Hello! This month’s edition covers the crime of femicide in Mexico. Femicide is the killing of women because of their gender. Previous newsletters on Ukraine are available here and here; and Israel-Palestine, here. As usual, let’s start with some stories from the past month.
In the news
First, a must-listen podcast about tax-filing in the United States. I know, I know — it sounds dull, but it’s equal parts fascinating and infuriating. The podcast focuses on TurboTax’s scheme to cheat users out of money, which is an indirect result of the US government making tax filing the exclusive province of private enterprise. (The link is for Spotify; on other apps look up “Reply All” episode #144, 'Dark Pattern’)
Second, an article on the dangers of the US engaging in proxy warfare with Russia in Ukraine. The US has vocally committed itself to helping Ukraine “win” the war against Russia — but it so far remains unclear what “winning” means in the eyes of US policymakers.
Third, a fascinating profile of a man who is competent in at least 24 languages. Vaughn Smith is a so-called hyperpolyglot, a person who speaks more than 11 languages. Smith’s brain scans reveal that the language-processing areas of his brain require less oxygen than the average brain, meaning his brain is more efficient at using these areas.
Essay: Impunity for Femicide in Mexico
Two months ago, on March 7th, hundreds of women marched on Mexico’s national palace in an International Women’s Day protest against a persistent culture of violence against women. The most disturbing manifestation of this culture is the increasing numbers of femicides in the country. Femicide is, according to the United Nations, “the murder of women because they are women[.]” So, like a hate crime motivated by the race of the victim, a femicide is motivated by the woman’s gender. As with racially motivated hate crimes, motivation is determined by circumstantial factors, like signs of sexual violence.
Just a month after the Women’s Day demonstration, an 18 year old woman named Debanhi Escobar disappeared while spending the night in a roadside motel outside of the northern city of Monterrey. About two weeks later her body was found in an abandoned water cistern by the motel. No one is sure, for the time being, what happened to her. And if the investigation plays out as it usually does, her death will remain a mystery. For it is now the norm that investigations into the disappearances and deaths of women in Mexico deliver no conclusions, much less convictions for crimes.
A United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances released a report this past month describing the severity of the problem of disappeared persons across Mexico. The Committee’s press release highlighted the fact that:
“The alarming trend of rising enforced disappearances [is] facilitated by almost absolute impunity. As of November last year, only a very small percentage of cases of disappearance, between 2 and 6 per cent, had resulted in prosecutions, and there ha[ve] been only 36 convictions handed down in cases at the national level.”
The impunity surrounding disappeared persons is mirrored by the impunity enjoyed by those who kill women. Between 2018 and 2019 there was a 10 percent increase in femicides, with 1,006 such cases in 2019. (And, of course, when we include the killing of women for other reasons, the numbers are even greater, totalling around 3,500 killed last year.) Despite growing awareness of the issue, the number of femicides has remained around 1,000 per year, prompting harsh criticism of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s failure to do anything besides speak dismissively about the problem.
This continued negligence of the Mexican state recently prompted Amnesty International to conduct detailed research on the problem of femicide in Mexico. Mexico is party to the Belém do Pará Convention, which requires the country to prevent, punish, and eradicate femicide. The central argument of the report is that Mexico fails to meet this responsibility and thus violates its citizens’ human rights.
Amnesty points out that this is not the first time this charge has been leveled against Mexico. In 2009, the Inter-American Court ruled that Mexico had failed to do due diligence in preventing and investigating the crime of femicide. The court declared that:
“judicial ineffectiveness when dealing with individual cases of violence against women encourages an environment of impunity that facilitates and promotes the repetition of acts of violence in general and sends a message that violence against women is tolerated and accepted as part of daily life.”
Unfortunately, as the recent killings of women in Mexico have shown, little has changed since the 2009 ruling. On the contrary, as the numbers reveal, the crime of femicide has become more prevalent. The recent International Women’s Day march is a response to this fact. Protests such as these are attempts to send the message that the government won’t: violence against women will not be tolerated as a part of daily life.
In a recent interview, the Mexican-American author Cristina Rivera Garza was asked about the seemingly relentless problem of femicide. Rivera Garza insisted on the importance of pushing the government to fulfill its duty of protecting women from violence. But along with this, she echoed the goals of other Mexican feminists, saying:
“It’s important to keep our eyes wide open and to be very alert against these narratives that translate the acts of violence against women with the language of crimes of passion. Patriarchy says that women are always to blame; that’s why we have to fight it, because that’s the dominant language of the society in which we live.”