The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is a day to address violence by raising public awareness and holding governments accountable. We should remember the 400-plus murders and disappearances of women since 1993 in the town of Juárez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas.
Ciudad Juárez is representative of the kinds of settlements that grow out of globalizing political and economic interests. It is estimated that 42 million people a year traffic through Juárez and El Paso. This border city is subject to ecological damage, sexual exploitation, and terrorism by the Juárez Cartel. Mexican journalist, Sergio González Rodríguez notes in his new book The Femicide Machine (MIT Press 2012) that "systematic actions against women bear the signs of a campaign: They smack of turf war, of the land's rape and subjugation." Narco-trafficking and the growth of the Juárez Cartel have led to the creation of a second, illicit state that operates beyond the reach of the official government.
While the United States Federal Government has become involved in trying to curtail the drug wars in Mexico, it may come as no surprise that special attention has not been given to the women who are used as pawns in these turf wars. They perpetuate the silence we find in the United States around violence against women. The initial response to this growing violence by the Mexican authorities was denial. As the crimes escalated, the government could no longer deny that women were being tortured, murdered and disappearing systematically. The authorities resorted to an old strategy -- blame the victim. The women were tried and held accountable in the cartel-controlled media. They were accused of living unconventional lives, of being prostitutes and lesbians.
The denial of annihilation on the part of governments on both sides of the border is part of the extermination. It renders the victims invisible depriving them of their human rights. With every such move the femicide machine's supremacy imposes itself. It is strengthened by the fact that it has not been brought to justice. Over 400 murders and yet not a single person has been convicted of a crime.
Some may ask why U.S. feminists should care about the violence against women south of the border. To be sure, U.S.-based feminists have plenty of work to do within the nation's borders to raise awareness and end violence against women at home. We can't forget that these women move to Juárez to work in factories that are mostly U.S.-owned. By 1990 the city was host to 500 export processing factories or maquiladoras. The murders and disappearances of women have increased steadily since 1993, a year after the signing of NAFTA. While capital moves freely across borders to benefit companies, it happens at the detriment of people. The rapid population growth and the burgeoning transient and migrant population have made it difficult for the city to create the proper infrastructure and social services to meet the needs of the people. Is it too much to ask that corporations do more to protect their employees and help solve these crimes?
In the absence of action on the part of the state, human rights and women's organizations have stepped up to raise awareness and call for justice for the victims. These organizations are now under siege by the powerful cartels.
Artists, musicians and writers on both sides of the border bring attention to the victims and challenge their invisibility. Work by feminist filmmaker Lourdes Portillo, and hip hop musical groups such as MC Crimen, Delezeta (DLZ), Versenarios, and Escuadron Kon Clase is critical in raising awareness.
We should urge all governments to make good on their promises to end violence against women. It's time for feminists on this side of the border to join this struggle.
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