How a Misogynistic Culture has Allowed Innocent Women to be Murdered
Although the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) seems to be at the forefront of national conversation, the effects of violence against women globally are often overlooked because the issue doesn’t affect American women directly. Specifically, Latin America has been unable to glean much global attention for their current femicide crisis despite extensive public controversy and outcry.
Femicide is defined as the “killing of women by men motivated by hate, contempt, pleasure or the assumption of ownership of women." Simply put, it is the murder of women exclusively because they are women, and although it may sound like a radical crime that couldn’t possibly threaten a twenty-first-century nation, femicides have become a reality that many Latin American women have been forced to grapple with. In 2019 alone, 2,640 femicides occurred in Latin American and Caribbean countries.
In February of 2020, the murder of Ingrid Escamilla drove thousands of Mexican protestors to challenge the femicide epidemic, using red paint and spray paint to resist the increasing number of femicides. Escamilla—who was brutally stabbed, mutilated, and then exposed across newspaper covers—brought attention to government inaction against femicides as well as the prevailing patriarchal social structures that allow such atrocities to occur.
Women raise their hands in protest against femicides in Puebla, Mexico, Feb. 2020. (REUTERS/Imelda Medina)
Many Latin American feminists argue that femicides are the direct result of the broader system of gender inequality and a product of the patriarchal system intended to maintain male domination. Fundamentally, femicides are viewed as a mechanism for men to ensure that women are confined to the patriarchal system, and a method to respond to women who don’t conform to traditional gender norms.
A crucial condition of this perception is to completely reject that individual factors are culpable for the crime. Rather, the blame lies solely within the social structure that encouraged men to respond to women with violence when challenged.
Conversely, an alternate perception allows more concrete reasoning for the rise of femicides in Latin America: the unique political and social climate of the region that has excused and permitted violence against women.
In 1994, the Organization of American States adopted the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women (VAW), which urged domestic legislation to "prevent, punish and eradicate VAW" and repeal laws that “sustain the practice” of VAW. Following these legal urgings, the region has experienced numerous legal reforms, implementing measures to protect women from violence; Mexico, along with 17 other Latin American countries, began to legally distinguish femicides from homicides starting in 2012.
Rate and Number of Femicides in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Spain. (Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean)
Despite these seemingly practical measures, the legal system is inherently flawed: women are not afforded the judicial system that is entitled to them, as they are often discriminated against by polices and judges, or the state and judicial system fail to investigate and penalize violence against women in a just manner.
This attitude of leniency is also exemplified through much of the rhetoric of prominent Latin American politicians, aggravating the misogynistic attitudes that have allowed femicides to persist. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has sparked much controversy over his attitude towards femicides due to his decision to cut funding by 75% for the federal women’s institute and reports that he appeared "bothered" by questions about femicides and instead preferred to speak about a raffle for a presidential aircraft.
Although femicides were already a pervasive issue prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus, it is likely that the pandemic will have increased the frequency of femicides once the issue is extensively researched. For many women, being restricted to home can be the most dangerous environment for them, with femicides and domestic violence rising after Mexico implemented stay-at-home orders.
At its core, the femicide crisis in Latin America highlights the dangerous implications of a system that minimizes the effects of the patriarchy. Addressing the femicide crisis in Latin America requires a multi-faceted approach, including broad social reflection on the implications of a misogynistic culture and detailed inspection of existing legislation and legal frameworks to ensure that the continuous growth of violence against women is interrupted.