Foreign Policy Blogs

No End to Femicide in Ciudad Juarez

by Cordelia Rizzo

In 2010, more than 465 women were murdered in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, most of them after being raped and severely tortured. They were the latest victims of the nearly 18 years of systematic killings of women in the city, which have claimed more than 1,052 lives. In the past two months, two of the main pillars of the struggle to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice were murdered themselves.

Marisela Escobedo, who was fighting for the persecution of her daughter’s murderer, was chased and gunned down at plain sight in front of the governor’s office, where she was leading a protest. Less than a month later, Susana Chávez, a poet who coined the phrase “Ni una más (Not one more death)”, was tortured, killed and left in the street with her hand severed.

These women acted courageously despite being abandoned by the state. They have become symbols both of the responsibilities of citizenship and of the perils of standing up to power. They were in touch with the most pressing problems Mexico because they were directly affected by the lack of progress in transforming general attitudes towards women and the state’s ongoing forgetfulness of the working class. Both spoke about it as loudly and openly as they could.

These women have combined their passion with great intelligence and sagacity. Marisela Escobedo tracked down her daughter’s killer, Sergio Barraza, and played the part of crime scene investigator and detective prominently during his trial—something the authorities would not do. Even after Barraza had confessed to the murder of her 16-year-old daughter Rubí, three judges acquitted Barraza due to “lack of evidence,” just to convict him a week later in the appeal. By then, he had already fled. Escobedo located Barraza in the state of Zacatecas, only to find that neither state nor federal authorities were keen on enforcing a warrant for his arrest. She continued to put pressure on federal and state authorities until the day she was gunned down, purportedly by a shooter who is an enforcer in the cartel to which her former son-in-law apparently belongs.

Susana Chávez lent a recognizable voice to the crusade to solve Juarez’s femicide since 1995, when more bodies appeared in the desert, expressing the general situation of degradation and aggression to women through her poems. Three teens outside of a convenience store, who were unknown to her, invited her to continue drinking at their place the night she was (allegedly) raped and asphyxiated, stand accused of the crime. Her body was found close to her home.

These ongoing killings underlie a cultural atmosphere which exposes young women to aggression and highlight that the state is doing little to counter it. This is not limited to Ciudad Juárez. Estado de México, which is the neighboring state to Mexico City, is a place where gender violence combined with drug violence has escalated in the past years, and is perhaps even worse than Juarez. After these murders, female protesters now cover their faces, both to protect themselves and to represent the humiliation that the victims, their daughters and friends, have endured. The future of activism in Mexico is grim: A few days ago, the house of Malú García Andrade, who leads NGO Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa, was burned down while she was protesting.

Cordelia Rizzo holds a master’s in philosophy from the University of Leuven and works on promoting minority rights at Nuevo León’s Human Rights State Commission.