Equal Rights Issues Takes Center Stage On Border

Anne Marie Mackler, FNS Editor

In celebration of March 8, International Women’s Day, people in Cd. Juárez joined those from across all of México who rallied, performed, marched and gave speeches in an effort to “sensitize” the Mexican public to the current inequalities that exist in México between men and women. Although México has ratified numerous laws giving men and women equal rights, the focus of March 8 events was to demand the protection of the rights provided by the law. “Women can not gain total independence if they are still considered physically and mentally weaker than men,” said Esther Chávez Cano, human rights activist in Cd. Juárez and director of one of México’s four crisis centers for victims of domestic violence.

Decades of Slow Growth

Many of the laws needing protection were in fact proposed by women. Ninety percent of the 36 initiatives that provided equal rights to men and women during the last four Mexican Congresses were proposed by women. In 1997, the Law Against Family Violence was passed; and in 1996 a recommendation was established that all political parties guarantee that at least 30 percent of the candidates for public offices will be women.

But in the face of these recent advancements, according to World Equality Research, México rates 48th on a list of 143 countries for the equality of opportunities it offers to women. This group, under the United Nations Development Program, developed the index based on the health, education, and economic status of men and women.

According to El Diario, a downside to women’s gaining the little equality they have, is that they also have more freedom to commit crimes and end up in jail. Interestingly enough, in the Center for Adult Rehabilitation (El Cereso) in Cd. Juárez, there are 140 women inmates (out of a total of 2,460), but 90 percent of them have been charged with crimes related to drug trafficking and are serving sentences of over 10 years. The majority of them are under 30 years old.

This trend is not unlike what is going on in prisons in the U.S. according to Nina Siegal of Ms. The number of women in U.S. jails has tripled since 1986 when Congress passed a new set of minimum penalties for trafficking illicit drugs, which was intended to crack down on the major dealers but instead has crowded local prisons with small-time drug offenders. In the U.S. federal prisons, 66 percent of all imprisoned women are serving time for drug offenses, a lower percentage than in Cd. Juárez’ El Cereso, but a related trend nonetheless.

In addition to women being arrested for minimal drug charges on the border, a woman was recently incarcerated for having an abortion. Last week it was reported in El Diario that Yolanda Alvarez Chávez, 20, had been arrested in Cd. Juárez for having an abortion in 1999. She attempted the procedure on her own by swallowing 20 tablets of Sitotecc, which is an anti-inflamatory medication rumored to be used to induce miscarriage. She was treated at the public hospital where they had to scrape out her uterus. She was arrested in March of this year by the state police and jailed in the El Cereso where she will await sentencing.

Another part of the Mexican constitution that needs great protection is the domestic violence laws. Eighty percent of Mexican households experience some type of domestic violence, according to Luz María Aguilar, one of the organizers of March 8 events at the Colegio Teresiano in Cd. Juárez. Ninety percent of that crime is caused by men living in the residence according to the Men’s Collective for Equal Relations out of Cd. México.

However, important advances have been made over the last few years also beginning with the 1953 legislation that first allowed women to vote in México. Now, Congress currently consists of 18.8 percent women in the House and 17.2 percent women in the Senate.

Additionally, in 1970, 66.8 percent of the girls between the ages of 6 and 14 could read and write but by 1995 that number had increased to 86.4. And while in 1990 there were 536,070 women with advanced degrees, by 1995 there were 726,528.

A Questionnaire Provides Statistics

As part of the activities around March 8, a questionnaire was distributed last month and made available to citizens all over the city for the purpose of establishing popular beliefs on matters of equal rights between men and women. Approximately 3,700 citizens took part in the inquiry and the results were presented at an International Women’s Day event.

As part of the national campaign for women’s rights, Dolores Leony of the Center for the Development of Women (Cedimac), said the questionnaire would help sensitize women and the population in general to the greatest problems women face today stemming from the social and cultural structures that create inequality between the genders. The collected data will also be provided to all levels of government.

Of the nearly 4,000 people questioned, 90 to 94 percent of all men responded positively to the following four statements, and 95 to 98 percent of all women responded positively.

·Domestic chores are the responsibility of the entire family.
·Women have the right to improved working conditions.
·Salaries should be equal between men and women.
·The State should create laws to protect women.

Other questions received similar results and included: Do women have the same right to education and employment as men? Should women be protected by law in the case of domestic violence or rape? Should the salary and work conditions for women be equal to that of their male counterparts?

In response to this questionnaire, Professor Martha Cecilia Miker Palofox, from El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, proposed that the questionnaire be distributed again, however, instead of asking whether “women should be” it suggested that people be more directly addressed. For instance, instead of “Should women have the right to live without violence?” the question should read “Do I have the right to live without violence.” Miker Palofax believes that a more direct approach will provide a deeper look at the real problems women in the city face because it would force each woman to speak for herself, instead of speaking for women in general.

Miker Palofax believes that if this information continues to be collected, across the world, then there will be a “snowball” effect, and NGOs and other civil groups and activists will gain power and successfully take action on bringing equality to the treatment of women globally.

