When Stieg Larsson wrote the first of his famous trilogy known as the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” before he died, the actual title of his book was the “ Men Who Hate Women.”
As a teenager Larsson had witnessed a gang rape of a young girl. Her name was Lisbeth like the main character of his books who was also a victim of rape.
You don’t expect anyone to notice this type of misogyny against women in a socialized country like Sweden where women tend to have more equal and human rights than other nations, but Larsson was sensitive enough to notice this is an international problem that is seldom discussed. Some men simply hate women and though they sleep with them, have children with them or are related to them in some way or another, they have no trouble raping, mutilating, trafficking, harassing or forcing them to disappear under the guise of war, political conflict or economic gain.
I had seldom heard the term “femicide” often defined as the misogynist murders of women because they are women. This includes the mutilation, murder, rape and beating of women. Recently, feminists in Latin America have started to use the term to describe the massive murders of women in Juarez and other parts of Mexico and Central America.
Violence against women has increased around the world. The United Nations Development fund for Women estimates that at least one out every three women globally will be beaten, raped or otherwise abused during their lifetime. During war, the stats get worse. According to UNIFEM, since the 90’s, 90 percent of war’s civilian casualties are women and children, not soldiers and this is what we corroborated in Mexico.
In January of this year, I was part of a delegation of Nobel Peace laureates led by Jody Williams, who won her peaceprize in 1997 for her work banning landmines around the world. I had met Ms. Williams while doing a local follow up television program to the Women War and Peace PBS series by award winning documentarian Abigail Disney. (You can watch the unprecedented series online http://www.pbs.org/wnet/women-war-and-peace/.)
In the 80’s she had worked defending human rights especially in Central America and is now leading a campaign to stop violence against women worldwide.
The Women Nobel Laureates had gathered a diverse group together from the US and Canada. Besides journalists, there were human rights activists, an Oscar winning documentary filmmaker, a celebrity folk singer/songwriter, a comedian, and a movie star. We were there to listen to human rights activists in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. I was a participant in the Mexican portion of the trip.
The goal was to listen and find out why there were so many violations against human rights activists, especially females who are fighting injustice and insecurity, and to guarantee the Mexican Government protects them.
When the most violent drug war started in the beginning of 2006, the Juarez murders of hundreds of women became common in other parts of Mexico as well. The violence increased towards civilians, journalists and human rights activists. The violence was often brutal. The female editor of the Primera Hora newspaper in the border town of Nuevo Laredo for instance was beheaded for using social media to report on criminals. Right now Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist and if you are female the danger increases.
Living in Texas, we hear more about Mexico and the impact the drug war has on its people and the US but I never imagined I would hear the stories I heard and the ramifications for a nation threatened by a what appears to be a protracted silent war claiming thousands of innocent victims, many of them women.
One of our delegates was Laura Carlsen, the director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy. She has been writing about the current drug war’s impact on women in Mexico. She reports that the more than 50,000 Mexicans who have disappeared on the government’s assault on the drug trade are civilians and that murders of women have increased dramatically. She also cites a recent survey of Mexican women human rights defenders that found government national state and local security forces are responsible in 55% of cases of violence and threats of violence to women defenders.
The President of Mexico says they are mostly related to the drug dealers but what would he know when only 2 percent of crimes are investigated.
In two days we heard over 50 women, the common word that came out of their accounts was “impunity.” They say there is no justice in Mexico, even for those who demand it. For example, women who seek to find why a daughter disappeared or a son was murdered or why a human rights activist was raped by police.
In the last few years, six prominent human rights defenders have been murdered. And though women make up a small portion of murders in Mexico, they are the ones in the frontline, demanding justice, investigating cases, standing up for the disappeared, the raped, trafficked, tortured or dismembered.
There will be a report prepared by the Nobel Women’s delegation with all the accounts, each with its own characteristics, victims and anonymities since almost all lack any formal investigation.
As we listened to each account, the victims were no longer just tragic, cold and hard statistics. Each story had a face, and included a family’s suffering, an unsolved mystery and a high level of frustration and disappointment with authorities. They were accounts of real people seldom heard in their country or the world.
We heard the story of Araceli Rodríguez who is part of a movement for peace. Her son, a police officer disappeared like hundreds do in Mexico and there was no investigation. She like many with similar accounts of family members who disappear started the peace movement to carry out the investigations themselves. “I have learned to turn my own pain into collective strength. “ My soul has been mutilated by the absence of my son.”
María Herrera Magdalena shared a similar account. Her face stricken with grief while she spoke. Her four sons disappeared along with 19 other people. Again their cases were never investigated. Today she says spends every day tired of crying and begging for information. She is now committed to helping other families find their loved ones and demanding justice from the government. She like so many others call for a cease fire of a war that claims innocent and seemingly forgotten victims. “All governments in the world must come together to learn what is going on in Mexico. This is a national tragedy. We have been betrayed by our government.”
One of the most difficult cases we heard was fraught with tremendous brutality and violence. A young woman from Chiapas shared how working as a health provider with native women led to her torture and rape by several police agents. She can no longer find work. Her kids can’t go to school and she has no place to go though she suffers from PTSD.
Many of these women dealt with disappearances of family members and couldn’t get any relief from authorities so they joined groups to do the work of those who are supposed to serve them.
The next day we went to Chilpancingo the state capital of the mountain region of Guerrero, one of the poorest and most violent states in Mexico. Here indigenous peasant women suffer daily indignities by the police, the military, local governments and even their own tribes which have little regard for them.
80 percent of the natives here live in the mountains and in utter poverty.
Jody Williams shared at a press conference. “I was struck by the total lack of justice for indigenous women. The have no access to justice.”
