StMU Research Scholars

Mexico’s Hidden Epidemic

Altar to commemorate victims of femicide, Día de Muertos, Puebla
Mexican flag with the blood of its people. | Courtesy of Olesha.

A mother’s worst fear is to lose her child. For mothers of daughters, this fear is exasperated because so many women lose their lives unexpectedly in Mexico. Mothers, daughters, friends, spouses, and grandmothers are too frequently murdered in Mexico City. Mariana Lima‘s husband, Cesar Hernandez Ballinas, brutally murdered her on June 10th, 2010. Her mother, Irenia Buendia, lived with the fact that her daughter’s murderer was out there facing no repercussion for his actions.  Before her murder, Mariana Lima reported her husband’s abuse to the police. He had threatened to “kill her” and “stick her in a water tank” as he had done so before to his three previous wives, the police ridiculed and dismissed both, the mother’s and the daughter’s request for protection. Three weeks later, Ballina’s killed Mariana because she wanted to divorce him. When the authorities got to the crime scene, they declared the incident as a suicide. The police believed she managed to hang herself from a thin rope and a thin nail, which is impossible because those objects could not have held a child’s weight, much less that of a grown woman.1 

Unfortunately, Lima’s case is not a rare occurrence. Femicide is the “murder of a woman motivated by misogyny,” it is a hate crime in which killers use extreme violence to denigrate their victims even after they are dead. It takes into account the history of abuse, harassment, sexual abuse, and mutilation.[2.Driver, Alice. “Femicide and the Aesthetics of Violence In Juárez: The Laboratory of Our Future: An Interview with Charles Bowden.”]. According to the World Bank, there have been over a thousand confirmed and reported femicides over the span of six years in Mexico. It is important to note that these are under-reported because authorities rarely rule them as hate crimes. It is impossible to know the actual numbers of femicide in Mexico because a vast majority of the cases are under-reported or miscategorized. However,  it is estimated that as many as eleven women are murdered a day. 2 According to the BBC news, there are ten femicides for every three homicides, which speaks volumes considering Mexico is struggling with a deadly drug war. Police tend to blame the victim, they blame their “skirts for being too short” or getting involved with the wrong men. Two thousand five hundred women a year on average are murdered, and the government refuses to acknowledge the problem, and the media does not shed light on this either, and when they do it is to ridicule or poke fun at the victims. 3 Furthermore, this problem is worsening as Mexico faces a moral crisis. Femicide with impunity reinforces a culture of machismo in Mexico, some men have to use the impunity to their advantage and tell their partners, “see that’s what happens when women go out.” They instill fear to control and oppress women and to force them into submission. Femicide is an epidemic. Since femicide has not been officially condemned, murders have become more and more violent. Femicide goes beyond spouses murdering wives, they include neighbors, uncles, cousins, and strangers who are murdering innocent women. Many women feel that it is dangerous for them to try to leave their homes because they do not know whether they will return. 4   From 1993 to 2011,  Ciudad Juarez was once the worst place in the world to be a woman and now there are ten times more murders in Mexico City. Many men now believe that killing women is easy and that they will never be punished because they have seen that others get away with these murders.5 The Mexican government has never condemned femicide nor has it implemented any form of systematic punishment. Even though femicide by law should at minimum have the same punishment as homicide, and the violence of these murders would even warrant harsher punishment, the justice system rarely ever charges perpetrators for this crime at all. Over ninety percent of crimes against women go unpunished. According to Belen, a journalist from Jacobin, twenty-four percent of femicides are investigated and only one percent result in any sentencing. The authorities do so little that protest groups have started chanting “the police do not protect me, my friends do”. 6 

File:Carteles de protesta por el feminicidio de Ingrid Escamilla 01.jpg
Posters protesting the femicide of Ingrid Escamilla in the Antimonumenta of Mexico City | Courtesy of Wikimedia

