Feminist movement occupies human rights facilities

09/22/20 (written by vrice)—While rising feminist protests in Mexico during the early months of 2020 were hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, feminist collectives have begun mobilizing again by occupying two nationally-recognized human rights facilities. Mexico possesses the highest number of femicides per capita in Latin America. In the wake of a 60% uptick in domestic violence cases during the pandemic lockdown, Mexican women’s call for justice has taken on increased urgency.

Occupation of the CNDH

Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH) is headquartered in Mexico City. Since Thursday, September 3, these headquarters have been occupied by feminist collectives Frente Nacional Ni Una Menos (National Front Not One (Woman) Less) and Aequus, Promoción y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (Equal, Promotion and Defense of Human Rights). Occupiers demand greater government action to protect against and investigate increasing cases of violence against women. The collectives have turned the headquarters into a shelter for those facing gender-based violence, equipped with medical and legal professionals who have served about 100 women in the first week of September.

Occupation of the CODHEM

On September 10, in solidarity with the CNDH occupation, feminist collectives occupied the headquarters of the Human Rights Comission for the State of Mexico (Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Estado de México, CODHEM) in the municipality of Ecatepec. The collectives said that they were given CODHEM’s permission to peacefully occupy the office and cited motives akin to those of occupiers in the CNDH. Mexican state authorities have been accused of excessive force in their removal of occupiers, during which they detained 11 women, two men, and multiple minors. A few hours after the arrestees’ release on September 11, protestors set fire to and spray painted the CODHEM office to rebuke the police’s violent arrest and removal of occupiers.

Feminist activists outside the CNDH announcing the auction (“subasta”) of the altered Francisco Madero painting denounced by AMLO. Photo: El Universal.

Responses could suggest growing solidarity

In response to the CNDH occupation, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said that he respects the just demand presented by the collectives. Although, AMLO maintained that he condemns violence and occupiers who spray painted walls and painted on a portrait of Mexican revolutionary and former president Francisco I. Madero. The president denounced the latter acts as vandalism. Akin to AMLO’s call for nonviolence, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum emphasized in a press conference that the fight must be peaceful, citing rights to freedom of expression and to protest. The CNDH has also weighed in, maintaining that the organization has no intention to file charges against occupiers and even offering the feminist collectives a different building from which to continue conducting work to combat gender-based violence. The president of the CNDH, Rosario Piedra Ibarra—whose resignation the collectives have requested—affirmed that she is on the side of victims and that the occupiers are not the enemy that needs to be defeated; rather, she called for dialogue. Yesenia Zamudio, one of the Ni Una Menos collective leaders, expressed to El Universal that government officials were less equipped than occupiers to run the CNDH offices.

Meanwhile, the police removal of the CODHEM office occupiers was denounced via Twitter by the State of Mexico’s Governor, Alfredo Del Mazo Maza. The governor also shared that he instructed two officials (including the State of Mexico’s Secretary of Justice and Human Rights, Rodrigo Espeleta) to support the women and safeguard their rights. The State of Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de Justicia del Estado de México, FGJEM) released a statement denying the use of excessive force and stating that individuals had been detained on charges of illegally occupying a public service building. Similar to the CNDH case, the FGJEM maintained that it will not pursue criminal charges against the occupiers. CODHEM expressed that it was on the side of the feminist movement and stands with victims of violence and femicide, parallel with the sentiments of Pierda regarding the CNDH’s occupation. However, hours later when protestors set fire to the office, CODHEM released a tweet condemning these acts as hindering efforts to protect human rights in the State of Mexico. In a press conference on September 11, AMLO asserted that he had not been briefed on the feminist occupiers’ removal. He then requested that the occurrences be investigated and the women be protected from harm.  

Police officers used fire extinguishers to disperse protestors who demanded the release of detained CODHEM occupiers. Photo: El País.
Police officers used fire extinguishers to disperse protestors who demanded the release of detained CODHEM occupiers. Photo: El País.

Significance of occupation locations and the larger pattern of mobilization

Various catalyzing events for the Mexican feminist movement have taken place in Mexico City (Ciudad de México, CDMX), the nation’s capital. Public demonstrations erupted after the rape of a 17-year-old girl by four police men in a patrol car in 2019 and the murders of 25-year-old Ingrid Escamilla and 7-year-old Fatima Cecelia Aldrighett Anton in 2020. The murders of Escamilla and Aldrighett occurred a few weeks before International Women’s Day on March 8, and led to the greatest turnout in such a march in Mexico’s history. 

 The CNDH headquarters are located in Mexico City. In 2019, Mexico City saw the greatest number of registered sex crimes for any city across Mexico with 6,507—nearly 13% of the national total. This type of crime includes but is not limited to sexual abuse, rape, and varying forms of sexual assault. In the same year, the city also registered the nation’s third highest number of femicides at 71. The CODHEM office, meanwhile, is located in the State of Mexico, which also saw 123 cases of femicide in 2019. These rates make it the state with the second highest cases in all of Mexico. Moreover, in 2019, Ecatepec the municipality where the CODHEM office is located, registered the highest number of cases of intentional injury (5,392), the most cases of extortion (296), and the second most robberies (25,168) in the country. The threatening environments for women in CDMX and Ecatepec may explain parallel demands of CNDH and CODHEM occupiers for the government to more actively address gender-based violence.  

