#JusticiaPara_____: Gender Violence, COVID-19, and Hope in Mexico
On March 26th, 2020, Hugo López-Gatell, Mexico’s top epidemiologist on the COVID-19 pandemic, urged citizens to remain home during the initial March 23rd to April 19th social distancing initiative. Although a necessitated measure in the elusive effort of flattening the curve, Mexico had been simultaneously combatting another fatal pestilence, who’s mortality rate had not been taken into account before enforcing a lockdown– femicides.
Diana Carolina Raygoza paid the price. She was a third year law student at la Universidad Autónoma de Nayarit (UAN) with a promising future, but on the evening of May 24th, at 21 years old, Diana was brutally murdered in her own home.
There were 39 individual stab wounds found on her chest, abdomen, and neck. On the wall, next to where her body was found, the letters “SL” were drawn with Diana’s blood. After a surge of pressure from folks all throughout Mexico, Diana’s cousin has been apprehended and is suspected to be responsible. She was home alone. She was following quarantine. She should be alive today.
Leonila De la Cruz Pacho paid the price. Not 24 hours after the femicide that ended Diana’s life, Leonila was also found by her husband, bleeding to death within her home. She was an indigenous woman, and mother to a one-and-a-half-year-old child.
Her body showed signs of rape. In her final moments, Leonila was able to identify her neighbor as her assailant, who has since been detained. He entered her home through a window, under the influence of alcohol and some crystal substance, only to rape and kill Leonila. She was following quarantine. She should be alive today.
They were not alone, or walking in the dark, or drunk, or wearing revealing clothing, or at a club; Diana and Leonila were following safety precautions, and simply living. There is no excuse or rationale to explain their murder, or the 7,404 other women that have fallen prey to femicides between 2012-2016, and every woman since. In Nayarit alone, from January to April of 2020, La Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana (SSPC) has reported 308 femicides. However, this number is, sadly, most likely underreporting the death toll. This account also fails to include any lives lost due to femicides in the second trimester of 2020, when the pandemic-induced quarantine began, and as seen with Diana and Leonila, gender-based violence, in Mexico against women dramatically increased.
Outcry denouncing the normalcy of gender-based violence in Mexico is present, but remains mitigated and silenced by many factors. Despite data indicating that during the first month of mandated quarantine, calls and texts to hotlines for help against domestic violence jumped by 80%, or that calls to 911 from women, seeking help against family violence, sexual abuse, and child abuse also increased, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) chose to publically reject the alarming statistics during his morning televised briefing on May 19th, 2020. He acknowledged the potential rise of domestic violence against women and children during the period of quarantine, but attributed inapplicability of the conjecture to the distinction of Mexican families and values, in comparison to the rest of the world. Furthermore, AMLO called for a return to normalcy where Mexican families carried these experiences out into the world with them. In a country where 50% of the populace lives in poverty, in tandem with heightened domestic violence encounters, quarantine as an economic, mental, and societal experience was deeply traumatic.
Any hope for citizens to engage in a world that operates on a contemporary, and admittedly warped, definition of normal, is rooted in a capitalist pedagogy of progression. To demand an efficacious present that persists with casualties, suffering, hunger, and hurt in its wake, is founded on a premise of erasure, and led in ignorance. By failing to acknowledge the potential deep psychological damage within survivors of the pandemic and quarantine alike– especially women who braved spaces with their abusers, those who in compliance to rules of the state existed in a space of danger where their lives were reckoned with, those who lost mothers, friends, and sisters, and so many other intersectionalities– the government is failing to center the needs and realities of their nation.
Put simply, since the first reported case of COVID-19 in February, more Mexican women lost their lives to gender-based violence than to the virus, and given that 93% of crimes in Mexico go unreported, as of 2018, recognizing that justice is not being served becomes blatantly discernable. While both Diana’s and Leonila’s assailants were found, a national uproar that most victims never receive was required, leaving many tragedies and women expunged from the public eye. Yet, lives are lost, families are broken, and hearts are forever mourning– all unaccounted for.
