This International Women's Day, Dr María E López discusses her research on necropolitics and femicide at the US–Mexican border.
Date: 8 March 2022
The Mexican border corridors operate as dysfunctional spaces where authorities, multinationals and other male powers share the sovereign right to administer the suffering and deaths of local people and displaced communities. Neither the COVID-19 confinement measures nor the authorities' efforts have reduced the violence at the Mexican border. In the northern corridor, violence and impunity over criminal acts generate fear and insecurity among 73.7% of adults (INEGI, 2021).
The Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (SENSP) reports that Ciudad Juárez headed the list of cities with the highest rate of femicides, 19 of the 940 cases registered as femicides (out of 3,723 killings of women) throughout the country in 2020, with a rate of 2.59 per 100,000 women – more than one point above the national average. Ciudad Juárez Women's Roundtable (Mesa de Mujeres) reported 175 femicides in the city in the same period – more than 30% higher than in 2019. Data discrepancies are due to the lack of reports and the fact that many femicides are typified as homicides. But this disparity shows something else: the authorities leave aside the gender perspective when approaching the devaluation of women, the instrumentalisation of their bodies and the silence over their mistreatment and deaths.
I argue that although criminal violence, corruption, and specific dynamics of poverty and social exclusion undermine the lives of all citizens in the Mexican border corridors, women also suffer lethal violence led by male powers in the battle for the control of poor and migrant women's bodies. This ideology interferes with women's sexuality and limits their spaces.
Neither governments nor political parties have shown real interest in solving the situation for poor and working-class women in the area. President López Obrador presents femicides in the region under the umbrella of "the war on drugs" and the advance of conservative and neoliberal governments, aiming to: a) downplay the suffering of the victims and their families; b) exonerate the authorities; and c) blame marginal segments of the population and women for their murders.
At the local level, Chihuahua Attorney General César Peniche Espejel presents femicides as "logical" consequences of marginal segments of the local population. He ignores the gender perspective in the design of specific measures to contain violence in the area. Women, in short, are treated as second-class citizens, and they do not know whom they can trust.
Feminist activist Maricruz Ocampo states that the president and others are sending a message to women: "I don't care". Yet, Ocampo argues, "this is a Mexican problem, not a women's issue".
This exacerbated sexist ideology should be a central topic, not a collateral one, to the official discourse on security and legal practices against violence in the area and throughout the country. Civil organisations have initiated this path by speaking openly about the authorities' inaction to preserve women's physical security and access to justice – a type of political violence against women. Feminist groups led a 'national women's strike' on 9 March 2021 (the day after International Women's Day) with the motto "¡El nueve ninguna se mueve!" ("Nobody moves on the ninth") and the hashtags #Onedaywithoutwomen and #Adaywithoutus.
Modifying the official approach to violence against women would lead to formal challenges to the male powers that administer women's deaths and minimise their suffering at the US–Mexican border and throughout the country.
Dr María Encarnación López is a Reader in Sociology at the School of Social Sciences and Professions. She is the Deputy Director of our Global Diversities and Inequalities Research Centre and also a research fellow at the Centre for the Study of Security, Intelligence and Governance (Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México).