Mexico Issues Emergency Alerts for Violence Against Women

By Svetlana Shkolnikova, Staff Writer

Rampant violence against women prompted the Mexican government this week to issue an emergency "gender alert" in Morelos, the second state in the country after Mexico to be singled out for its high rate of murdered and missing women.

The alert, first declared by the Secretariat of the Interior on July 29 for the 11 municipalities comprising the state of Mexico, urges local, state and federal authorities to take immediate action in combating violence against women by granting victims legal, health and psychological services and speeding up investigations of unsolved cases.

Though officials created the gender alert mechanism in 2007, it took relentless pressure from women, including a protest against domestic violence last month in which activists imitated a crime scene in front of Mexico's Interior Ministry, to enact it.

"This is something historic that will set precedents for this mechanism to be more agile, and for guarantees for women's life and access to justice," said Maria de la Luz Estrada, director of the National Citizens' Observatory on Femicide, in response to the first alert. "Now there has been a commitment. There is no turning back."

The watchdog group estimates that more than 2,300 women have been killed in the state of Mexico over the past nine years and six more are killed every day. Of the 840 women murdered from 2011 to 2013, only 17 percent have been investigated as femicides and even fewer have resulted in convictions.

A report by the Interior Ministry said the state's "systemic violence against women" and an "atmosphere of impunity and permissiveness" toward crimes targeting women led to 1,700 slayings between 2005 and 2014 and at least 4,281 disappearances. Many of the missing reappeared alive but 1,554 were never found.

Activists blame deep-rooted misogyny, the war on drugs, organized crime and an indifferent and corrupt police force and government for allowing hate crimes against women and girls to spike so dramatically in recent years.

Mexico averages 4.4 murders per 100,000 women -- a rate double the world average. The country's statistical institute, INEGI, reports that femicides in the most volatile states are up to 15 times above the global average.

Last month, in an unprecedented move that offered women's groups a glimmer of hope that cultural change could be on the horizon, the state of Chihuahua sentenced five men to 697 years in prison for murdering 11 young women who disappeared in 2009 and 2010.

Prosecutors said the men coerced the women into prostitution and drug distribution and when they were no longer needed, killed them and dumped their bodies in the Navajo stream of the Juárez Valley.