By Alice Driver
JUÁREZ, Mexico- The legend “Respect our lives” was written in green letters on the naked back of a woman. Another raised a purple flag that said: “Why are you killing us? Stop the disappearance and femicide! ” On April 24, 2016, thousands of women and girls marched for six hours through the streets of Mexico City to protest against gender violence. They sang: “We want to live”, a phrase that has become the cry of a generation of women.
According to the National Observatory of Feminicide Citizen, a coalition of 43 groups documenting feminicide, every day six women are murdered in Mexico. Femicide often involves sexual violence and is defined as the murder of a woman based on misogynistic ideas such as honor, shame and the control of men over women’s bodies. In other words, it is a term that recognizes sexual motives in this type of homicide.
During the march, the women demanded that members of public institutions, such as the judicial system, have the obligation to attend workshops on gender violence. They proposed mechanisms to combat sexism, and demanded equal employment opportunities and the end of economic violence.
In Mexico, violence against women has long been used as a political tactic linked to the highest levels of power. In 2006, when current President Enrique Peña Nieto was governor of the State of Mexico, he ordered the police to suppress a protest organized by flower vendors who were prohibited from working in the city of Atenco. The police arrested, tortured and brutally raped 11 women. The case was recently taken by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has requested an investigation into the participation of Peña Nieto and other officials.
The border city of Juarez is especially notorious for the increasing abuses of rights against women. From 2008-2012, Juarez was one of the most violent cities in the world. In 2010, the city had a criminal record of 3,622 murders. When I was in the city in 2013, I spent a few days with the red-note photojournalist Lucio Soria, who works for the newspapers PM and El Diario. I sat next to him with his computer on my knees, checking his collection of photos. In one of them, a man’s head-with perfectly groomed mustache and hair-had been cut from the body and placed on the edge of a bridge. In other photos I saw pieces of the leg, the torso and the arm of the man scattered along the way. Another showed a bloody corpse lying on the ground partially wrapped in black plastic, and in front of this a cat with white and orange stripes walked behind the legs of a group of policemen dressed in black. I continued to review the photos: a head placed next to a torso without arms, bodies cut and trimmed as if they were part of an art installation, naked women lying on the street with messages written on their skin, men thrown into the dunes along of a highway.
The international media often depict that period of violence as a mystery. In Juárez, citizens link the killings to the military occupation of the city in 2008, when former President Felipe Calderón sent 7,000 soldiers and 2,000 federal police to put an end to the violence caused by drugs. Since then, these soldiers and police officers have been implicated in a series of human rights violations against girls and women.
On December 29, 2009 the members of the army kidnapped the young Rocío Irene Alvarado Reyes, 18, in her own home. His mother, according to a report from the Washington Office for Latin America, witnessed the entire event, who with the rest of his family reported to the Attorney General’s office. However, the authorities refused to process an official complaint. The family has persisted, and despite meetings at the municipal, state and federal levels, there have been no hard efforts to locate Rocío, who is still missing. The accusations filed by the women and their families involve soldiers and police officers of varying rank, including crimes such as rape, sexual harassment and enforced disappearance.
The government has continually resorted to violence against women to control and intimidate them. It is not a by-product of other violence, but rather an accepted practice within state institutions that almost always goes unpunished.
In recent years, government institutions in some states in Mexico have brought the perpetrators of femicide to justice, but data and political will are still needed to adequately track their occurrence. For this reason, the activists, mainly the mothers of the victims, continue to play an important and visible role in holding the State accountable for the continued violations against women and girls. In Juarez, in the last two decades, mothers have built and maintained crosses and informal monuments to mark the places where their daughters were kidnapped. Walking through the city is experiencing the living memory of the disappearance. The faces of girls and women connect a physical space with a site of violence.
According to the Mexican photojournalist Julián Cardona, who has been reporting from the city during the last two and a half decades, “it is important to know and study what is happening in Juarez. It is important to find equivalents in industrialized societies and developed countries because Juarez is not an isolated case, it is a symbol “.
“WE DID NOT FEEL LISTENED”
The K-NTONA is a feminist collective formed in 2016 in Juárez by a group of young people who took over an abandoned house in the center of the city. K-NTONA derives from the term “canton”, slang of the border for the word house, and ends with an “a” to denote the feminine. Above the main entrance of the house, the women painted: “Vivas nos queremos”, a version of the song used by activists across the country to protest against violence against women. In Juarez, the slogan is associated with demonstrations against the disappearances and murders of women, which have lashed the city since the early 1990s.
