No End in Sight for Mexico’s Deadliest Pandemic
By JESSICA GUERRERO
MORELIA, Michoacán — In recent weeks in Mexico, the national news headlines have pointed to the same issue: the growing numbers of missing and murdered women throughout the country. This social phenomenon is on the rise, with 969 gender-based murders of women last year alone.
The first cases of mass femicide in Mexico that captured the world’s attention took place in the early 1990s, when numerous murders of women came to light in the north of the country, in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, bordering the city of El Paso, Texas. Most of the victims had something in common: They were all women in their early 20s who worked in factories located on the outskirts of the city, a few kilometers from the border wall that divides Mexico from the United States.
At that time, the mortality rate due to homicides in the country was relatively low, so this situation scandalized Mexican society. The number of victims was then estimated at 300 annually, however such figures to date are still uncertain as the remains of some of the women reported missing at the time were never found.
The cause of all these femicides was never concrete for the local authorities. It was initially mentioned that these murders were related to satanic rituals performed by a local cult.
Subsequently, the theory of an alleged serial killer was announced. However, many questions and inconsistencies arose in this regard as it did not seem like a realistic and believable hypothesis given the peculiar circumstances around these crimes.
However, in 1995 the Mexican authorities presented a detainee, accused of 20 murders of women in Ciudad Juárez, among whom were young women who worked at local in-bond factories and also some sex workers. His name was Abdul Latif Sharif, best known by the Mexican media as “The Ripper of Ciudad Juárez.”
Latif Sharif was an Egyptian citizen living in Mexico. With his arrest, the Mexican government was able to turn the page and close that chapter of gender-based murders. Or so, it thought. But the femicides in that city did not stop after Latif Sharif’s arrest.
Between 2000 and 2017, 34,846 women were murdered in Mexico because of their gender. Ciudad Juárez ceased to be the epicenter of femicides and the problem spread throughout the country. And although the statistics presented by the Mexican government implied that the murdered women were collateral damage of the so-called Drug War, launched by former President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa in 2006, the facts disproved that claim.
These victims did not die in clashes between criminal groups. They were someone’s mothers, wives, daughters and students whose lives were taken in many cases by people close to them, and in other cases, they were brutally murdered by unknown assailants.
In a country where an average of 10 women are murdered daily, impunity prevails in 51.4 percent of reported cases. It is also estimated that a high number of cases are not reported to the police by the families of the victims due to different factors such as fear of retaliation, skepticism to the government’s credibility and a lack of information.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has not implemented any effective plan to face and eradicate this social crisis, and instead has applied cuts to the budget of organizations such as the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women (Conavim) whose mission is to promote care and prevention of violence against women.
During the second year of the covid-19 pandemic, cases related to violence against women went up. So much so that 2021 was the deadliest year for women in modern Mexican history with a total of 1,004 cases, according to official data.
And although López Obrador recognized this increase in the rate of femicides and reiterated his commitment to address this problem, the actions of his government have been scarce and gender policies do not seem to be a priority to his administration, since they were not included in the National Development Plan.
On March 8, International Women’s Day, it was announced that feminist groups and relatives of victims of femicide and forced disappearance from all over the country would gather in Mexico City to demand justice for victims in front of the National Palace. The response of the presidency to this announcement was to anticipate this protest by walling off the surroundings of the building and placing hundreds of security guards around it, giving the protesters the cold shoulder and minimizing their legitimate demands.
Despite the fact that femicides are an epidemic that has spread to all corners of the country, there are eight states that have the highest rates of femicide: Morelos, Sonora, Quintana Roo, Colima, Jalisco, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa and Chiapas.
The urgent need for the Mexican government to develop and implement a plan to eradicate violence against women in all its forms is evident and undeniable. The lukewarmness and disinterest with which femicide cases have been handled by this and past administrations has created the perfect conditions for this type of crime to prevail and grow, taking advantage of the omnipresent impunity and corruption in the Mexican justice system.