The CNDH and CODHEM occupations are not isolated incidents. In fact, over the last two weeks in solidarity with Ni Una Más, feminist collectives have also symbolically occupied local human rights commissions in Aguascalientes, Michoacán, Puebla, Tabasco, and Veracruz. The violent removal of occupiers in Ecatepec is part of a pattern of police behavior in which feminist demonstrations are met with violence. For example, police violently ended a march in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua against police brutality last week and arrested 28 women. Furthermore, an August manifestation against sexual assault in León, Guanajuato ended in the arrests of various women, who reported sexual assault against the officers who detained them.

Feminists have grown increasingly aggravated as the threat of gender-based violence continues to rise in Mexico. Data from the Mexican National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) shows 2019 was the most violent year on record for women, and just this August the country registered the highest monthly total for femicides in Mexican history. Statistics from El Sol Mexico estimated that two-thirds of women over 15 years of age in Mexico would be forced to quarantine with a violent partner due to the coronavirus outbreak. Moreover, during the first three weeks after stay at home orders were issued at the end of March, violence against women surged by 30-100%, according to approximates by Mexican authorities. For more resources and statistics, visit Justice in Mexico’s recent blog post examining violence against women during the COVID-19 lockdown here.

Sources

Fernández, Emilio. “Fiscalía no ejercerá acción penal contra mujeres que tomaron Codhem.” El Universal, Sept. 15, 2020. 

“Protesters continue to occupy human rights office; director says she’s a victim too.” Mexico News Daily, Sept. 15, 2020. 

Fernanda Navarro, María. “Crisis de derechos humanos no la puede resolver solo la CNDH: Rosario Piedra.” Forbes México, Sept. 14, 2020.

Velasco, Ángeles. “Vandalizan oficinas de la Codhem en Ecatepec.” Excélsior, Sept. 12, 2020.

Barragán, Almudena and Pablo Ferri. “El desalojo de una protesta feminista dispara las críticas contra la Fiscalía del Estado de México.” El País, Sept. 11, 2020.

Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Estado de México (@CODHEM) “Condenamos los actos de que fueron objeto las instalaciones y bienes de la Visitaduría General en #Ecatepec; un daño severo al patrimonio de las y los mexiquenses, que impacta el servicio de protección, promoción y defensa de los #DDHH en 15 municipios esa zona del #Edoméx.” Sept. 11, 2020, 5:38 PM.

Del Mazo Maza, Alfredo (@alfredodelmazo). “El Gobierno del Estado de México reprueba las acciones llevadas a cabo por la @fiscaliaEdomex en contra de las mujeres que se manifestaron en la @CODHEM. He dado la instrucción para que Melissa Vargas titular del 

@CEMYBSedomex y Rodrigo Espeleta, Secretario de Justicia y Derechos Humanos, apoyen a las mujeres para salvaguardar plenamente su integridad y sus derechos.” Sept. 11, 2020, 8:11 AM. Tweet. 

“Policías agreden y detienen a mujeres que tomaron sede de la CODHEM en Ecatepec.” Animal Político, Sept. 11, 2020. 

Villa y Caña, Pedro and Alberto Morales. “AMLO pide investigar desalojo de mujeres en sede de la CODHEM.” El Universal, Sept. 11, 2020.

“CNDH acepta pliego petitorio de feministas.” La Jornada, Sept.10, 2020. 

Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Estado de México (@CODHEM). “La #CODHEM está del lado del movimiento feminista, apoya a víctimas de violencia y feminicidio; la #CODHEM es aliada no enemiga.” Sept. 10, 2020, 10:14 PM.

Ortiz, Alexis et al. “Feminist activists occupy government building, demand justice for victims of gender-based violence.” El Universal, Sept. 10, 2020. 

“Familiares de víctimas exigen renuncia de Rosario Piedra Ibarra; ella pide diálogo.” Milenio, Sept. 8, 2020.

Ferri, Pablo. “La toma de la Comisión de Derechos Humanos de México exhibe las carencias en la ayuda a las víctimas.” El País, Sept. 7, 2020.

Méndez, Enrique and Alonso Urrutia. “Rechaza AMLO “vandalismo” en la CNDH.” La Jornada, Sept. 7, 2020.

Ortiz, Alex. “Convierten CNDH en albergue.” El Universal, Sept. 7, 2020. 

“‘Lucha debe ser pacífica’ recomienda Sheinbaum a feministas que tomaron la CNDH.” El Heraldo de México, Sept. 5, 2020.

Laura Calderon et al. “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: 2020 Special Report.” Justice in Mexico, July 31, 2020.

Alcántara, Margarita. “Violencia Doméstica Contra La Mujer Aumenta 60% En México Durante La Pandemia.” Forbes México, July 17, 2020. 