“The justice system belongs to the wealthy and not for us since we have no money they pay us no attention”, is how many of Mexico City’s citizens feel, this was said by an unnamed protester interviewed by the BBC. 7 Mexico City is the second-largest city in the western hemisphere, and the majority of Mexico City’s population lives in its suburbs. City”.8 The suburbs are violent places where high crime and violence are the norms. The police are indifferent towards extortion, killings, and femicide. Since it is the most populated state they claim since more women live here there are going to be more female deaths, however, this is not the case as statistics point out. Pena Nieto ignored the issue when he was governor and did nothing about it when he was president. 9 These cases are not being taken seriously, this is evident as families have to provide gloves, medical tools, and even have to go as far as pay bribes for the victim’s body to be examined. The victim’s families have been forced to take on the role of the state, they are the ones looking for the bodies. The conditions where cadavers are being stored are horrible. Most victims’ relatives fear they will never get justice or that the case will never be solved. Moreover, people feel as if there is a moral decay going on in Mexico. This was highlighted when Ingrid Escamilla’s death was mocked, the media was quick to upload her mutilated body and failed to blame the man who brutally murdered her. 10 The government also fails to do anything, Fatima a seven-year-old was murdered and reports of her mistreatment were filed with the national system for integral family development, DIF, and they failed to remove her from her abusive household. 11Police and prosecutors pay these cases little attention because they argue women provoked the men and that it is their fault that they were killed. Furthermore, since American corporations are moving there because of cheap labor, Mexico pushes femicide under the rug to hide this harsh reality. The Mexican government ignores this issue to avoid negative attention. Protesters have begun to paint pink crosses on public property, they serve as a form of permanent protest as well as a warning.12  Women have been oppressed in Mexico for centuries and they have fought many fights for equity. Gisela Mota Ocampo was a young aspiring mayor who was looking forward to implementing changes in her small town. However, her dreams were cut short as she was assassinated. Her mother believes that the reason why she was murdered was that people could not stand to see a powerful woman. Her mother wants justice not only for her daughter but, “for all those across the country who have been victims of this reality” The UN is treating her investigation as femicide.13

Femicide does impact primarily the poor.  It is women and girls of the lower classes who are being brutally murdered with impunity. One woman every two hours is murdered and there is no systematic change because the government does not care for the poor. People resort to seeking justice by bribing the police, and poorer families do not have this option. In Ciudad Juarez, poverty-stricken women would migrate for job opportunities, they would come to the city by themselves, so when they went missing no one would find out and there would be no family members to look for them. Femicide does not only affect Mexican women, migrant women fleeing for violence from Central America, are met with more violence in Mexico.  Mexican people do not see Central Americans as equals. During Trump’s presidency, central American women were killed in unprecedented numbers in Mexico city. The “remain in Mexico” act forced thousands of asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases were being examined. In Mexico City, there is a migrant center called Casa De Los Amigos that works to protect migrant women against violent men. Caravans allow female migrants to protect themselves from traffickers. There is no way to know how many migrant women are being murdered because they are not being reported as femicides, they are lumped in with murders of men as well. 14 La 72” is a shelter that works with migrants in Mexico City, the number of women arriving at the shelters has tripled in the past couple of years. Furthermore, a lot of the women who come to the centers are being lured into sex trafficking.15

Moreover, trans women are being murdered, Mexico is the second deadliest country for transgender people, according to Letra S. Kenya Cuevas. Eva’s friend was brutally murdered in front of her and she could not report it to the police or she would be killed next. Less than percent of murders against trans women have resulted in convictions. According to Sanchez, a trans rights protector, the government has not “been a great ally” to her community and she oftentimes feels as if she’s being put on trial just because she’s trans. Trans women are shunned by their family because Mexican society is not accepting, they are forced to live in the streets and are often coerced into sex work. Many trans sex workers are raped and brutally beaten each year in Mexico but they feel as if they cannot report it to authorities because they will be shunned and ignored. In 2019, fifty-three trans women were murdered, and no one has been prosecuted. On august thirteenth of 2020, a trans woman was stabbed in Mexico city, one of the busiest cities in the world and her attacker escaped. Prosecutors are not taking their deaths seriously.16

Furthermore, since COVID is taking a huge economic toll on the Mexican government, they have had to cut over thirty-seven million pesos from the gender violence alert program.  little less than 4,000 women were murdered last year, this number only keeps getting higher as the years’ progress. According to Vice News, the Coronavirus Pandemic has further worsened violence trends against women in Mexico. Ever since the pandemic started, more domestic abuse has been reported. Before the pandemic, over forty percent of women reported facing physical aggression from their partners, and lately, these numbers have skyrocketed. 17 Machismo culture enables men to be aggressive with their partners, so unless Mexico undergoes a societal change it is unlikely that the violence will ever stop. When Vice interviewed a man who had abused his wife he responded that he did it out of jealousy and that he was not doing anything wrong because that behavior is normal, and “that all men are a bit jealous”. It is ironic that this man used to be in the military and is now a police officer, he is supposed to be protecting people from abusers, yet he is the abuser. There are that hitmen who specialize in murdering women, they share the same grotesque disgusting views as those who hire them. They feel as if it is okay to murder an innocent woman just because the relationship is going wrong. One of them feels as if he is never going to be punished because even if he does get caught all he has to do is pay the police officer off, he has murdered various women before. He is profiting off of Mexico’s corrupt justice system. In an interview, he said that ever since the pandemic started he has been getting hired more and that there is a new demand in murder for hire against women.18

Femicide Protest Zocalo- sign.Protesters at a femicide protest in Zocalo, Mexico City the day after International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women 2019. The sign says “No nací mujer para morir por serlo”- “I was not born a woman to die for being it”. | Courtesy of Wikimedia