Tlachinollan, the human rights center which welcomed us struggles to keep its doors open for human rights workers and those in need in this area providing all kinds of social and legal services and making sure mining (gold and silver) corporations or any corporations for that matter don’t step on their rights. The needs are much greater than the services, especially now under increasing militarization of the area. These indigineous communities are also plagued by domestic violence and to this day there are no women’s shelters to escape. If women have the courage to stand up for themselves, government officials won’t likely speak their native language and care little to meet their needs.
This extends to health care. We heard Juana Anairis whose sister passed in her twenties because the doctor refused to see her during the weekend. She died of a staff infection right after birth.
Two widows Margarita Martín and Marta Morales lost their human rights activist husbands and are trying to raise kids alone without a job because there is no work.
A young woman shared the story of her repressive family. Her own mother told her women in this culture were worth nothing. She refused to believe it and left her tribe at the age of 14 to study in another city. When she returned she was rejected because she was actually working and successful. This story was repeated by other women. They are discriminated outside and inside their communities.
Yet the courageous women who spoke don’t give up. They found radio stations, lead environmental groups, join the police force or defend women’s productive rights despite the harassment and danger. They continue to seek justice, though they are often re victimized, ignored or simply blamed, threatened for even speaking out. In Mexico, if you are a human rights leader, or a grassroots organizer or a journalist or indigenous and you happen to be female, the government will most likely turn you away.
We did visit the office of CONAVIM, the (Comison Nacional Para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia Contra Mujeres) ”The National Commission to prevent and eradicate Violence Against Women.” Dilcya García Espinosa de Los Monteros is respected for what she’s done in the short period there. She did promise the delegation leaders she would continue the dialogue with the network of human rights defenders and their office and create a protocol for the protection of the activists. She is also leading the creation of “Justice Centers” for women to protect their rights but she did admit they lack funds to confront such a widespread problem. This is also a political post which may end with the new administration.
Jody Williams shared she was happy CONAVIM was trying to make a difference. “They are people of action and as a woman activist myself with 40 years of experience, I know the only thing that works in these cases is action.”
Lisa Vene Klasen Director of Just Associates, an international women’s rights organization athat partnered with the Nobel Peace Laureates in the fact finding mission expressed CONAVIM was an ally and agreed to continue the dialogue between human rights defenders and the commission, especially to create a protocol to protect them.
What this agency can do however has a lot to do with the priorities of the new administration that will take over the country in July of this year. One of the most popular candidates Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI party served as governor of the state of Mexico from 2005 to 2011, during one of the worst periods of violence against women and human rights violations in its history.
So whether it is the government, the cartels, priavate security companies hired by national or transnational companies, the police or the military, women or their defenders become targets, the victims of a society which generally doesn’t value them. Maybe Stigg Larsen has something to say about that but his voice is silenced not only by his passing but also by the loud violent voice of some weak, violent, and cowardly men who hate women.
If you want to help stop the violence against women. Here are some of the recommendations by the Nobel Women’s Initiative.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY:
� Prioritize human rights and women’s human rights in particular, in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. We urge you to work with the governments of Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala to ensure that it follows through on its responsibility to properly investigate all complaints of human rights violations against women, prosecute violations and compensate the survivors.
� Publicly denounce violence against women, including the targeting of women human rights defenders. Diplomats and members of the international community can help end the climate of ‘tolerance’ for targeted violence against women by denouncing specific cases of such violence as they arise.
� Tie aid and funding to human rights. We urge you to ensure that technical and financial support provided by different international organizations and governments to the governments of Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras fully complies with, and respects, human rights standards.
� Monitor the principal of judicial independence. We urge you to push the governments of Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala to guarantee judicial independence and effectiveness in order to combat impunity for violence against women and ensure fundamental rights are protected.
� Implement effective mechanisms for dispute resolution. We urge you to work with the governments of Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala to implement effective mechanisms to resolve disputes over land rights and titles, labour rights, environmental and collective rights. This will help ensure that women’s human rights defenders do not become targets of intimidation and aggression as a result of their involvement in these disputes.
� Support women at the community level to help bring an end to violence in the region. Investing in grassroots women’s organizations working to end violence in their community is a cost-effective, efficient and very sustainable way of improving security for people in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. We urge you to earmark a greater proportion of foreign assistance to women’s organizations. This community-based model will reduce a dangerous dependence on armed solutions to security challenges.
For more information on the delegation, please visit the Nobel Women’s Initiative website: www.nobelwomensinitiative.org.
For media interviews, please contact: Rachel Vincent, Media Manager, Nobel Women’s Initiative email@example.com | 613-276-9030; 613-569-8400, ext. 113
ROSE MARY SALUM (México). Es fundadora y directora de la revista bilingüe Literal, Latin American Voices y de Literal Publishing. Es autora de los libros de cuentos El agua que mece el silencio (Vaso Roto, 2015), Delta de las arenas, cuentos árabes, cuentos judíos (2013) Entre los espacios (2002) (Spaces in Between, 2006) y Vitrales (1994). En 2009 reunió la compilación Almalafa y Caligrafía, Literatura de origen árabe en América Latina para la revista Hostos Review. Ha sido incluída en diversas antologías en Estados Unidos, España, México y Australia. Entre sus distinciones y reconocimientos por su labor literaria y editorial están “Author of the Year 2008” por el Hispanic Book Festival, Ana María Matute (Torremozas), el Hispanic Excellence Award, 4 Lone Star Awards, 2 CELJ Awards, el Classical Award otorgado por la Universidad de St. Thomas, un reconocimiento por el Congreso de Estados Unidos y dos nominaciones: el Nora Magid Award otorgado por el Pen America (2013) y el Maggie Award(2005). Enseña escritura creativa en la universidad de Rice.