Dying Because They Are Women Femicide/Feminicide: Extreme Gender Violence
There is no country or region in the world where women are not in danger of being killed merely because they are women. Femicide (or feminicide, as the murder of women is termed by some authors, like Mexican feminist Marcela Lagarde) is finally in the spotlight. As U.S. scholar Diana Russell’s groundbreaking work explains, women of all ages, educational levels, social-economic backgrounds, races/ethnicities and sexual orientations may be the eventual victim of this extreme form of gender-based violence.
While femicide is committed around the world, the terrible cases in Mexico (most notoriously in Ciudad Juárez) and in Guatemala have captured public attention. In these two countries alone, hundreds of women have been killed just in the past few years. Like an epidemic, the killings of women have spread throughout Mexico, more proof that no region or area is exempt from this sort of violence, which has only recently been acknowledged as a specific form of gender violence.
In 2006, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights held a hearing on “Feminicide in Latin America” in the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the Organization of American States. A report presented at this hearing expressed the Commission’s great concern regarding the murders of women in various parts of the region. The report explained that, regardless of their age, ethnicity, kinship and the specific characteristics of each country, these women’s deaths share a common cause: the unequal power relations between women and men, which generate situations of greater vulnerability and place limitations on women’s ability to enjoy their human rights, especially the right to life, personal integrity, freedom and due process.
Our lead story for this issue’s Focus section is “An Inventory of Feminicide in Ciudad Juarez.” In this lengthy and well-documented article, Mexican researcher Julia Monárrez Fragoso looks at the reality of the deaths of women in this Mexican border town. With statistics and vivid descriptions, she examines the social and institutional responses to this terrible situation. As a companion piece, we include the recent report, “A Look at Feminicide in Mexico: 2007-2008” prepared by the Observatorio Ciudadano Nacional de Feminicidio (OCNF, National Citizen Feminicide Observatory), a coalition of organizations working to contribute to the detection of feminicides. In this effort, the OCNF developed a database with statistics on five states in the north, six states in the central and lowlands regions and two states in the south of Mexico.
We also include an interview with Giovanna Lemus, a sociologist from Guatemala, who talks about the Law Against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence Against Women recently approved in her country, which defines the gender-based murders of women, sexual violence and economic violence as crimes. The ratification of this law is a huge triumph for the women’s organizations and networks that have been championing this cause in Guatemala for many years now. From 2000 to mid-2008, some 3,500 cases of femicide have been registered in this country, and most of these crimes continue to go unsolved.
Finally, we feature an article by Chilean lawyer Patsilí Toledo, who examines the process that has led to the promotion of legislation to punish this serious crime in her country. While the situation in Chile is different from that of Mexico and Guatemala, the increasing incidents of violence deaths among women underline the need to take action in order to prevent an escalation of the phenomenon.
Few countries our region, and indeed the world, have laws that specifically describe and define violence against women, let alone legislation that sanctions femicide as a crime, as is the case in Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica and, now, Guatemala. While such laws are undoubtedly a step in the right direction, words have little meaning without real social and cultural change to end the terrible and longstanding history of discrimination and violence against women and girls merely because of their sex.