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From Mexico to India: the need for new paradigms to eradicate gender based violence

The rankings of the worst countries in the world to be a woman usually list Yemen, India, Pakistan, Chad, Syria and Iran. Oddly, Mexico is not among them. Español

Graffiti in Mexico City with the words 'No More Femicide'. Source: Wikimedia Commons. All Rights Reserved.

It is beyond comprehension that Mexico is not included in the rankings of the world states which do not provide equity, development and security to its female population and in which women find themselves in a disadvantaged situation of vulnerability.

This is indeed a baffling omission since in Mexico, the equity gap in these spheres is still significant and, above all, because the level of gender violence there is overwhelming. Unequal levels of literacy between men and women, dissimilar access to the labor market, sexual harassment and other alarming aspects such as female genital mutilation, child marriage, human trafficking and other expressions of gender violence are some of the factors that are taken into account for including a country in these rankings.

India, for example, is included primarily because of the issue of female infanticide and rape. In India, to counteract infanticide, it is forbidden to carry out tests to determine the sex of a baby during pregnancy.

This is so, because giving birth to a boy is traditionally more highly valued than giving birth to a girl - so much so, that when a boy is born celebrations go on for ten days, but if a girl is born there is no celebration whatsoever. Within certain social sectors, linked to the convention of a dowry, women are considered an economic burden. All of this results in a situation where the female population has been reduced.

In addition to this, the city of New Delhi has been dubbed Rape Capital due to the high levels of this particular crime in recent years. In 2012 the media and society’s attention was caught by an episode of gang rape on a city bus, the victim a young woman who was travelling with her companion.

This gave rise to numerous protests demanding an end to these types of aggressions – for which, in many cases, the aggressors do not show any repentance because they say that since a woman should not be away from home at night, if she is raped, it is more her responsibility than that of the rapist.

Impunity, corruption, domestic violence, lack of equality education: these are some of the factors determining the wave of aggression against women that are dragging the country down.

Mukesh Singh, one of the aggressors who was interviewed by the BBC, explained that the fact that the girl resisted her rape also made her responsible for the beating she received - the girl, according to him, should have accepted the rape without resistance, and so they would not have beaten her until she died an "accidental" death.

While this is clearly a warning of the risks women face in this far-away country, geographical distance is simply non-existent between the minds of an extensive male sector of the population in different regions of the world. In many cases, the aggressors’ ideas resonate with opinions of different social sectors that hold women responsible when they are targeted.

In Mexico, the spectrum of gender violence is broad, but its plainest form is femicide, which has become an entrenched reality which transcends authorities and civil society. Impunity, corruption, domestic violence, lack of equality education: these are some of the factors determining the wave of aggression against women that are dragging the country down.

The current scenario is nothing less than the normalization of violence, particularly that of a major aggression: femicide. Although this is the most exacerbated form of violence against women, attitudes towards this sector of the population reveal a wide range of expressions, from subtle to conspicuous, which contribute to undermining the female figure, and detracting her value as a person and a human being.

In the domestic sphere, for example, unequal access to education for daughters and sons pervades in some social contexts, and even a differentiated treatment resulting in the subordination of daughters and sisters. Additionally, in many Mexican homes, girls are sexually abused by family members and acquaintances. These abuses usually go unreported because they are painful and embarrassing for the family and even more so for the girls who suffer them - not for those who commit them. As they are tolerated, this type of violence becomes invisible.

Misogynist attitudes are to be found not only in conservative or low literacy circles. Negative behavior towards women in supposedly progressive sectors takes the form of questioning their intellectual capacity or of harassment in academic milieus and workplaces. This comes to show that machismo and gender based violence is a problem permeating all social spheres, even though in some social sectors they manifest themselves in starker ways.

In this sense, the connection between poverty/social marginalization and gender violence has been studied in some detail. In the case of India, it has been found that conditions of economic precariousness favor a climate of domestic violence. This becomes more evident if one takes into account that poverty can be considered economic violence in itself.

These conditions, which are commonly found within every society, do not undermine the aggressors’ responsibility, but they define the environments which are more conducive to the reproduction of male violence.

Likewise, this does not imply that perpetrators of gender based violence exist only in deprived social sectors, but rather that poverty and marginalization are factors influencing the incidence of gender aggression, for they trigger processes of social decomposition through resentment and feelings of deprivation that generate outbursts which hurt the most vulnerable sectors of the population, namely women and children.

So, tackling the underlying problem involves thinking about the economic and social paradigm as an element that must be transformed, for an economic model based on the marginalization and exploitation of a large number of individuals fosters a climate of dehumanization. In order to address the problem of violence against women, we should thus think of ways to reverse a systemic structure that generates "pariahs" with exacerbated feelings of frustration who can become potential aggressors.

