I have written before of how dangerous it is to be a woman in Mexico. Estimates show that 34,000 women were murdered between 1985 and 2009. In July 2012 Amnesty International presented a report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women criticizing the Mexican government for failure to adequately address the situation. The report’s author, Rupert Knox, wrote:
“In the last few years, Mexico has enacted a number of laws and created institutions designed to protect women from violence. However, a large part of the problem lies in the weakness of its institutions and the non-application of these laws.” Knox urged the Mexican government to show “a stronger commitment” to protecting women’s rights.
The report also stated that during 2009 there were nearly 15,000 reports of rape in Mexico; although, given the reticence of women to report this crime, Amnesty estimates that the true figure could be as high as 74,000. The organization has also noted that women activists are particularly vulnerable to attack, especially if they work against gender violence or human rights abuses. Sadly, they often do not receive adequate protection from the state.
Examples of this are numerous. Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, who campaigned tirelessly for the prosecution of her daughter’s murderer, was killed on the steps of the Government Palace of Chihuahua City in December 2010. Norma Esther Andrade, founder of Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa, has received death threats since 2002. In 2008 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered the Mexican government to protect her and three other female members of her organization. Even so, Andrade was shot in December 2011 outside her home in Juárez City, Chihuahua. Hospital workers forcibly discharged her a few days later, even though Andrade still required medical attention, because of ongoing threats they had received for treating her. Andrade subsequently moved to Mexico City, but could not escape her persecutors. In February 2012 they attacked her with a knife at home. Thankfully her injuries were not serious, but she has had to leave Mexico to remain safe.
Margarita Guadalupe Martínez, an activist for indigenous rights from Comitán, Chiapas, has been under threat since 2009. In 2012 Margarita complained about an illegal search that agents of the local police had conducted at her home. Since then she has received numerous death threats via telephone and letter; presumably originating from members of the police. In late June, as she was preparing to leave to attend a CEDAW conference in New York as part of a contingent of Mexican human rights activists, she received a written threat pasted to her door in which the authors styling themselves “The Power” stated:
“In this matter you have two options. First, you leave the country. Second, you publish this letter and you are a dead woman.” It warned her that, were she to take the second option, “neither the state prosecutor’s office, nor the police, nor the national and international human rights organizations will be able to help you.”
Situations like these make it quite clear that campaigning for human rights is a high risk occupation. The women who do it risk their lives daily. Furthermore, it is also clear that the Mexican authorities are incapable of protecting them and, in some cases, actually engage in threatening behavior themselves. How many more women (and men) need to die until Mexico’s politicians realize that they cannot fix the situation merely by passing more and more legislation? Written legislation can never work until the ability to break laws with impunity comes to an end.
Cath Andrews is a professor of Mexican history.