On September 8, 19-year old Mara Castilla was reported missing after getting in a car using the ride-sharing app Cabify. A week later, her corpse was found. Authorities determined the young student of Political Science had been raped and strangled by her driver.
This horrific case highlighted a disgraceful reality that a vast number of women throughout Mexico and Latin America face on a daily basis: the imminent threat of being assaulted or murdered solely due to their gender.
According to the National Citizens’ Observatory on Femicide, approximately seven women are killed in Mexico every day. The entity with the highest absolute number of murdered women was the State of Mexico, with 263 cases reported in 2016. Ecatepec, a municipality of the aforementioned state, was the country’s femicide capital, with 39 in that same year. Although these are official figures, many NGOs believe the number to be higher as a vast number of cases are not reported at all.
The roots of femicides
In a country where violence against women has become the norm, the increase of femicides should come as no surprise.
Researchers from the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico have pointed out in a 2010 report that the three main causes for murders against women are misogyny, jealousy and domestic violence.
The academics argue that the majority of these crimes occur in an environment of high poverty and are perpetrated or suffered by individuals with low educational attainment.
What laws and public policies have been implemented to tackle the issue?
Although there were several initiatives that sought to establish the legal equality between men and women as well as to prevent any gender-based discrimination, it was not until 2007 that a law that specifically dealt with violence against women was implemented. The General Law on Women’s Access for a Life Free of Violence established that federal and local governments would coordinate to prevent, punish and eradicate violent acts committed against women. It also provided the legal framework for the creation of different programs that aimed to stop such violence. Some of the government’s agencies that have received federal fund to tackle feminicides were the Secretariat of the Interior, the Secretariat of Social Development and the Office of the General Prosecutor.
Regardless of all these efforts, Mexico has been unable to stop the killings. Some of the reasons why this has been the case can be found in poor justice procurement, a chronic lack of capabilities by the institutions responsible for implementing these policies and not enough financial resources. The first of the aforementioned causes is quite telling: between 2002 and 2016, less than 20% of violent murders against women were reported as femicides.
Awareness As A Key
One of the recommendations included in the 2016 Violence and Femicide in Mexico report was declaring as national interest all information related to preventing, addressing and sanctioning violence against women. Acknowledging the facts might hold the answer to this tragedy.
There is something fundamentally wrong when a woman who has been mutilated, burned, strangled, raped, tortured and/or murdered ends up taking the blame. Once the crime has been committed and questions or comments such as “Why did she have to go to that place all by herself?”, “Why was she dressed like that?”, “She should have known better” and their many other variants emerge, we perpetuate a cycle of violence against Mara and the thousands who have shared her fate.
They deserve better.