Albeit the discouragement from a state that refuses to be liable for its people’s livelihood, in the face of infringement, women and community allies have fought and continue to fight for a better, safer, and more equitable Mexico. On March 9th, 2020 a historic manifestation of resistance occurred. An amalgam of women from all classes, races, and economic stratifications throughout Mexico joined forces, in their absence, to realize the #UnDiaSinNosotras movement (A Day Without Us).
Women did not attend school, or work, or visit grocery stores, or make meals for their family, or answer texts. In all senses of the word, they were unavailable to the state and society. This physical boycott was precipitated by the violent femicides of 25-year-old Ingrid Escamilla, who was found in Mexico City, murdered, skinned, and divested of her organs, and that of 7-year-old Fatima Cecilia Aldrighett, who was kidnapped from her elementary school and later found dead, wrapped in a plastic bag outside the capital.
Sabina Berman, Mexican novelist and feminist, recounts that frustration, exhaustion, and the search for a dialect that would be piercingly intelligible were the genesis of Dia Sin Nosotras. Bermam relates the moment in which she and other organizers,“ turned to each other and asked, ‘What else has to occur for this to change?’” They devised a complete inverse of the protests that had been occurring, mostly led by the younger generation who had grown tired of passive activism that yielded no resolution for their grievances. Instead of taking to the streets, this anti-demonstration intended for Mexico to imagine a present and future bereft of all women. #UnDiaSinNosotras was projected to cost the Mexican economy 1.370 billion dollars. With a president that has only shown support for the general plight of all protestors, by acknowledging the right to organize, this fiscal pushback became a powerfully wielded weapon against the state. For women in Mexico, polarity and extremity were and remain necessary tactics, as stagnancy in an effort to mitigate public disapproval is not only unfeasible, but a violent retrograde within itself. Governmental disregard for an alarming death toll demands action.
While the Mexican government provides hotlines for women experiencing violent situations, community organizations work to support women in areas where structural deficits necessitate aid.
These organizations blanket a wide array of needs: from structural change to psychological help, these groups’ services are vital to the sustenance of Mexican women.
For example, Equis: Justicia Para las Mujeres, is a feminist organization, founded in 2011, that seeks to transform both laws and society’s politics, in order to increase access to justice for all women. They actively work for justice that acknowledges and centers the intersectional identities women hold, and how the relations between their gender, race, ethnicity, class, disability, migratory status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other factors uniquely shape individual livelihoods. EQUIS’ areas of work are intentionally broad– ranging from sexual assault to intercultural justice to women, prison, rehabilitation, and drug politics– in order to best honor the intentions of their platform. Founded on the pursuit of novel approaches to gender violence and anti-discrimination with a focus larger than the penal system, EQUIS strives to identify, call attention to, and abolish the structural reasons for these injustices. Given that ambiguity of intent and integrity runs rampant in Mexican power structures, EQUIS prides themselves on transparency with all projects, which is specifically noteworthy as they work closely with victims, but, more saliently, governmental institutions.
While the work of organizations like EQUIS that focus on policy with the state is necessary, grassroots initiatives by and for the people are equally as important. Observatorio Ciudadano Nacional del Feminicidio (OCNF) exemplifies these efforts. They are a conglomerate of 43 NGOs from 23 different states, whose mission is to generate an accessible and common form of documenting femicides.
OCNF also pushes for sensitivity to victims of human rights violations, gender violence, and femicides in the legislative and public policy spheres, urging for laws to be made with the objective of pursuing justice in mind. Both goals are realized by and for people, with the ultimate intent being the advancement towards a future free of violence for Mexican women. On their Twitter, OCNF frequently documents statistics and advocates for femicide cases, which might otherwise not be made visible to the public, assuring that stories, names, lives lost, and injustices do not go effaced by the state.
