On May 24th, 2020, Diana Raygoza, a Mexican university student in Nayarit, was stabbed 39 times in her home and found dead. Based on the evidence authorities have been able to gather in the days following her murder, they are almost certain that her very own cousin, Victor Emmanuel, is responsible for this tragedy. Investigators even report finding “recipes” for murdering and eating women in Emmanuel’s private journals.
Raygoza’s murder, however, is not a rarity within her country. Approximately ten women are killed every day in Mexico. Three months ago, I was completely unaware of the tragedies that were occurring right across the United States-Mexico border. I had never heard of Ingrid Escamilla, whose partner allegedly skinned and killed her. I had never heard about the seven-year-old girl, Fatima Aldrighetti, whose body was found inside a plastic bag, after being tortured and sexually abused. I had never heard the term femicide before learning of these murders and many others.
The World Health Organization defines femicide as the “intentional murder of women because they are women.”
What’s important to remember is that in the case of femicide, the killer is often a family member, boyfriend, or other acquaintance of the victim. According to The Center for Strategic & International Studies, more than 40 percent of these victims know their killer. That being said, these murders are often brutally violent.
Mexico is just one among a handful of countries in Latin America that have been experiencing severely high rates of gender-based violence for many years now. The rise of femicide cases in the past year has left many Mexican women fearing their lives and those of their children. This is not simply an issue of being scared to walk home at night: there is general fear and uncertainty in simply being a woman. Following the gruesome murders of Fatima Aldrighetti and Ingrid Escamilla back in February 2020, women across Mexico participated in an enormous protest on March 8th, known worldwide as International Women’s Day.
Following the demonstrations on March 8th, women all over the country took part in a walkout from their jobs and schools. These brave women did so in honoring the movement’s hashtag #UnDíaSinNosotras – in English: #ADayWithoutUs. The protests of March 8th and the nationwide walkout of March 9th were meant to challenge the government’s apparent indifference and lack of action in relation to the growing cases of femicide in Mexico.
Mexican government data shows that in the first four months of 2020, already 987 women have been killed. And in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, gender-based violence hasn’t slowed a bit; in fact, it’s only gone up. Since stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, calls to emergency hotlines have skyrocketed, and cases of domestic abuse and femicides have increased. Mexico’s president, however, claims that a substantial portion of the emergency calls is false, and he continues to downplay the seriousness of this situation. According to CNN, there were 267 femicides within Mexico in April 2020 alone. That is a frightening number.
Why do such horrific acts of violence against women continue?
In order to really understand this issue, you need to look at the social, economic, political, and educational systems of society. Perhaps a good starting point would be understanding the history, meaning, and implications of the term machismo.
To put it simply, machismo is linked with the male gender and masculine identity. The term implies an embodiment of certain “inherently masculine” qualities such as strength, power, dominance, control, and virility. However, machismo has an immense negative connotation. In some instances, it can be used to describe a man who views women as sexual objects and has dominance over the women he associates with. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough time to discuss the many layers and historical elements of machismo. It is, however, important to note that its existence in Latin American culture fuels an unsafe, unstable idea of male superiority over women.
Research by Vicki Colbert at the University of San Francisco demonstrates the link between the historical and cultural implications of machismo to structural violence. Colbert’s graduate thesis explores the distinctiveness of machismo to Latin American culture and its overlaps with the concept of hegemonic masculinity. For those unfamiliar with the idea of hegemonic masculinity, R.W. Connell describes the phenomenon as the practice of legitimizing a dominant male position in society over women and other men perceived as being “assimilated into femininity.” In this sense, male dominance is institutionalized in social, political, and economic structures. Femicide in Mexico, therefore, is directly linked to state institutions and the history of greater female involvement in society, namely in the economic and political spheres.
Think about it. Men are traditionally viewed as being the providers for their families, and women are traditionally perceived as being caretakers. When more women begin joining the workforce and contributing to their family’s income, the inflated importance of the father’s financial contribution is seen to be in jeopardy. Men see the addition of women to the workforce as a precarious move to the stability of their own jobs and titles as breadwinners. This is not a phenomenon that is exclusive to Latin American culture: this is a common trend among any patriarchy. The principle behind the rejection of women into the workforce and lack of equal pay is really quite simple: those in power do not want to give up their power.
Ending femicide by reshaping Mexican society and culture overnight is not a feasible solution to our problem. What needs to improve in Mexico are their impunity rates. Impunity is the exemption from punishment or any consequences of an action. This essentially means that people are not properly prosecuted and tried before the law. Underreporting and unreliable data relating to femicide cases in Mexico is another state issue that is getting in the way of eliminating this problem.
The Mexican government needs to improve security for its citizens. They need to implement policies that address the gender-based violence that is ravaging their country. Laws need to be enforced. Authorities need to take this issue seriously. We need to educate ourselves and others on this issue. We need to support organizations that are actively working with Mexican women to provide safer environments for them.
As a United States citizen, I feel it is of utmost importance that we show compassion, support, and solidarity with our neighboring countries. Today I ask that you educate one other person about femicide to raise awareness because the voices of Mexico’s women need to be heard.
My thoughts and prayers are with all of the women of Mexico. #NiUnaMenos