With regards to the particular case of femicide, it is not a coincidence that Ecatepec, one of the places with the highest levels of violence against women, is a municipality in the State of Mexico (the federal entity, not the state itself) which is drowning in economic deprivation and where femicides are on the rise, committed as much by partners as by strangers and organized crime.

In addition to registering high levels of gender based violence, Ecatepec is also a place where extortion, kidnapping, and robbery prevail - that is, high rates of crime. All of the above generate a toxic amalgam affecting the quality of life of the population.

Femicides happen in a climate of extreme brutality. Between 2005 and 2011, 1997 women were murdered in Ecatepec – a higher number than in Ciudad Juárez, which attracted international attention a few years ago and where femicide was responsible for 1530 deaths between 1993 and 2014.

Research conducted by Flacso Mexico reveals that femicides are carried out mainly in urban peripheral contexts - that is, in places which are marginalized in social, educational and economic terms.

In other words, in the State of Mexico the number of femicides in six years exceeded those registered in a 20 year period in Ciudad Juarez. In 2017 alone, 300 femicides were reported there. As journalist Humberto Padgett has pointed out, what femicides show is a society in a state of decomposition that kills its own women.

They are not committed by a serial killer with a sadistic deviation, but by many individuals who exercise and develop violence as part of their everyday life. Research conducted by Flacso Mexico reveals that femicides are carried out mainly in urban peripheral contexts - that is, in places which are marginalized in social, educational and economic terms.

Another phenomenon associated with the increase in violence is the redefinition of gender roles. In our society today, a new type of masculinity has been defined as a result of the presence of organized crime and drug trafficking.

This new masculinity, which is fond of waste and ostentation, scorns a humble and modest life as shown by the young assassins who claim to prefer a life of luxury and violence. Women are one among the luxuries these men aspire to, and they view them as just another "possession" which can be had. Congruent with that obtuse mentality of seeing themselves as owners of the women in their environment, they look for ways to keep them under control – it is their decision if they live or die.

What makes the taking of so many women’s lives possible are the high levels of impunity. According to the University of the Americas Global Index of Impunity in Mexico (IGI-MEX) for 2017, impunity in Mexico characterized 69.84% of reported murders – the ominous first place in the ranking by states was for the State of Mexico, with 80.02%.

When there is no punishment for a large percentage of those responsible, the perpetrators of the aggressions receive the message that their criminal acts will not be sanctioned. In this sense, through sheer incompetence, irresponsibility and impunity of all the parties involved (judicial police, experts, public prosecutors, state and federal governments) have contributed to the fact that femicides have become a true epidemic in Mexico, where seven women die a violent death each day – out of a total of twelve in Latin America.

Trivializing the crisis with arguments such as more men than women are dying, or that it is not that more women die but that information about their death is more disseminated, prevents it from being seriously addressed and stops us from implementing the necessary measures to control it.

In addition to the inefficiency of the institutions, the blame has often been placed on the women themselves for provoking this violence - not only by the police and public prosecutors  but also by relevant figures from the church, politics, or other social sectors who make irresponsible statements and end up stigmatizing women by questioning their moral integrity and sexual behavior.

Gender violence in a global context has a shared multifaceted character being linked to impunity and poor equality education, so fighting it requires developing public policies aimed at social transformation.

Such malicious arguments match the mentality and the rhetoric of the perpetrators themselves in India, Mexico or elsewhere in the world. They do not contribute to solving the problem nor do they explain it by saying that if they got killed it was because their skirt was short or because they went out at night instead of staying home.

Staying home is not the solution, particularly since according to figures provided by the World Health Organization, 38% of the murders of women worldwide are committed by their partners – at home.

Gender violence in a global context has a shared multifaceted character being linked to impunity and poor equality education, so fighting it requires developing public policies aimed at social transformation. Preventively, equality education that challenges prejudices should be endorsed, promoting the unlearning of macho attitudes even in their most subtle form.

There is also an urgent need to implement non-exclusive economic policies aimed at incorporating large numbers of marginalized young people who have opted for criminal activities and a violent and irrational type of masculinity.

Operatively, it is necessary to combat impunity and reverse the current message about leniency of these crimes. Although we may speak of gender based violence, this is in fact a generalized crisis - it is a matter of social justice.

It cannot be seen as a private matter, for it is fueled by factors such as marginalization, economic inequality and inequity, the increase in violence by organized crime, new ways of understanding gender roles and poor education. Only a broad perspective can deliver a real solution to this emergency.

About the author

Beatriz Martínez-Saavedra es historiadora y se dedica a la investigación sobre Asia del Sur y México. Es también profesora de historia de México y de lengua en distintas instituciones en México.

Beatriz Martínez-Saavedra is a historian and a researcher on South Asia and Mexico. She teaches History of Mexico and languages in several institutions in Mexico.


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