Gender-Based Violence in Mexico: Bottom-Up Solutions to Governmental Negligence

In the last couple of years, the phenomenon of gender-based violence started receiving more and more attention worldwide. However, in the region of Latin America, it is a prevalent issue for almost more than three decades. The importance of this particular issue in the region is given by the high level of gender-based violence as well as by a bottom-up activist approach to the problem. The main focus of the article lies in the case of Mexico, a country with one of the highest rates of gender-based violence and a well-developed activist community.

Violence against women is a global issue, which occurs in both developed and developing countries. It includes various forms of crimes, from domestic violence, rape and forced prostitution, to gender-oriented murder. While it seems to be on the rise globally, stressed by the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic [1], in Latin America, it is a persistent long-term threat. [2] The region with the highest perception of insecurity in the whole world is burdened by a high level of inequality and violence. That creates a suitable condition for the occurrence of gender-based violence. [3] In Mexico alone, 10 women per day were killed on average in 2020. [4] The country’s high rates of violence against women and the significant role of civil society in the development of approaches to counter gender-based violence make the country worth closer examination. This article examines gender violence in Mexico and the main actors related to this issue.

Gender-based violence and feminicide

The United Nations‘ (UN) Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” This definition includes (a) violence occurring in the family, such as marital rape, sexual abuse of female children in the household, or female genital mutilation (b) violence occurring within the general community, for instance, rape or sexual harassment whether at work, educational institution or elsewhere and (c) violence perpetrated of condoned by the State. [5] The presented article focuses predominantly on gender violence in the form of so-called feminicide and marginally on the violence targeting women in politics.

The most extreme form of violence against women is the killing of women based solely on their gender. To address this issue more appropriate, the traditional term homicide was replaced by a new term. The internationally codified and widely used term is the term femicide. The term was created in the 1970s by Diana Russel and it corresponds with any type of sexist killing of women. Later on, a Mexican researcher Marcela Lagarde came up with a slightly adjusted term, so-called feminicide. The basic meaning of these terms is the same, however, the term feminicide stresses political implications and the role of the state in gender-based violence. It means that the state failed to respond accordingly to its duties, and thus it is perceived as a state crime. This article utilizes the latter term because it is widely used in the country of focus (Mexico) and bears the notion of the state’s inaction. [6]

Another form of gender-based violence examined in this article is violence against women in politics. It can be described as violence in the public sphere that targets women engaged in politics (politicians, voters, candidates, or supporters of political party) that are exposed to (physical) attacks solely for their gender. [7] Some authors also differentiate between violence against women in politics and violence against women during elections. The latter approach distinguishes between women voters, activists, and candidates in the process of elections and female politicians during and after elections and includes forms of non-physical violence as well. [8] For the purposes of this article, the broader definition of violence targeting women in politics is used while also referring mainly to the physical form of violence to facilitate an easier connection of this phenomenon to the notion of feminicide.

What is the situation like in the region of Latin America?

Latin America is significantly affected by violence and inequality in general. These aspects contribute to the spread of gender violence. At the same time, the region is the birthplace of various campaigns aspiring to change the situation. Despite the increased exposure of gender violence to the public and pressure created by the campaigns and mass movements, the rates of feminicide remain high in Latin America. As reported by Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the highest rates of feminicide per capita in 2020 had Honduras, Dominican Republic and El Salvador, even though all three countries reported a decrease in the cases from the previous year. The most significant interannual increase was recorded in Panama, while in Mexico the feminicide 2020 rate did not differ from 2019. [9]

Latin American countries are in the foreground of the violence against women in politics rankings as well. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project’s (ACLED) 2021 report, the most affected countries in the region were Mexico, Columbia, and Brazil[i]. The biggest share of the gender-based political violence victims in Latin America consists of political party supporters and government officials. Conversely, the least targeted by physical violence are voters. [7]

