Criminal element

Inside the ‘femicide’ epidemic plaguing Mexico and other Latin American nations

Femicide is the gender-based killing of women, often by boyfriends or husbands

Women and human right activists show pictures of missing women to policemen standing guard at Chihuahua State local goverment building in Mexico City. YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images

The last time Irinea Buendia saw her daughter, she promised to get a divorce. Her husband had begun beating her just weeks after their wedding, and lately, he’d been threatening to kill her and dump her body in the water tank. “I can’t stand this life with him any longer,” Buendia recalls her daughter, Mariana Lima, saying. When Mariana turned up dead in her house in the state of Mexico shortly after that conversation in 2010, officials ruled it a suicide. Irinea has another explanation: her daughter was the victim of a growing epidemic of “femicide,” gender-based killing of women, often by their boyfriends or husbands. Femicides are characterized by extreme violence, both during and after the murder: victims’ bodies are disposed of haphazardly or worse, often ending up ditched in remote fields or even sewage canals.

Vice News reporter Daniel Hernandez investigates this issue in a three-part documentary, “The Murdered Women of the State of Mexico,” first episode of which aired Thursday (and is available on YouTube). Vice estimates that 1,997 women were victims of femicide in the state of Mexico (the most populous province in the country of Mexico) between 2005 and 2011. According to data cited by Al Jazeera, six women are victims of femicide in Mexico every day.

Femicide may be practically epidemic in Mexico, but it’s hardly confined to this region: It’s a problem throughout the world, and Latin America in particular. (It’s estimated that 50 percent of all femicides are perpetrated there.) El Salvador has the highest murder rate for women of any country in the world, according to the U.N. And the issue is finally getting some attention. Earlier this month, thousands of people marched in protest of femicide in Argentina, where The Guardian reports that 1,800 women have been victims of femicide in the past seven years. Similar protests have taken place in Chile and Uruguay. Buendia herself has been speaking out to journalists and whoever will listen. Activists in these largely Catholic countries have adopted the pink cross as a powerful symbol of femicide.

Yet protesters are coming up against values that are deeply entrenched in local cultures. In a recent Op-Ed for The New York Times, Argentinian writer Uki Goni drew a link between femicide and the predominance of “unbridled male machismo.” Officials are often reluctant to investigate, and, like in the case of Mariana Buendia, prefer to label these killings suicides than conduct an honest investigation.

Humberto Padgett, a Mexican journalist and author of Las Muertas del Estado (“The Deaths of the State”), explained to Hernandez, “The attitude of police, investigators, experts and prosecutors is that women are murdered because their skirts are too short, because they get involved with the wrong men, or because they worked somewhere where prostitution is common. Just a series of moral judgments made about the victim by the authorities.”

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