In July, a controversy erupted when the cosmetics companies MAC and Rodarte teamed up to release a new collection inspired by the U.S.-Mexico border, with product names like “Factory,” “Ghost Town” and “Juarez.”
What the companies did not know was that Ciudad Juarez, and the state it is in, Chihuahua, are home to endemic violence against women.
Labeled as insensitive, the companies immediately scrambled to repair the damage. The cosmetics line was pulled and, after meeting with organizations involved with the issue, the companies donated money to the campaign.
The controversy was emblematic of how, while the ongoing drug war in Mexico and a long the border has garnered significant attention, a much longer standing problem has yet to enter the wider public consciousness — feminicide.
A new book co-edited by UC Santa Cruz professor of Latin American and Latino studies Rosa-Linda Fregoso, “Terrorizing Women: Feminicide in the Americas,” investigates violence targeted at women and offers some strategies for combatting the phenomenon.
“It showed incredible insensitivity, and I think MAC was taken aback by the backlash,” Fregoso said. “They did contact some border activists, and even spoke with my co-editor [Cynthia Bejarano]. They had no idea this was going on. … With all the focus on drug wars and narco violence, feminicide has been invisible. We are working on making it visible.”
Since 1993 more than 1,000 women and girls have
been murdered in Ciudad Juarez, according to Fregoso.
Feminicide is not simply any murder of a female. In “Terrorizing Women” Marcela Lagarde y de los Rios defines feminicide in the preface as “genocide against women ” that “occurs when the historical conditions generate social practices that allow for violent attempts against the integrity, health, liberties and lives of girls and women.”
In other words, feminicide is systematic violence rooted in social, political, economic and cultural inequalities.
Much of the early attention to feminicide in Mexico revolved around the border factories know as maquiladoras, and structural inequalities between men and women in the border state of Chihuahua. However, as the book points out, the problem is not limited to border states — in fact the highest rate of feminicide is found in the central, Pacific-coast state of Nayarit — and is found in many countries outside of Mexico. The book includes chapters that address feminicide in Guatemala, Argentina and Costa Rica, and refers to cases in Peru and other countries.
According to studies done in Mexico and Guatemala, nearly all the cases of feminicide, 98 to 99 percent, go unpunished.
There are many factors contributing to the unabated violence toward women according to Fregoso: patriarchal legal structures, devaluing of women’s bodies and lives, systems of impunity, power relationships and legacies of violence and armed conflict.
“Violence against women is a complex phenomenon and there are many factors to consider in explaining feminicide and violence against women,” Fregoso said. “We are also attempting to challenge cultural stereotypes about gender violence as rooted in Mexican culture. … Mexican culture is not monolithic nor is it one thing,’ but rather quite diverse and heterogeneous.”
While Fregoso says studies have shown that a mere 10 percent of violence against women in Mexico is linked to the drug war, the fight against narco-traffickers has affected the movement to bring attention to feminicide more than just by grabbing all the headlines.
Activists in Ciudad Juarez were holding regular protests, similar to those in Buenos Aires by the Madres del Plaza de Mayo that spread awareness of the disappearances during Argentina’s dirty war, but have stopped because of the escalating drug-related violence in the area.
Fregoso, who is a former radio and television journalist from south Texas and joined the UCSC faculty in 2001, sees the current Mexican government’s strategy of combatting the drug war as incompatible with appropriate methods for addressing feminicide.
“With this particular government in place I’m not confident it will help,” Fregoso said. “What is needed is a people-centered approach to human security, instead of a national approach. It will take a grass roots shift of focus to a human security model. The further militarization of law enforcement will not help. The military is not trained to combat this.”
Instead, Fregoso advocates for a multi-level approach that addresses fundamental inequalities such as access to jobs and health care, while also seeking justice through collaborations between community groups, advocacy and non-governmental organizations, the state and law enforcement agencies.
“There is a lot of work that still needs to be done,” Fregoso said. “We have focused on the problem, the next phase in research is to look at the potential solutions and methods for combating the problem.”
In addition to the book, Fregoso and Bejarano have also set up a website, www.stopterrorizingwomen.com, that is dedicated to raising awareness and coordinating advocacy against feminicide.