re going to struggle to achieve a material change, a spiritual change.”

Daily indignancies against women such harassment on public transport, groping and violent attacks have become commonplace in Mexico with a burgeoning women’s rights movement forming to combat the crisis which many are now rightly calling a human rights catastrophe. 

These groups, calling for real action against increasing violent behaviour against women are protesting online, in the streets and are calling for a national women’s strike on 9 March in conjunction with International Women’s Day. 

In spite of the oppressive environment which women in Mexico are increasingly having to contend with, grassroots feminist activism is on the rise with many women becoming more ready to speak out against the structural misogyny within Mexico and the inept responses of many of the politicians and police officers whose job it is to defend them in society, and who have seemed, in recent years, to offer all too lacklustre measures to stem the violence. Many officials have tended in the past to be more concerned with controlling burgeoning feminist movements than the actual crimes against women. 

The strike, which is intended to include all women in Mexico as well as men who are supportive of the cause, is calling for women and girls to boycott schools, universities, workplaces as well as shops and the streets on 9 March. If it goes ahead it will match the 2016 “Ni Una Menos” (No one [woman] less) strike which saw over 200,000 people take to the streets in Buenos Aires in order to campaign against gender-based violence in the Americas after the murder of 14-year-old Chiara Paez, found buried underneath her boyfriend’s house on May 11, beaten to death and a few weeks pregnant. 

Much of the recent outrage has been directed at President Lopez Obrador who has been accused of “dragging his feet” when it comes to his attitude towards femicide in Mexico. When asked about the federal prosecutor’s proposal to get rid of the concept of femicide from the criminal code he responded by saying the issue “has been manipulated by the media”. He also seemed to get frustrated by the idea that the murders of female citizens could take attention away from his pet project of raffling off the presidential aeroplane, saying: “I don’t want femicides to overshadow the lottery.”

Women’s rights groups have criticised the wholly inadequate way in which Lopez Obrador has responded to the crisis; treating the deaths as a political and public relations issue rather than a crisis claiming the lives of women. 

“The message he’s sending women is ‘I don’t care’,” said Maricruz Ocampo, an activist in the state of Querétaro.

“They’ve all had the same attitude toward the problem,” she said. “This is a Mexican problem, not a women’s issue.”

Recent violence in the Capital has been especially grisly. 

Ingrid Escamilla, a 25-year-old woman, was brutally murdered by her husband then her corpse was skinned and disembowelled. A sensationalist newspaper then fuelled anger and unrest by publishing images of the body on its front page. 

Lopez Obrador responded to questions about the femicides by blaming a breakdown of moral and family values within the home as well as “neoliberal” policies over the last three decades. He also sought to shift the blame away from his administration onto his predecessors despite the fact that he has been heavily involved in the governing of Mexico City since 2000. 

Twitter users were quick to respond to López Obrador’s apparent lack of empathy and willingness to address a matter that many would see as a national emergency. 

Alejandro Juarez wrote: “In Mexico they are killing women. Ingrid Escamilla was one more among thousands and thousands. But our President cares more about his popularity and that’s why he downplays femicide. But that cannot be hidden, even if they promote hashtags to praise him. #JusticeForIngrid)”

Lopez Obrador came to power promising widespread change and social reform but despite leading the National Regeneration Movement, a left-leaning, social democratic party, he has been accused of promoting conservative ideologies and ignoring his electoral base.  

Janneth Moreno Argüelles, a representative within the Mexican lower-congressional House, had this to say of the President and his response to the crimes committed against women: “[These are] The words of a man who is unscathed by the dreadful consequences his government is causing. 

“A man who is totally indifferent to the safety of women and children and the health and well-being of Mexicans.”

Femicide is not only South American issue; in 2018, Femicide Census – a UK-based organisation dedicated to raising awareness about gender-based violence in the United Kingdom – found that during that year 149 women were murdered by 147 men, the highest number since records began in 2009. More than half of those killed, were attacked by their current or former male partner and more than 91% were killed by a man known to the victim. The youngest victim was 14-years-old and the oldest was 100. 

According to Femicide Census, men’s violence against women is a leading cause of the premature death for women globally and “identification of state failings, remembering and raising the status of women killed by men and seeing that these killings are not isolated incidents is the only way to reduce fatal violence against women and girls.” 

Ana Pandal de La Peza, a Sussex postgraduate student and vocal advocate for feminism and human rights through her organisation Genera – an NGO which seeks to raise awareness about violence and gender inequality through interactive content – spoke to The Badger about the femicide crisis, she said: 

“Femicide is a worldwide issue that is typically the result of antiquated power structures and the objectification of the female body. 

“However, Latin America has reached higher numbers when compared the rest of the world, something which could be attributed to the recent classification of femicide as a specific crime. But is more likely to be the result of colonial constructs on what being a woman means and how masculinity is exercised violently within the region.” 

She went on to explain the detrimental effects of the political responses to the crisis, explaining that: 

“In Mexico, according to the United Nations, there are at least 10 femicides every day, so it is indeed a severe national problem. 

“The response of the party in power has been absolutely inefficient and insensible. The President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has shown complete ignorance and lack of understanding of the gender perspective and feminist theory. This is reflected in incompetent and misguided response towards the problem.”

She described how, despite the currents Government’s obvious shortcomings, it is crucial to understand that policies of previous administrations are too to blame, stating that:

“It is important to recognize that this problem has been growing for years. Past administrations, including the Felipe Calderon administration and its infamous ‘War Against Drugs’, have complicated this problem in such a way that now it is impossible to find a linear and simple solution to it.” 

To any students or staff who would like to express their thoughts and feelings about the Femicide crisis, Ana Pandal, speaking on behalf of MexSuss, stated: 

“The Mexican Society at the University of Sussex is happy to facilitate spaces to discuss the problem whenever students feel like it is needed. We offer our ears and hearts to support those who are being emotionally affected by the recent escalation of the problem and the unfortunate coverage of the Mexican press, publishing highly violent images.

“I have worked directly with women affected by gender violence (as a part of my work with Genera) and invite any Mexican or Latin American students and staff to contact me if they need someone to speak to regarding this issue. My arms and my expertise on the subject are always at the service of anyone who is being personally affected by this or any other issues regarding gender violence.” 

[Image Credit: Carlos Rodríguez, ANDES, CC BY-SA 2.0]

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