Efforts in Progress to Protect Women

Anne Marie Mackler, FNS Editor

In the aftermath of April’s events surrounding the rape and attempted murder of “Nancy”, an underage maquila worker who survived the attack of a bus driver, motions are in gear to protect female maquila workers, enforce and improve regulations around the hiring of bus drivers and prevent further crimes. Many activities have been lead by the NGOs, however, political activists, community and industrial leaders, and security authorities have also become strategically involved.

Cd. Juárez Case Goes To The United Nations

On April 7, a human rights activist from Cd. Juárez presented the case of the murders of women in Cd. Juárez to the General Assembly of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

Judith Galarza Campos, director of the Independent Human Rights Defense Committee of Chihuahua and the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees, appeared before the UN to report that although México had signed various international commitments to guarantee human rights, these rights are deteriorating day by day in the border region.

Galarza reported that in the state of Chihuahua, the population lives in fear because of what has happened to the women in the area. She reported the 180 cases of murdered women since 1993, and that 80 percent of these women had been tortured and raped before being murdered. The victims’ families, according to Galarza, had not been given any support, legal or otherwise.

Municipal and state authorities were said to blame the victims for their death, and non-governmental organizations have sought special organizations to investigate the matter. Galarza asked that the Commission urge México to investigate this matter, to implement recommendations made by United Nations bodies, and to appoint a Special Reporter for México to detail the state of human rights emphasizing the rights of women.

NGOs Horrified At Community’s Response To Call For Help

NGOs were horrified in May to discover that during a staged attack on a woman in a crowd of 20 or more people, nobody did anything to help the young victim who blew a whistle repeatedly to alarm bystanders. “This is outrageous!” said Esther Chávez Cano, coordinator for NGOs in support of women’s rights.

The event, coordinated by the School of Self Defense Association, was put together to establish the effectiveness of the whistle in prevention of attacks of women. Jose Alfonso Aguilar Márquez, director, said, “I never thought it would really be this bad, that in spite of the obvious danger to this woman, nobody offered any assistance.”

According to psychologist Sergio Pérez, “The demonstration of indifference when witnessing an act of violence against someone is an automatic response of self preservation.” In a society where we live immersed in indifference to the things that threaten our integrity, including violence, the fact that people ignored this women, is not a surprise, according to Pérez.

Government Ad Reflects Community Attitudes

Both Chihuahua’s attorney general and the secretary of education and culture were condemned this month by Esther Chávez Cano because of discriminatory language used in job advertisements that were placed in a Chihuahua newspaper on Sunday, May 8.

The attorney general’s office advertised an investigation training session which asked for women to apply and stated they would have to take a pregnancy test, according to Chávez. The state secretary of education and culture advertised for teachers in vocational assistance, and the ad listed a requirement for commitment and no pregnancy.

“How is it possible to make requirements if they are unconstitutional?” asks Chávez of the ads she claims ask for tests that would never be given to a man. Chávez planned to take her complaints to the United Nations and to the Human Rights office in Washington, D.C. as well as writing a letter directly to the State Attorney General Arturo González Rascón.

Leaders Speak Out

In early May a forum was held in Cd. Juárez entitled “Strategies to Prevent Gender Violence,” attended by numerous activists, politicians, educators and community members.

At this conference, Congresswoman Alma Vucovich Seele, President of the Commission on Gender Equality, suggested that Cd. Juárez be declared an emergency zone and demanded that the authorities improve their strategies for fighting crime. Vucovich is certain that Abdel Latif Sharif Sharif, a convicted murderer who has been blamed for organizing the bus drivers who are reported to have murdered several female maquila employees, is not responsible for all of the murders and that there are other groups to blame, but for some reason, Vucovich says, the authorities are not pursuing other investigations.

It was noted by Patricia Olamendi, a deputy member of the PRD, that only one of 10 violations against women is reported because women have no faith in the justice system. The system was called “untransparent” by Marcel Lagarde, an anthropologist participating in the event. “We do not want a masked investigation,” she said but a “scientific and serious one.” Lagarde also claimed that in México women are not treated as if they have human rights. “First we have the right to exist, and second we have the right to have rights.”

Suly Ponce, investigator for Special Task Force to Investigate Crimes Against Women (FEDCM), was also present at the forum. “The investigations are advancing from one minute to the next, and more than words, the facts will speak,” she said defending her office.

Bus Drivers Will Be Regulated

Although the alleged serial killers are incarcerated–those reported to be responsible for several of almost 200 murders of women–crimes against women have by no means come to an end in Cd. Juárez. Numerous sexual assault crimes have been reported including those allegedly committed by bus drivers, and many victims making the reports were maquila workers. Fortunately, however, May was another month without a murder victim reported.