In the region where 97 % of women of reproductive age live in the countries with restricted abortion laws, cases of sexual violence are omnipresent. [10] On the other hand, Latin America excels in the number of activists and academics striving to impose positive changes in the issues concerning gender violence. The endeavour of changemakers ranges from defining violence targeting women (particularly feminicide) as a crime and offering policy recommendations to improve shortcomings of state governments, to launching mass campaigns with international influence. The campaigns, which are present across the region, share the common desire of their founders and members to bring a change from within. [11] An example of a viral campaign is the Chilean song El Violador eres tú/ El Violador en tu Camino (The Rapist is you/The Rapist in your path) which spread quickly over borders and was performed by feminist groups all over the world. [12] Another example of a feminist organization is Ni Una Menos (Not One Woman Less). The name is shared among more movements across the region, but it refers to Mexican poet Susana Chávez, who was killed in Ciudad Juárez. [13]

In Latin America, gender-based crimes are generally underreported due to the victims’ relation to the perpetrator or lack of trust in authorities. [3] The reasons for the latter case are confirmed by the authority’s omission and inaction in gender-based crimes. As for the perpetrators, the feminicides are in more than 50 % of cases committed by an intimate partner or by another family member. Even though sexual violence presents a non-lethal form of gender violence, it often precedes feminicide. [14] The phenomenon of feminicide is often accompanied by cases of indirect victims since the murdered women have already had children or someone else dependent on them. [9]

Memorial for the victims of feminicide. Source: Wikimedia.

The case of Mexico

Mexico has a historically high homicide rate. It reached record levels in 2019 and remained high during 2020. [15] According to preliminary data, the number of murder cases dropped in 2021, while the feminicide rates rose. [16] By 2019, the cases of feminicide had nearly doubled during the period of five years. [17] In 2020, there were more than 3 700 reported killings of women in Mexico. One-third of the cases are investigated as feminicide. There was not a single Mexican state without feminicide case that year. Among the most dangerous states for women in terms of feminicide are the State of Mexico and the coastal state Veracruz. One of the areas of The State of Mexico with the highest rates of feminicide is Ecatepec de Morelos, the 9th largest city in North America. [18]

Apart from sexual violence, feminicides are often preceded by disappearances, which are not properly investigated. [4] More than half of the cases of violence against women candidates for political offices in Latin America occurred in Mexico, some of which resulted in the deaths of the victims. Mexican cases of violence targeted against women government officials constitute two-thirds of all Latin American incidents. [7]

In the context of the feminicide phenomenon in Mexico, it is vital to describe the notorious historical case of Ciudad Juárez. The largest city of Chihuahua state in northern Mexico is located at the border with the United States. The position of the city contributes to the high crime rates related to drug trafficking. The main industry of the town has been assembly factories established by multinational companies (maquiladora industry). The manufacturing hub presented the opportunity of a better life for “young women with no power in society.” And exactly this group of women, whether employed in maquilas or as waitresses, were targeted by hundreds of killings[ii] from the 1990s to the early 2000s. Since the murders had no political value for the local authorities, the crimes were not properly investigated. The approach from authorities started to improve only after the pressure from families and after that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) brought international attention to the cases of gender-based killings in Ciudad Juárez. [19] The “femicide machine” [20] or “capital of murdered women”, as has been Ciudad Juárez labelled by some authors, remains the most emblematic case of feminicides in Mexico, while for example, the State of Mexico surpassed it significantly in the numbers of killed women during the first decades of the 21st century. [21]

Actors countering gender-based violence in Mexico

The following part of the article examines two main actors engaged in countering gender violence in Mexico, the state authorities and civil society.

Mexican authorities should play a key role in the prevention and punishment of gender-based crimes. Unfortunately, as demonstrated below this is often not the case. Mexico is one of the 17 Latin American countries where feminicide constitutes a specific crime. It is also important to keep in mind that not every woman-death is considered feminicide. According to the 2012 decree which reforms the General Law for Women’s Access to a Violence-Free Life (La Ley General de Acceso de las Mujeres a una Vida Libre de Violencia) from 2007, homicide is considered gender-based when any of the following circumstances is met: “a) killing of a woman subjected to sexual violence and/or bodily mutilation prior to the killing, including acts of necrophilia b) killing of a woman in the context of family violence c) killing of a woman by a current or former intimate partner d) killing of a woman whose deceased body was disposed of or exhibited in a public space.” [14] The punishment for feminicide is the sentence of 40 to 70 years and negligence or obstruction by a public servant in the case of feminicide is punishable as well. [22]

