November 21, 2003

Commentary:

Deaths of Mexican women reflect larger global crisis

By Yolanda Chávez Leyva

Just across the Rio Grande from el Paso, Texas, hundreds of women have been raped and murdered over the past decade. Some of the women worked for U.S. subsidiaries. And yet neither the Mexican government or our government is doing much about these assaults.

In a report released this summer, Amnesty International, the London-based human-rights organization, condemned Mexican authorities for mishandling the investigations of murdered women in Ciudad Juarez.

Over the past decade, more than 370 young, mostly poor women have been murdered. Mexican nongovernmental organizations have reported that more than 400 women are still missing.

Many of the murdered women worked in U.S. and other foreign-owned maquiladora plants, where thousands of women are subjected to low wages and often sexual harassment.

The 71-page Amnesty International report, “Intolerable Killings,” released Aug. 11, characterizes the failure of authorities to investigate the murders and disappearances as “blatant.” According to the group, authorities have unjustifiably delayed their investigations, failed to follow up with witnesses, provided incorrect information to families, falsified evidence and allegedly used torture to obtain confessions.

In the first years, authorities publicly blamed the murder victims, accusing them of dressing provocatively or being out late at night.

More recently, authorities have begun to blame the families of the victims, criticizing them for their efforts to find out what happened to their daughters and sisters.

Some of the families of the missing and murdered women have been harassed and threatened. One advocacy organization, Amigos de las Mujeres de Juarez (Friends of the Women of Juarez), reports that “actions against victims’ families have reached such an obscene level that family members are being investigated, tortured and forced to claim guilt for these crimes.”

This summer, Amnesty International met with families of the murdered women. Following the release of their report, Amnesty also met with Mexico’s President Vicente Fox to urge his government more closely supervise investigations.

The government recently sent hundreds of federal officers to Juarez to assist the local police in patrolling the streets. And according to the El Paso Times, the Mexican nation security adviser, Alejandro Gertz Manero, says that the federal police will continue working with local and state police “to make Juarez a safer place for women.”

Making Juarez a “safer place” for women is not simply a concern for the Mexican government, however. It should also be a prime concern of U.S. companies that operate there. And it should be on the agenda of the U.S. officials when they meet with their Mexican counterparts.

The impunity with which the women have been killed reflects something larger -- a fundamental disregard for young, mostly poor women worldwide.

Human Rights Watch, an international human-rights organization, reports that violence against women is rampant. The situation in Juarez mirrors the deplorable plight of women across the globe. The organization cites lack of police concern, hostile or unsympathetic police and biased prosecutors who fail to gather evidence among the difficulties faced by female victims of violence. These are not extreme cases, but represented in many countries.

We must demand justice for the murdered women of Juarez, as well as victims of violence in our nation and across the globe.

It is intolerable that women continue to be disposable, and that Ciudad Juarez’s murders remain unsolved. We must continue to demand that women be treated as full human beings, even in death.

We must insist on the humanity of the murdered women of Juarez.

Yolanda Chávez Leyva is a historian at the University of Texas at El Paso, where she specialized in border and Mexican American History. Se can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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