The gamut of support provided by non-profit organizations does not stop there. Asociación para el Desarrollo Integral de Mujeres Violadas provides psychological and legal services to women who have been victim of a sexual infringement or fear they will be. Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir fight for a larger reckoning of socio-cultural norms, beliefs, and values to establish a respect for the moral authority of women and their rights. They specifically provide assistance to women who have been victims of sexual violence or are pregnant. Casa Gaviota works to detect violence afflicted within families and against women. By no means is this list exhaustive. On the contrary, it merely scratches the surface on the necessary cooperative work that organizations and community members are accomplishing every day.
While statistics, articles, and organizations compose a large part of the conversation around femicides and women’s issues, we must remember to center and uplift the narratives of the women this affects directly. The pivot of this piece is G, a young woman from Tepic, Nayarit who knew and went to school with Diana.
In an interview with Latina Republic, G shared some of her experiences as a student, activist, and arguably most influential, a young woman in Mexico. When asked about her impressions on justice for women who have been victims of violations to the mind, body, and spirit, she replied:
“Well, as a law student, and aspiring lawyer, you realize more and more the foulness and inefficiency of Mexico’s penal system: of the institutions, the prosecution centers, of everything truly. Truthfully, it is not the government’s fault if we are harassed or killed, it’s society’s, but in terms of pursuing justice they really are incompetent.”
G then shared this video of one woman’s experience in the prosecution centers. She explained that this woman’s husband was a police officer, and he wanted to kill his wife. The staff at the center told her it was because she was not pleasing him sexually as she should.
“I have heard from so many that when you tell them you have been sexually abused, that you are being hit, or a million other things, they never take you seriously. They tell you it’s normal, that you are doing something wrong. That you are on the streets all the time, or working, or ask you why you were not putting food on your table. They judge you, but there shouldn’t have to be insurmountable proof for them to believe you. They just don’t believe you or think of how this reaction could be harming people.”
In concert with the work non-profit organizations do to create a better Mexico and reimagine the nation’s state, G shared her thoughts on what a future Mexico that stems from feminist efforts might look like and her role within this work.
“In the long term, I want to dedicate myself to doing work within prosecution centers, specifically, in the department of violence against women. I think everyone who is studying law does so because we want to make change, and everyone laughs at us because they know what the system is like in Mexico– you can’t really do much. However, in the hope of change happening, this is why I joined the movement. If there is an injustice that needs to be spoken about, we will no longer stay silent. We are going to fight for every woman, whether we know her, be she our friend, whatever age, we are going to fight for her until justice is served. Things cannot be like they were before.”
“For example, when we were fighting for Diana there were so many women who never met her. We made WhatsApp and Facebook groups to create a virtual and physical demonstration. We were all very moved; #JusticiaParaDiana was trending on Twitter.
People were editing pictures of her, uploading messages. All of Mexico, but more notably, all of Tepic was sharing [the images]. Seeing the face of somebody you knew was very difficult. Seeing everywhere that somebody decided it was okay to kill her, simply for being a woman. We will keep fighting for her, and for Leonila, and for every woman that has been killed.”
“Ever since the protests that we were able to organize for Diana, I became aware of the power we have. How we could raise a city in a day, create a demonstration. They would say, ‘I would rather have a virus kill me, than to one day have some dude decide he wants to.’ This is why we fight for Justice for Diana.”
“To your question about how my Mexico has changed with this movement, there is a Facebook group called ‘Vivas Nos Queremos Todas’, and there are like 22,000 women there. They expose if someone was harassed or if there is an abuser, and, for example, when all this Diana stuff happened they made WhatsApp groups for the different neighborhoods in Tepic. For example, my neighborhood has one. It helps a lot, because, for example, if I am in the area and a man begins to follow me, I can simply text the group and then nearby women open their homes or offer help. We have to take care of each other.”
However, as hopeful as the contemporary mobilization for women’s rights is, the frustration and fear that has been inculcated into so many women remains present. G reflected on these feelings.