In 1994, Mexico became a member of The Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Punish and Eradicate Violence against Women (Belém do Pará Convention). [23] Even though Mexico pledges to protect women’s right to live free from violence, the authorities do not act accordingly. For example, the investigation of disappearances and subsequent murders of Mss. González, Herrera and Ramos in Ciudad Juárez was, according to the findings in the Cotton Field case, flawed (this specific name of the case of González et al. is derived from the place where the victims’ bodies were found). In the Cotton Field findings, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights concluded that the state “failed to comply with its obligation to investigate – and thereby guarantee – the rights to life, personal integrity and personal liberty” established in the Convention of Belém do Pará. [24] In many instances, the ineffectiveness of investigation conducted by authorities forces victims’ families and friends to lead their own searches. [4] This fact only strengthens the position of the second actor, the civil society.

Feminist activism has a long tradition in Mexico. In the 1970s, The Mexican women’s organization Comité Eureka was one of the first Latin American movements protesting against the political repression of women. [25] Among current social organizations fighting gender-based violence, there are mass movements such as Bring our Daughters Back Home (Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa) formed of families and friends of feminicide victims in Ciudad Juárez, whose cases were not properly investigated. [26] In 2009, feminist movements arranged march Exodus for Women’s Lives (Éxodo por la Vida de las Mujeres) from Mexico’s capital to the “capital of feminicide”, Ciudad Juárez. [25] Another activist group, We Are Visible (Invisibles Somos Visibles), uses art and performance at their protests in Ecatepec to denounce feminicide. [18]

Part of the civil society, represented through feminist movements, recognizes the need to shed light on the issue of gender-based violence. The inaction of state authorities often leaves inhabitants without any other options than protesting. They are trying to prevent future failures in the investigations by offering policy reforms and demanding changes in the judiciary system. In 2020, mass protests and all-women labour strikes were called to demand the government’s actions. Civil society organizations reacted against president Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s dismissive position on gender violence as well. [13] [27] Such steps are usually preceded by the release of shocking details concerning the victims. This was the case during the so-called glitter revolution, protests triggered by the alleged rape of a teenage girl by a group of police officers [28], or the demonstrations sparked by gruesome murder cases of Ingrid Escamilla and 7-year-old Fatima Aldrighetti. [29]

March on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in Mexico City. Source: Wikimedia.

The role of international organizations and drug cartels

The two main remaining actors that play role in feminicide and gender-oriented political violence are international organizations and Mexican drug cartels. The UN is committed to advancing women’s rights, particularly through the Womens Rights are Human Rights initiative. [30] Another international campaign is 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. It takes place annually and starts on 25 November, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. [31] These initiatives help to accelerate the formation of movements against gender violence and their connection across the whole region of Latin America. Moreover, the UN World Conference of the International Womens Year was held in Mexico City in 1975 as the first world conference on the status of women. [32]

As for the drug cartels, Mexican investigative journalist Anabel Hernandez found out that there is no clear geographic pattern to feminicide occurrence and that the areas with high violence related to drug cartels do not tend to be the areas with the highest feminicide rates. This would mean that there is no significant correlation between drug cartel violence and feminicides. [33] The government statistics have significant limitations and gaps since the official numbers of feminicide do not always match the cases reported in media in certain regions. [34] On the other hand, almost half of the cases of violence targeting women in politics in Latin America (particularly in Mexico and Brazil) is carried out by gang members. The high rates of political gender-based violence correspond with drug cartels’ attacks on officers on duty. [7]


Latin America offers almost laboratory settings for examining gender violence. It possesses high levels of inequality, exclusion, and violence. At the same time, it is the home of activists and movements proposing and demanding amendments. The evolution of gender violence in Latin America signifies the promise of improving the situation. The bottom-up approach already yielded judicial changes concerning feminicide and could potentially bring even more positive development. Mexico represents a good example of the efforts of civil society to achieve changes from within, such as the pressure leading to Cotton Field findings or establishing feminicide as a specific crime. On the other hand, the reaction of the state has been insufficient and its poor attitude towards feminist protests does not signal positive prospects for change. [29] [35] Furthermore, violence targeting women in politics could present a possible danger for the prospective political advances in the issue of gender violence.

