from Frontera NorteSur

A caravan aimed at upholding women’s rights and stopping violence against women in Ciudad Juárez and Mexico is headed to the US border. Organized by Women in Black along with other women’s and human rights organizations, the caravan set off from Mexico City on November 10.

Prominent Chihuahua City women’s activist Irma Campos Madrigal spoke to about 100 people gathered in the Mexican capital as the “Exodus for the Life of Women” prepared to embark on its journey.

“The great distance between Mexico City and the old Paso del Norte is shorter than the breadth of impunity,” Campos said, “but never greater than the demand for justice for women murdered in the city in which el BenemĂ©rito de las AmĂ©ricas [Mexican liberation hero Benito Juárez], present here today, and the secular Republic, found refuge in during the 19th century.”

The Exodus for the Life of Women promotes a 10-point program which calls for finding missing women and clearing up murders, defending sexual and reproductive rights, advancing gender equality in the political system, demilitarizing the country, and ending military impunity in human rights violations against civilians. Women in Black and its allies are urging local legislatures in the states they pass through to codify femicide as a crime.

On the long road north, the caravan has stopped in several cities to hold public protests and document violence against women.

In the central Mexican city of Queretaro, caravan participants were present in a demonstration demanding justice for Maria Fernanda Loranca Aguilar, a 17-year-old local university student who was found murdered with signs of sexual violence in late October. At the Autonomous University of Queretaro, the caravaneers painted a mural that included the names of Ciudad Juárez femicide victims.

Reached briefly while marching near the border of San Luis Potosí and Aguascalientes, Chihuahua human rights lawyer Luz Castro told Frontera NorteSur the caravan would reach Ciudad Juárez on November 23, two days prior to the celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In Ciudad Juárez, caravan organizers planned to deliver a big bell constructed from keys collected over the years in memory of femicide victims, Castro said.

In Aguascalientes, the marchers faced down local police reluctant to allow the bell onto a section of the city’s main square, the Plaza Patria. Gathered in the city which was the scene of Mexico’s historic 1917 Constitutional Convention, mothers of murdered and disappeared women recounted their suffering and struggles.

“There is a lot of pain on this road,” said Norma Ledezma, mother of 16-year-old Paloma Angelica Escobar, murdered in Chihuahua City back in March 2003. “It is very tiresome, and our strength is extinguished,” Ledezma said. “Nonetheless, the position of a mother is that I am going to struggle until the end of my life to find the murderers of my daughter.”

Eva Arce, mother of Silvia Arce, who disappeared in Ciudad Juárez in 1998, also delivered a message of persistence and resistance. Arce pledged that the mothers on the caravan will aid all mothers of victims in the states visited by the caravan.

Surrounded by wooden pink crosses assembled on Plaza Patria, other speakers addressed violence against women in Aguascalientes. As if delivering a huge wake-up call to Mexico and the world, the bell lugged by the caravan rang out after each presentation. The event concluded with the singing of “Ni Una Mas,” the anthem of the Mexican anti-femicide movement.

As it nears the borderlands, the caravan retraces the route of a similar event in 2002, when Women in Black and others traveled from Chihuahua City to Ciudad Juárez in protest of the femicide. Now, more than seven years and hundreds of murders later, most crimes remain unpunished and the killing of women in Ciudad Juárez is at an all-time high.

The Exodus for the Life of Women coincides with a flurry of activity around the Mexico femicides on the international front. At a meeting in Washington, D.C. earlier this month, representatives of Mexican human rights groups requested that the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) once again send an investigator to Ciudad Juárez.

In 2002, the IACHR visited Ciudad Juárez and issued a series of recommendations to the Mexican government.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the European Parliament is expected to review any progress that has been made since the elected body passed a resolution two years ago calling on governments in Mexico and Central America to protect women from violence and sanction the perpetrators of femicide.

Also in November, all eyes are on Costa Rica, where the Inter-American Court for Human Rights could render a historic decision holding the Mexican state accountable for the slayings of Esmeralda Herrera Monreal, Laura Berenice Ramos Monarrez and Claudia Ivette Gonzalez. The three young women were found murdered in a Ciudad Juárez cotton field in 2001.

A recent report from Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission claimed that the three levels of the Mexican government [federal, state, municipal] spent tens of millions of dollars from 1993 to April 2009 in response to the women’s homicides. According to the federal agency, the money went for special prosecutors, new institutions and related expenses.

Despite the alphabet soup of agencies brought into the field, women’s homicides have broken all records in Ciudad Juarez this year. Through mid-November, more than 120 women were reported slain in the violence-battered city. Unlike previous years, when gender and domestic violence were clear motives in numerous killings, most of the crimes this year appear to be connected to the ongoing narco-war between rival cartels.

However, gender violence and gangland rivalries could be merging in an increasingly sadistic synergy. In mid-November, for example, two young women said to be in their late teens or early twenties were reportedly tortured and possibly sexually assaulted before being dragged outside of a house in the Senderos de San Isidro neighborhood where a party had been underway and then set on fire. The house in which the party was held was then torched in the fashionable style of warring gangs.

Because of indications of sex-related violence, the case was turned over to the women’s homicide prosecutor. Earlier, in October, the body of a beheaded woman was found on a Ciudad Juárez street. Four execution-style slayings of young women also bloodied Chihuahua City in November.

Differing statistics from Mexico’s National Defense Ministry and the Office of the Federal Attorney General report that somewhere between 3,726 and more than 4,000 women were slain in all of Mexico from December 2006 to October 2009. Domestic violence was blamed for the vast majority of the killings, but there was a clear trend of organized criminal activity as the culprit of crimes.

Some officials even attributed murders to human traffickers who killed victims resisting sexual exploitation. Mexican states registering the highest number of women’s murders were Mexico, Baja California, Chihuahua, Guerrero, Tabasco, Veracruz, Chiapas, Jalisco, Tamaulipas, Michoacan, and Sinaloa, in that order.

Notably, because of smaller overall populations, violence against women was higher than average in the northern border states of Baja California, Chihuahua and Tamaulipas.

In a new book, Ciudad Juárez sociologist Julia Monarrez Fragoso explores the various causes and patterns of gender violence in her city. Among the roots of violence, Monarrez contends, are an industrialization based on existing gender and class discrimination, localized cultures of violence, drug trafficking and organized crime and, above all, the lack of rule of law.

According to Monarrez, “The demands for justice by relatives, by organized groups of women and feminists have not been heard by the State.”

Commenting on the Exodus for the Life of Women, Chihuahua state legislator Victor Quintana wrote that Women in Black is attacking “apathetic attitudes, numbed consciences and normalized perceptions that the murders of women are something ordinary.” The November 2009 caravan, Quintana added, proposes to shake up the nation and refocus its future on “a new reality built by all, women and men, of bountiful rights and of bountiful life.”


This article first appeared Nov. 16 on Frontera NorteSur.

See also:

War on Women in the Borderlands
from Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, May 2009

The Free-Trade Roots of Mexico’s Narco Crisis
by Kent Paterson, Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, November 2009

From our Daily Report:

UN peacekeepers for northern Mexico?
World War 4 Report, Nov. 17, 2009

Juárez femicide cases go before Inter-American Court of Human Rights
World War 4 Report, April 30, 2009


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, December 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution