Discarded Women: Gender Based Violence in Mexico

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Mourners singing hymns and carrying caskets is a common sight in Mexico. The rate of violence against women in Mexico is staggering; on average, ten women are murdered every day while tens of thousands of women go missing.[1] In the city of Ciudad Juárez alone, over four hundred women have been brutally murdered in the last decade.2 In this blog post, I will argue that this violence is rooted in beliefs about typical gender roles and that gender based violence is interwoven with organized crime in Mexico. Further, I will discuss whether the Mexican government is addressing the issue of violence against women with its social policy and programs.

Beliefs about typical gender roles for men and women is ingrained in Mexican culture. “Machismo” is the idea that men are superior to women and that women are seen as property.3 In this machismo culture, men assert their superiority through violence and emphasize the aggressive parts of the stereotypical male identity.4 Women tolerate this abuse because they believe they exist in relation to their husband and must prioritize marriage and family above personal safety.6

Organized crime also plays a significant role in the high rates of violence against women in Mexico. Violence is directed towards women in gangs and between gangs.7 Drug gangs send messages to rival gangs by using the dead bodies of women.8 Macho culture is also evident in drug trafficking gangs, and this normalizes physical and sexual violence against women.9 Women and young girls also face sex trafficking by drug gangs in Mexico.10  Thousands of women are kidnapped each day and they are forced into positions such as prostitution, drug smuggling, etc.11

Many critique the Mexican government for a lack of a social safety net to protect women and promote gender equality.12[2] For example, the López Obrador administration tried to take away subsidies from shelters that supported women and their children who escaped violent homes.13 The lack of a social safety net was an even more pronounced issue during COVID-19.14  

There was a significant increase in the number of 911 calls during the pandemic regarding sexual and domestic violence.15 And yet, the budget for the governmental department that responds to violence against women was reduced by 73% in 2020.16

Violence against women exists at an unbelievable rate in Mexico. This violence is related to deeply rooted beliefs about gender roles and organized crime, such as drug and sex trafficking. There exists a macho culture in Mexico that places men at the top of the hierarchy and women as their subordinates. Women are at the center of the family unit and are made to prioritize their husbands. The Mexican government is criticized as not doing enough to protect women. The Mexican government is not creating financial safety nets for women to use so they can escape their violent homelife.

1 Laura Gottesdiener, Family Buries Mexican Teenager who has Reignited Anger over Gender Violence, Reuters (Apr. 24, 2022, 3:32 AM), https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/family-buries-mexican-teenager-who-has-reignited-anger-over-gender-violence-2022-04-24/.

2 Sarah Frances Gordon, Violence Against Women in the Developing World: Mexico and the Migrant Crisis, 26 Psicología Iberoamericana 1, 8–10 (2018), https://www.redalyc.org/journal/1339/133959553002/html/.

3 Redhanded, The Cartels Killing Women, (Feb. 18, 2021), https://podcasts.apple.com/tt/podcast/episode-185-the-cartels-killing-women/id1250599915?i=1000509647253.

4 Gordon, supra note 2.

5 Id.

6 Amelia Cheatham, Mexico’s Women Push Back on Gender-Based Violence, Council on Foreign Rel. (Mar. 12, 2020 8:00 AM), https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/mexicos-women-push-back-gender-based-violence.

7 Berenice Fernandez Niet & Mara-Katharina Thurnhofer, Weaponisation of Femalee Bodies: Violence Against Women by Cartels and Gangs in El Salvador, Hondurus, Guatemala, and Mexico, Security Distillery (Feb. 12, 2021), https://thesecuritydistillery.org/all-articles/weaponisation-of-female-bodies-violence-against-women-by-cartels-and-gangs-in-el-salvador-honduras-guatemala-and-mexico-kf2c6.

8 Redhanded, supra note 3.

9 Fernandez Niet and Thurnhofer, supra note 7.

10  Gordon, supra note 2.

11 Fernandez Niet and Thurnhofer, supra note 7.

12  Cecilia Farfán-Mendez, Why Gender Violence in Mexico Persists—And How to Stop it, Americas Quarterly (May 17, 2022), https://americasquarterly.org/article/why-gender-violence-in-mexico-persists-and-how-to-stop-it/.

13 Id.

14 Id.

15 Id.

16 Id.