[i] These countries are the most populous states of the region and thus they came on top in the ECLAC feminicide absolute numbers. Therefore, the higher number of incidents is to some extent related to the size of the population.

[ii] The killings were usually preceded by abduction and sexual violence. The bodies of victims were later found in deserted areas of the city.


[1] United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. “COVID-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls”.

[2] Wilson, Tamar Diana. 2014. “VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN LATIN AMERICA”. Latin American Perspectives 24 (1): 3-18.

[3] UNDP. 2013. “Regional Human Development Report 2013-2014: Citizen Security with a human face”.


[5] Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 1993. “Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women”. : Articles 1-2.

[6] Regional Office for Central America of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 2014. “Latin American Model Protocol for the investigation of gender-related killings of women (femicide/feminicide)”.


[8] Krook, Mona Lena, and Juliana Restrepo Sanin. 2016. “Gender and political violence in Latin America: Concepts, debates and solutions”. Política y gobierno 23 (1): 127-162.

[9] Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. 2021. “The pandemic in the shadows: femicides or feminicides in 2020 in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

[10] Rosas, Erika Guevara. 2021. “From mobilization to solidarity: The power of feminist struggles in Latin America”. Open Democracy.

[11] Wilson, Rebecca, Cathy McIlwaine, and Jelke Boesten. 2021. “Latin American Women Spearhead Campaigns Against Gendered Violence”. North American Congress on Latin America.

[12] Francis, Athanasia. 2019. “‘The rapist is you’: why a viral Latin American feminist anthem spread around the world”. The Conversation.

[13] Prusa, Anya, Beatriz Garcia Nice, and Olivia Soledad. 2020. ““Not One Women Less, Not One More Death:””. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs.

[14] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2018. “GLOBAL STUDY ON HOMICIDE: Gender-related killing of women and girls”.

[15] AP. 2021. “Mexico’s homicide rate stayed high in 2020 despite pandemic”.

[16] Reuters. 2022. “Murders in Mexico fall 3.6% in 2021, but femicides rise”.

[17] Webber, Jude. 2020. “Mexico: ‘You kill a woman here and nothing happens’”. Financial Times.

[18] Bautista, Nidia. 2019. “Surviving One of Mexico’s Deadliest Places for Women”. North American Congress on Latin America.’s-deadliest-places-women.

[19] Amnesty International. 2003. “Mexico Intolerable Killings: Ten years of abductions and murders in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua”.

[20] Rodríguez, Sergio González. 2012. The Femicide Machine. Semiotext(e).

[21] Bautista, Nidia. 2017. “Justice for Lesvy: Indifference and Outrage in Response to Gender Violence in Mexico City”. North American Congress on Latin America.


[23] Organization of American States (OAS). “Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women („Convention of Belem do Para“)”. : Article 7.

[24] Inter-American Court of Human Rights. 2009. “Case of González et al. (“Cotton Field”) v. Mexico”. : 146.

[25] Jaramillo, Diana M. Barrero. 2021. “How Latin American feminists shifted global understanding of gender-based violence”. The Conversation.

[26] “Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa”.

[27] Cota, Isabella. 2020. “Mexican women plan historic strike against femicides”. Open Democracy.

[28] Phillips, Tom. 2019. “Mexico’s ‚glitter revolution‘ targets violence against women”. The Guardian.

[29] Sandin, Linnea. 2020. “Femicides in Mexico: Impunity and Protests”. CSIS.

[30] OHCHR. 2014. “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”.

[31] United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence”.

[32] United Nations. “World Conference of the International Women’s Year: The first UN conference on women”.

[33] Hernandez, Anabel. “Against the current: Femicide in Mexico on the rise and growing more brutal”. Deutsche Welle.

[34] Sim, Bérengère. 2018. “How one woman is mapping femicides in Mexico”. Open Democracy.

[35] Vivanco, José Miguel. 2020. “Mexican government paralyzed in the face of a wave of femicides”. HRW.


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