“Honestly, I don’t think anything will change in the foreseeable future. I don’t see this getting better in 3 years, or 5 years. This is a country that moves slowly when it comes to change. Very, very slowly. So, I think that the only way that this will change, and we can achieve a new scene, is through manifestations. But, not peaceful protests. Literally, what is being done right now. Protests where we break everything, we burn everything. This is the only way that we are heard, the only way that we are seen. Criticism does not matter anymore, or when other people say these protests are not legitimate. The way they kill women is not legitimate either. It has become clear that authorities only react to force and things like this. So, I guess this is the only solution I see right now. In reality, talking to the government or making protective groups is not going to solve deaths.”
“However, I do have hope in the women around me. I feel that we saw that we could be very organized. We made so many group chats for the protest for Diana. Literally, we all put in our phone numbers, made groups, and then made smaller groups based on neighborhoods. We did this all on Facebook, Twitter, because we had to share so much with the hashtag (#JusticiaParaDiana), to be heard! Be it the situation that it is, whether we are in quarantine or not, we will make ourselves heard, and knock down anything in our path– just like the Mexican national anthem says. We realized that, regardless of the situation that it is, we are going to fight.”
During the interview, G shared a moving piece: Canción Sin Miedo by Vivir Quintanta ft. El Palomar. This song became the anthem for women who condemn the ways their lives have been infringed upon, yet choose to rise and fight for a just Mexico.
G spared no praise in describing the saliency and power of Cancion Sin Miedo, sharing with Latina Republic that listening gives her goosebumps every time. I, alongside G, urge you to listen, even if you do not understand Spanish; the pain and valor in these women’s voices transcends all language barriers.
For G, and so many other young women in Mexico, the words sung are not simply lyrics, but a reflection of a life they did not choose and are tasked to lead. A life of fear, of mourning your classmates, of being expected to flourish under the subjection of omnipresent patriarchal dominance, of not being believed, a life of extraordinary quotidian resilience, a life where unabashedly existing another day is beautiful insurrection. There is no denying that Mexico has work to be done in restructuring the systems that have miserably failed these young women. Maybe the answer is funding community resources. Maybe the answer is governmental accountability for negligence. Maybe the answer is a societal reckoning of machismo. Maybe the answer is a larger activation that abolishes all oppressive systems, and allows the aforementioned solutions to arise.
Regardless of the indefinites, the power in reimagining a future of change and possibility is indisputable. Fueled by exhaustion, motivated by hope, the plight of Mexican women and those fighting alongside them, must be actively centered if true progress is the attempt. Just Thursday, June 25th, 2020, yet another femicide was reported. This time her name was Ana Karen. She was 18 years old, shot by her partner, and tragically passed away in hospital care. Does there have to be another headline with the name of someone’s daughter, mother, sister, friend to demand productive action?
We are in the midst of a global civil rights appraisal. With femicides, police brutality, Black liberation, and oppression of the marginalized at the forefront in Mexico, time is indispensable. Every passing day where change is not made, another opportune 24 hours teeming with potential and afflicted injustices to the communities around us passes. For the sake of every Diana, Leonila, Ana Karen and in hope of another world, Mexico must choose to act now.
Kenia Garcia-Ramos | Pomona College
Kenia is a rising sophomore at Pomona College, where she is double majoring in ChicanX-LatinX Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies. Born and raised in Southern California’s Inland Empire, Kenia is the proud daughter of two Mexican immigrants. Her father, from Tepic, Nayarit, and her mother, from Apatzingán, Michoacán, taught her to always honor her roots and brazenly embrace her Xicana identity. In her research, Kenia is most interested in unpacking the framework of ChicanX-LatinX caretaking, within nuanced spheres and contexts. As a Latin American Correspondent, she plans to champion gender-focused and feminist issues, creating space for some of Latin America’s most overlooked livelihoods and narratives to be uplifted. Kenia could not be more excited to contribute to Latina Republic by working in tandem with individual folx and NGO’s to (re)count their stories, as every voice deserves a place to be heard.