Progress is being made in Mexico because of the increased pressure Mexican protesters have put on authorities. Officials now feel obligated to solve femicide cases. Mexico heard its first femicide case, the case of Marina Lima, and the supreme court determined that the previous ruling was invalid, and it ruled in favor of the victim. There is now a precedent that forces authorities to apply the same standards to all the cases of violent deaths of women.19 The protagonists are the women who protested and started groups to honor the victims. One of these organizations is the national citizen’s observatory on femicide, and it collects data and establishes a statewide gender alert. Maria De La Luz Estrada is the director of the observatory, and she urges the authorities to take action. Mexico is making progress. Mexico’s president once called femicide a “neoliberal issue”, however, he is now accepting that it is a problem. He has also launched an anti-violence campaign in May 2020, which urged men to calm down before they physically abused their partner. Without repeated pressure from protestors, the government would still be ignoring this issue. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador held a press conference and he acknowledged that femicide was an epidemic, he did so again two months ago, it is clear that this issue has become a present matter to the current administration.20 There are now new centers for women to seek shelter and report their abusive spouses. The culture in Mexico is slowly shifting and is starting to shun machismo, and is slowly starting to punish those who are abusive. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is also working toward providing some funding where cuts were made to gender violence alert programs. While progress is welcome, it is still too slow: more than ten women are still murdered each day with impunity. Women are mothers, daughters, friends, and spouses, they play a vital part in Mexican society. They make up over half of Mexico’s population, yet they are being slaughtered at rates that are disproportionate in comparison to men even amidst a drug war.21 Mexico is the fourth most dangerous place to be a woman. Mexican women have always had to face hardships, now they are facing an epidemic of murder and disrespect forcing them to navigate a male dominated patriarchal society and deal with the possibility that their lives may be ended at any moment. 

  1. Vice News, “Women are being killed with impunity in Mexico,” August 17, 2020, 14:49,
  2. “Being a Woman Is Still a Deadly Risk for Many in Latin America.” World Bank.
  3. “Intentional Homicides, Female (per 100,000 Females).”
  4. “Caso Fátima: Cómo La Respuesta De Obrador Ante Los Feminicidios Se Convirtió En Una Crisis Para Su Gobierno.” BBC News Mundo.
  5. Marcuello-Servós, Chaime, Consuelo Corradi, Shalva Weil, and Santiago Boira.
  6. Fernández, Belén, Belén Fernández, Matt Karp, Branko Marcetic, Eileen Jones, Enzo Traverso, Lorena Rios Trevino, Nicole Aschoff, Kurt Hackbarth, and Luci Cavallero. “AMLO Hasn’t Done Enough to Address Mexico’s Gender-Based Violence Epidemic.” Jacobin.
  7. “Caso Fátima: Cómo La Respuesta De Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador Ante Los Feminicidios Se Convirtió En Una Crisis Para Su Gobierno.” BBC News Mundo.
  8. “Mexico City” Wikimedia.,)%2C%20and%20the%20largest%20Spanish%2D
  9. “Caso Fátima: Cómo La Respuesta De Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador Ante Los Feminicidios Se Convirtió En Una Crisis Para Su Gobierno.” BBC News Mundo.
  10. Sky. 2020. “Ingrid Escamilla Murder: Mexican Paper Sparks Outrage over Pictures of Mutilated Body.” Sky News. Sky. February 13.
  11. “Fátima, a 7-Year-Old Girl, Was Abducted and Murdered in Mexico City.” 2020. El Universal. February 22.
  12. “Women Are Being Killed With Impunity in Mexico.” VICE.
  13. “The Long Road to Justice, Prosecuting Femicide in Mexico.” UN Women.
  14. Mbai, David. 2021. “The Harmful, Gendered Impacts of ‘Remain in Mexico’ and Immigrant Detention.” Gender and Intersectional Analysis. February 4.
  15. “Historia.” 2021. La 72 – Hogar Refugio Para Personas Migrantes.
  16. “The Long Road to Justice, Prosecuting Femicide in Mexico.” UN Women.
  17. “Domestic Violence in Mexico in Times of COVID-19.” 2020. Data. October 8.
  18. “Women Are Being Killed With Impunity in Mexico.”
  19. “The Long Road to Justice, Prosecuting Femicide in Mexico.” 2021. UN Women.
  20. “’The Message He’s Sending Is I Don’t Care’: Mexico’s President Criticized for Response to Killings of Women.” 2020. The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. February 21.
  21. “Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador Hasn’t Done Enough to Address Mexico’s Gender-Based Violence Epidemic,

41 Responses

  1. You did a wonderful job at writing this article. The title really got my attention. When I saw the title I thought it would be about sickness but its so much more then that. The title really fits for the whole article. Its so sad that women are still getting mistreated. We work so hard to have equal rights but it will never be equal. Women in Mexico are scared for their life’s and that’s the saddest part of it all. People should never be scared for their life’s.

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