After the tragic events of March and April and these continuing crimes against women, the bus drivers that transport up to 170,000 female maquila workers each day came under greater scrutiny in Cd. Juárez. NGO’s, government officials, security authorities, politicians, and industry leaders engaged in brainstorming sessions, at the minimum, and at the most began drug testing of the “choferes.”

On May 10 it was announced that NGOs and politicians representing different parties approved of a recent proposal made by the State Office of Public Transportation. This proposal recommended the hiring of female bus drivers as a way to insure the safety of the female passengers.

Vicky Caraveo, spokesperson for the NGOs agrees with the plan, however, she made it clear that the personnel selection is not necessarily a gender issue, but that “of education” and that there needs to be clear and strong measures of control within the system. For the most part politicians were supportive of the state’s plan which also included mandatory drug testing, improved background checks before administering licenses, and implementation of photo identification for all drivers.

State sponsored voluntary drug testing did begin on April 17 and five different transportation companies participated. On May 6 it was announced that 20 drivers tested positive, however no positive tests belonged to drivers from Ruta 7, the company which employed the bus drivers who have been charged with raping and murdering female passengers. Ten of the positive drug tests did, however, come from Grupo Ave, a company which provides maquila employees transportation.

Fourteen of the tests were positive for cocaine, two for marijuana, and four for both drugs. Juan Jose Gonzalez, director of the State Office of Public Transportation, said that these tests were not about “detection in order to fire employees, but to rehabilitate them.” If they fired them, and canceled their licenses, he noted, the drivers would find work on another route until they’re caught again, or end up as criminals on the street.

Pressure is being put on the municipal governments by politicians to make sure the drug testing continues and that the State take better control over licensing practices.

Maquiladoras Work To Protect Employees

Since the events of last month, not only are the transportation companies working to improve security for their passengers, but the maquiladoras are working towards the improved safety of their employees.

More than 100 employees of Maquilas Juárez attended a self defense class taught by Pablo Pizarro Olivas, an instructor from the Academy of Public Security. According to Suly Ponce, there is a long waiting list of other maquiladoras that want to provide the same training for the employees.

According to a report in El Norte, a poll taken at this maquila indicated that more than half of the women questioned said they are aware of the danger that exists for them and they take precautions. Eighteen percent were confident that they would not be attacked and did not take precautions, however, the remaining 26 percent expressed that they are afraid and very timid. A test performed by the Academy indicated that three of every ten women tested would be easy to take physical advantage of because of their inability to fight back.

Although these positive steps have been taken by this and other maquiladoras in the last few weeks, a study performed by the State Department of Work and Social Provision revealed that nearly 100 workers in the city are minors working without permission. Of the sixty-six maquiladoras studied, 24 of the businesses were found in violation of age regulations.

According to law, children under 14 can not work, from 14 to 16 children can work at light labor with parental and state permission, and from 16-18 they can work as adults.

“Nancy” Meets Her Assailant In Court

“Nancy,” a survivor of the crimes that have inspired much of the recent activity, faced her alleged assailant on May 12, and in the second district court had the opportunity to explain what happened during the attack by Jesús Manuel Guardado Márquez “El Tolteca.” It was a highly emotional testimony given before Judge Rafael Lomas, defense attorney Jorge González Nicolás, the agent of the public minister, Erasmo Lerma and office personnel.

During that same testimony, Guardado denied the version of the story that he had given on April 2. He denied the rape charges and said he had only tried to kiss Nancy, but she slapped him, so he hit her back, “but not too hard,” and then she got off the bus on her own. Guardado told the judge that he left her there and drove away, then regretted this and returned to the area they had been but she was gone.

On a final note, the burned body of a woman found on March 3 on the Casas Grandes highway on the outskirts of Cd. Juárez was finally identified in late April by the Special Task Force to Investigate Crimes Against Women (FEDCM). The victim was identified as Elena García Alvarado, 33, the mother of three children who lived in the Monterrey Colonia.

DNA testing assisted in the identification of the woman, according to Suly Ponce, as did the alleged confession of bus driver José Gaspar Ceballos (“El Gaspy”) which included a detailed physical description of this victim and of the crime. It is believed that this woman was one of the victims said to be murdered by a group of maquiladora bus drivers. Gaspar has since requested asylum from the fifth district court in Cd. Juárez.

Sources: El Diario, El Norte, El Paso Times, U.N. Web Page

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