Approximately twenty members of La K-NTONA listened to my questions and agreed on a collective statement about the origins of the group: “it is a response to the context in which there is strong violence against women, particularly in the spaces and circles of social movements, artistic and cultural where most women do not come and where we do not feel or heard, or considered and even some came to be violated. ” The activists wanted to create a space for women to explore the possibilities and benefits of being able to meet, talk, organize and feel safe while doing so. The space is open to all women, cis and trans, who wish to use it for cultural events and activities related to the life and well-being of women.
“I WAS AWAKENED DESPERATE”
“She went to work on a Friday, March 3, 1996 and did not come back anymore,” said Doña Catita, sitting in her patio in Juarez, surrounded by plants and flowers. “They looked for her in a hotel. The boy who killed her took her to a hotel and they caught him while carrying her loaded to get rid of the body. In the news they said that it was a disgrace, that she was at the hotel taking drugs. “Catita continued,” I argued a lot with the prosecutor, I told her what to do, but he killed me, if he had left me beaten I would have healed her And she said, ‘But she’s violent, she kicked him’, but he killed her, because it was such a terrible thing to lose a daughter but it’s over and God has given me a lot of strength. “His daughter’s murderer was sentenced to eight years of jail, but was released after four for good behavior. “Why did not they notify me? I had been free for three weeks when I found out, “said Doña Catita.
“A BAD IMAGE”
Kristian Lopez, 26, owner of the Shop Urbano hairdresser, has a tattoo in English that says: “Life is a dream. Death is waking up “When I asked him if he and his friends were talking about violence against women and femicide, he replied:” Look, no, that was in the I forgot several years ago, I only stayed with the family and that I listened to when I was a child. Between us they almost did not go, it was more the people from outside that filled Juarez with bad reputation “. I replied, “But I from outside.” Juarez residents often distrust foreigners because they feel that the international media has given the city a bad image, and that much of the information presented lacks nuances.
“NO POLITICAL WILL”
Dr. Julia Monárrez Fragoso, professor and researcher at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Juárez, began collecting and analyzing data on femicide in January 1993 and has counted a total of 1,604 victims of feminicide in the last 23 years. Girls and women, he said, continue to disappear because “the political will is to do nothing so that this atrocity ends”. Part of the problem, said Monárrez Fragoso, is that the victims are mostly poor, marginalized girls and women, whose lives do not interest those who have political power: “I have never heard, on the part of public officials, a sample of indignation, a commitment to gender justice that leads to declare: this will end. ” Unfortunately, There are few reliable statistics on the disappearance of girls and women in Juarez because government officials have never prioritized the tracking of such violence. Academics such as Monárrez Fragoso, Marcela Lagarde and de los Ríos have played a key role in defining and codifying the term femicide in Mexico and have been working for decades to get the government to formally recognize femicide; however, they have had little success and almost no response.
“SHE REMAINS LIVING”
“Every time I share my daughter’s story I feel that she lives,” said Paula Flores, whose daughter María Sagrario González Flores disappeared on April 6, 1998. María Sagrario’s body was finally discovered in a vacant lot in Juarez, and It was evident that she had been raped and murdered. Since then, Paula Flores has been dedicated to preventing violence against women in the city. She, her daughters and other mothers of victims paint black crosses on a pink background around the city in places where girls and women have disappeared or been killed. Today, the hundreds of crosses and candles around the city are disturbing; while Paula, who was repainting crosses when I visited her in July 2016, told me: “These crosses are my responsibility. I want people to see them because I am aware of their iconography and meaning. ” Flores has spoken with governors and presidents, and has witnessed the pace of legal and institutional change in the prevention of violence against women: it is measured in decades. On July 3, 2016, while we were sitting in her living room, Paula told me: “The government has not yet done anything to address the inconsistencies in my daughter’s case.”
Alice Driver is a photojournalist and author of “More or Less Dead: Feminicide, Haunting, and the Ethics of Representation in Mexico” (University of Arizona Press, 2015). His multimedia work has been published in The New York Times, Univision, The Guardian, Oxford American, Vice and The Texas Observer.
[Photo courtesy of Alice Driver]