The professor also suggests that the efforts that go into the celebrations of March 8 have got to be continued year round, and in the homes and offices, before the snowball effect will occur.

Government Promises Improved Security For Women

In late February, the Federal Attorney General Jorge Madrazo Cuéllar was reported by Notimex in El Norte to have assured the country that the violence that has erupted in Cd. Juárez “really has the Mexican government worried” and he announced that the cases involving murdered women and drug trafficking executions will be investigated to the full extent of the law. The realization of this promise came in the security summit that followed shortly after this announcement. Seehttp://www.nmsu.edu/~frontera/feat2.html 

According to an article in La Reforma, Cipriana Jurado Herrera, director of the Independent Workers Research Center, there have been 32 women reported missing since January 1999, and 220 assassinated, although the attorney general’s special prosecutor’s office reports that 182 have been found dead. She believes the attorney general’s office is running an underground war against women because they “do not lift a finger and they keep scapegoat criminals in the jails.” Her office always notifies the special prosecutor immediately when a missing woman has been announced but the state’s work, Jurado says, “has been a fiasco.”

Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo promised that there will be an end to the discrimination against women in his weekly radio message on March 12. He said that “men and women must work together to end all forms of discrimination and injustice against the better half of the population.” He also noted the great advancements women have brought about in medicine, education, labor and business.

The Murder Of Border Women Continues

Four women were murdered on the border in March and all four crimes remain unsolved. However, none of these four crimes fit what has come to be standard MO for murders of women in the Cd. Juárez/El Paso border region involving a naked woman’s body found raped, tortured, murdered and left in the desert. Two of these appear to be drug trafficking executions, one tied to a robbery, and one a supposed lovers’ suicide pact.

On Tuesday, March 7, the bodies of Laura Rocío Lara, 20, and her boyfriend Francisco Aguirre Rodríguez, 23, were found shot to death in a blue 1984 Nissan near Villa Colonial, a colonia of Cd. Juárez. His body was in the driver’s side, and was laying on top of hers. She was shot in the right side of her face and he in the right side of his head. According to the state office for the special investigator of the murders of women, Rodríguez was unhappy that Lara had broken off their nine-month long relationship that afternoon. A note found at the scene said, “Goodbye everyone, it was for love, Laura and Paco.” The note also said that “We will die together and I will forever be the only one she has loved.” However, because witnesses indicated that when she broke up with him earlier that day he had grown quite angry with her, and she was in the car crying, it is suspected that he may have killed her out of anger, and then killed himself to make it look like a suicide.

On Saturday, March 11, Berenice Ortiz Gómez, 22, was murdered by fire from an AK-47 intended for her boyfriend Raymundo Pérez Hijar, 38. The shots were fired from a nearby car while the couple was driving in Cd. Juárez, and Pérez ducked, so Gómez was hit by the bullets and killed. For further information on this investigation see: http://www.nmsu.edu/~frontera/feat3.html

Also, on March 11, the body of Alejandra del Castillo Holguín, 26, was found strangled in the back of a 1999 red Lincoln Navigator, owned by her sister Perla, 29, who has been missing since December 28, however the family had not reported her missing until this incident. According to the special investigator of the murders of women, Alejandra was last seen at on March 11 at a club in Cd. Juárez in her car surrounded by armed men in black uniforms. Her body was discovered the next day on the southeast side of town. Her body was wrapped in a beige blanket, had been strangled and evidently tortured, and there were signs of duct tape on her face. Neither Perla or Alejandra had jobs that anyone knew of, however, Perla had recently purchased the home where Alejandra and their mother lived in Las Alamedas, a wealthy area of Cd. Juárez, and when Alejandra disappeared in December of 1999, she left behind her four-year-old daughter.

On Friday, March 10, Sophia Martinez, 18, a high school senior from El Paso, was apparently robbed and assaulted when she withdrew money from an ATM on her way out to a bar. Her car was found on Saturday, and her dead body on Sunday. She was apparently shot in the head several times. According to reports in the El Paso Times, based on film footage from a video surveillance camera at the ATM, El Paso police believe that the assailant shot Martinez in the face through the passenger window, then entered her car and forced her to withdraw cash. Police believe he forced her to drive to the desert where her body was found, then drove the car a distance northwest of that location. He was either picked up at that point or “walked a long way back,” said Sgt. Al Velarde, El Paso Police spokesperson. No further leads have been reported, however, by the end of that week, nearly thirty thousand dollars had been raised in reward money to add to the original one thousand offered by the local Crime Stoppers organization.

On Friday, March 17, it was reported in El Diario that the office of the special task force to investigate the murders of women, with the assistance of a state helicopter, searched the banks of of the Rio Grande, where they had been told that a dead body of a woman was seen. The search was concluded as a “false alarm” because the body was never found and the tip was never substantiated, however, Suly Ponce said that she would stay on alert in case a subsequent search needed to be instituted.

Source: El Diario, El Norte, La Reforma, Ms.

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