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Femicide Crisis in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico: Impunity, Corruption and Failed Policies

By Marco Cuevas

Fellows of the Policy Analysis of Development Course at Duke Sanford School of Public Policy.

This year I took part, alongside two talented Duke MIDP Fellows (Jessica Maeda and Ola Hosni), in the Geneva Challenge. Launched six years ago, the Geneva Challenge is an international contest for graduate students, organized by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, that aims to find innovative and pragmatic solutions to some of the world’s most pressing and complex issues.

The topic for this year was social inclusion. Therefore, teams were required to write a paper that analyzed in-depth one of the main challenges of social inclusion, for instance: employment, education and training, financial inclusion, and gender equality, among others. We decided to study a very interesting topic linked to gender-based violence and social inequality, namely: The femicide crisis in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

It is worth mentioning that the number of femicides (killings of women because of their gender) in Mexico has steadily increased since 2015. But femicides is not the only kind of violence against women. Actually, they tend to experience more discrimination and inequality than men. In terms of gender inequality, women are vulnerable in a society marked by traditional ‘machismo’ (extreme male-dominance or structural advantages given to men), with impoverished and working-class women being the most vulnerable sector (Staudt and Campbell, 2008). If we analyze the age group from 25 to 64 years, more men hold a college degree than women (El Colegio de México, 2018). Women with a college degree only earn 75% of the salary received by a man with the same level of education (Ibid.).

The context of Ciudad Juárez, in particular, is very challenging. First, the city has been devastated since the early nineties by the effects of drug related violence, because criminal organizations like the Juárez Cartel are based in this region. Second, Ciudad Juárez is a border town, indeed it is one of the most important gateways for immigration to the United States, attracting increasing flows of refugees and immigrants from other parts of Mexico and Central America, and causing the city’s population to rapidly increase. Nevertheless, those immigrants who are unable to cross the border live in extreme poverty, which increases social inequality in the city, or join local criminal gangs, which contributes to higher levels of violence. Finally, many women have to work night shifts in blue-collar jobs at assembly line production factories (maquiladoras), which put them at a greater risk since they have to walk home alone at night, so they are an easy target for criminals.

Moreover, institutional factors like impunity and corruption reign in Mexico. In fact, a great number of officers of the Mexican law enforcement system are incompetent or corrupt, and those who are not involved in corruption tend to be overwhelmed because of a very demanding workload due to the war against criminal organizations. So, it is very common that people only obtain justice if they have connections with high ranking officials or if they have money to bribe the authorities, so they can really conduct a proper investigation and bring justice to the victims. Unfortunately, working-class women do not have enough resources to bribe corrupt officials and they do not even have connections with top law enforcement officials. All these factors explain why 90% of gender-based murders remain unpunished in Mexico.

Gender-based violence has several consequences on the victims. First, the rising violence against women in Ciudad Juárez limits their rights, especially the right to live a dignified life. Regarding femicides, this crime prevents women from participating in productive activities, which in turn affects the economy of the country. Moreover, children and relatives of femicide victims may also experience economic hardship as well as psychological issues.

In order to tackle the problems of gender-based violence and femicides in Ciudad Juárez, we designed a digital platform called “No estás sola” (You are not alone, in Spanish). Such a platform will have a hotline and a live chat where victims of gender violence and survivors of attempted femicide will be able to get psychological and legal counsel, and if they want, to present complaints against the perpetrators and obtain protection orders. The digital platform will also serve as a permanent point of contact for victims with other institutions involved in the fight against gender violence, such as the local police, civil society organizations and shelters. In this way, “No estás sola” will articulate the efforts of local institutions and will produce reliable data on this problem that can be used for policy-making decisions and research. Moreover, the Digital Platform will provide courses on gender equality and the possibility for vigilant neighbors to contact authorities through an online alert. So, the community will be engaged in the fight against gender violence.

Marco Cuevas with Latin American Fellows at Duke Sanford School of Public Policy.
Marco Cuevas working at the National Employment Service in Tlaxcala, Mexico.

Finally, it should be noted that my main motivation to participate in the Geneva Challenge 2020 was that I wanted to conduct applied research during the summer. Basically, I wanted to take part in a multidisciplinary project, which would be very similar to a real-world public policy project and where I could apply the knowledge and set of skills that I had learned during my master’s degree. Among the skills I applied in this project stand out the following: Logical thinking, which is very helpful to identify the sequence of activities within the project, as well as the contribution of such activities to higher goals; teamwork, since project activities tend to be integrated, thus the work of one member of the team may affect the activities performed by other members; leadership, which is essential to keep motivated the team, so their members can work alongside to achieve one common goal; and communication skills, which is crucial to assign responsibilities, and to inform the organizing committee about the progress of the project.

We look forward to knowing the decision of the jury, which will be announced in mid-August, and hope to be chosen as one of the five finalist teams.

Marco Cuevas with Rotary Peace Fellows from Mexico.
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