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  • “We Want to Stay alive”:Ending feminicide in Juárez, Mexico
  • Alice Driver (bio)

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JUÁREZ, Mexico—“Respect our lives” was written in green letters on her bare back. Another woman held up a purple banner that read, “Why are you killing us? Stop disappearance and feminicide!” On April 24, 2016, thousands of women and girls marched for six hours through the streets of Mexico City to protest violence against women. They chanted, “We want to stay alive,” a phrase that has become the rallying cry of a generation of women.

According to the National Citizen Feminicide Observatory, a coalition of 43 groups that documents feminicide, six women are assassinated every day in Mexico. Feminicide often involves sexual violence and is defined as the murder of a woman based on misogynist ideas like honor, shame, and control of women’s bodies. It is a term that recognizes the sexual politics of homicide.

At the march, women called out in unison for members of public institutions, like the justice system, to be required to attend workshops on gender violence. They proposed mechanisms to combat sexism, and they demanded equal employment opportunities and an end to 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 police to crack down on a protest organized by flower vendors who had been prohibited from selling in the city of Atenco. Police detained, tortured, and brutally raped 11 women. The case was recently taken on by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has called for an investigation into the participation of Peña Nieto and other officials.

The border city of Juárez is especially notorious for rampant rights abuses against women. From 2008-2012, Juárez was one of the most violent cities in the world. In 2010, the city held the record for homicides with 3,622 murders. When I was in the city in 2013, I spent a few days with crime photographer Lucio Soria, who works for the newspapers PM and El Diario. I sat next to him with his computer on my lap, clicking through his portfolio. In one photo, a man’s head—the face, mustache, and hair perfectly groomed—had been severed from the body and placed on the edge of a bridge. In subsequent shots, I saw pieces of the man’s leg, torso, and arm scattered along the road. In another, a bloody corpse lay on the ground partially wrapped in black plastic, and in the foreground a ginger-and-white striped cat walked behind the black-clad legs of a group of police officers. I kept looking through photos: a head placed next to an armless torso, bodies cut up and arranged as if for an art exhibit, naked women lying in the street with messages written on their flesh, men thrown into the dunes along the highway.

The international media frequently represents that period of violence as a mystery. In Juárez, citizens link the murders to the military’s occupation of the city in 2008, when former President Felipe Calderón sent 7,000 soldiers and 2,000 federal police to stem drug violence. Those soldiers and police officers have since been implicated in a series of human rights abuses against girls and women.

Members of the military kidnapped Rocío Irene Alvarado Reyes, 18, from her home on Dec. 29, 2009. Her mother, according to a 2010 report from the Washington Office on Latin America, witnessed the whole event, and her family informed the office of the attorney [End Page 41] general. But authorities refused to file an official complaint. The family has persisted, but despite meetings at the municipal, state, and federal level, no clear efforts have been made to locate Rocío, who remains missing. The accusations filed by women or their families against soldiers include rape, sexual harassment, and forced disappearance, and they say groups of soldiers and police officers of various ranks are involved and appear...


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