“International Women’s Day and #ADayWithoutUs.” Justice in Mexico, July 2, 2020.

“Domestic Violence in Mexico During COVID-19.” Justice in Mexico, June 16, 2020. 

“Women Voice Ire, Fear as Femicides Continue to Rise in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico, March 10, 2020. 

“80,000 participate in Women’s Day march in CDMX against gender violence.” Mexico News Daily, March 9, 2020. 

Galván, Melissa. “2019, El Año En Que La ‘Ola Feminista’ Sacudió a México.” Expansion Política, Dec. 28, 2019. 

Femicides hit record high as protests continue

Protestors in the famed National Palace in Mexico City during a demonstration in August to support calls for justice, accountability, and protections for women. Photo: Edgard Garrido, Reuters.

08/31/20 (written by kheinle) — Femicides continue to increase in Mexico, registering their highest monthly total on record. According to data from Mexico’s National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP), 101 cases were reported in June. This brought the total for the first six months of the year to 566. This comes on the heels of a 130% increase in cases of femicides documented from 2015 to 2019.

Mexico has long grappled with the problem of targeted killings of women. Nearly half (45%) of all women in Mexico reported being victims of violence at the hands of their partner, according to a 2018 survey by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía e Informática, INEGI). More recently, another 18% specified that they were victims of physical abuse. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the National Network of Shelters, a group that supports at risk women and children, reported an 80% increase in calls and a 50% increase in the number of women and children to their shelters.

The Government’s Mixed Response

With the rise in femicide cases, there has been increased attention from national and international critics imploring the Mexican government to step up its efforts. However, the reaction from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his administration is mixed.

The Right to Demonstrate

On the one hand, the administration is at least superficially backing women’s rights and the public’s constitutional right to protest in support of protections for women. For example, following several demonstrations in Mexico City and León, Guanajuato in August, the president used his platform to denounce efforts to silence the public. He vocally supported the protestors’ right to protest, but urged them to do so peacefully. “We have to respect the right to dissent and the freedom to protest, to respect and to be tolerant, but more than anything to respect [the right],” he said. “There should not have to be repression.” [Author’s translation]. He then stressed upon demonstrators to protest and gather non-violently, drawing on non-violent icons like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. to drive home his point.

A protestor in Mexico City.
Photo: Pedro Pardo, AFP / Getty Images.

An Insufficient Response

Yet President López Obrador has also come under fire for what protestors have long argued has been his insufficient response to the inequities that women face. In 2020, there have been numerous public protests denouncing the government’s ineffective and inadequate response to femicides. Critics argue that the president is dismissive of both the femicides and protests that have ensued this past year. He often undermines the severity of the issue, attributing the violence to a loss of values and morality, notes media reports. In fact, he recently claimed that “Mexican women have never been as protected as now,” a point against which demonstrators continue to push back.

Reports also show the López Obrador administration proposing to cut funding to women’s shelters in July of this year, the same shelters that support the women facing femicide, domestic violence, and other targeted violence. As The Guardian reports, in early July, “the government approved a 65% budget cut for the federal women’s institute, and the president has also proposed to withdraw state funding for women’s shelters operated by NGOs, suggesting that women fleeing violence could instead be given a cash payment.”

Additional Resources

Justice in Mexico has looked extensively at femicides in Mexico, most recently as part of its publication, “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Special Report 2020.” This also includes an analysis on the topic of international conventions to which Mexico is a signatory that are in place to protect women. For a breakdown of the legal context of femicide – what it is and what it is not – check out this post. For an overview on the civil unrest and protests in support of women’s rights and safety, there are also several write ups from March and July of this year. Finally, Justice in Mexico looked at the disproportionate dangers women face during the ongoing global pandemic, resulting in a rise in cases of domestic violence resulting from the “Stay Home” initiative.

We will continue to monitor and analyze the trends relating to femicide, its impact on women, and the society’s response. 

Sources:

“Women Voice Ire, Fear as Femicides Continue to Rise in Mexico,” Justice in Mexico, March 10, 2020.”

Gatitos Contra la Desigualdad, “Feminicidio: una pandemia invisible,” April 24, 2020.

Oscar Lopez, “Mexico City mayor promises to eradicate violence against women,” Reuters, July 9, 2020.

David Agren, “Femicides rise in Mexico as president cuts budgets of women’s shelters,” The Guardian, July 22, 2020.

Laura Calderón et al, “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Special Report 2020,” Justice in Mexico, July 30, 2020.

“Mujeres y policías chocan en Ciudad de México en una marcha contra el machismo,” La Oferta, August 16, 2020.

“Resultan lesionadas tres personas en marcha feminista de la CDMX,” El Universal, August 16, 2020.

Pedro Villa y Caña, “Pide AMLO respetar derecho a manifestaciones de mujeres en León,” El Universal, August 24, 2020.

“Jessica, Marcela, Danna y Fernanda, 4 feminicidios que sacuden a México,” El Universal, August 27, 2020.

“La niña también traía tatuajes por todos lados”, dice fiscal de BC sobre feminicidio de Danna,” Animal Político, August 27, 2020.