Wednesday, July 15, 2015

On Femicide in Mexico

Mexico suffers from an epidemic of missing and/or murdered women.  The comments to the linked article right away argued that Mexico suffers from an even larger epidemic of missing and/or murdered men, and that is certainly correct. 

But a more useful way to think about these gender differences is to point out that much of this general murder trend is to do with the drug gangs acting as a revolutionary power, challenging the very government,  and with the brutal treatment of those who try to cross the border from Mexico to the US. 

The "criminal occupations" of those who deal drugs and fight gang wars or of those who exploit migrants are predominantly male occupations.  Their victims (many innocent bystanders, members of the police or the civil service, but also other gang members and criminals)  are more likely to be male, too, given the traditionally gendered division of labor in those "criminal occupations."   If women are less likely to be participants in crime, if women are less likely to be out in the public sphere fighting crime and if women are simply less likely to be out alone, we'd expect a much lower female rate of murder victims.

That's the background I've painted for trying to understand the numbers of missing and/or murdered women in certain areas of Mexico.   Are they just unfortunate victims of the general lawlessness I've described above?  Or are many of these women picked as victims simply because they are female?  After all, that's one definition of femicide.

The evidence is unclear, partly because proper statistics are hard to find, and perhaps partly because the authorities haven't seemed to care enough about these cases.  Perhaps the motivations behind the murders of women are many?  Perhaps serial killers can hide behind the generally high murder rate and not get caught?  From a 2012 article about Ciudad Juárez, a place infamous for the number of murdered women:

A government committee found a similar array of causes for the earlier wave of killings. After surveying 155 killings out of 340 documented between 1993 and 2003, the committee found that roughly half were prompted by motives like domestic violence, robbery and gang wars, while a little more than a third involved sexual assault.

Why lump together domestic violence, robbery and gang wars?  That doesn't make any sense to me.

This post is a stump, as Wikipedia calls them.  I'm not sufficiently informed about the issues (correct me in the comments, please!).  But it seems to me that the crucial question has to do with the reason why women are murdered in such numbers.

If we could study the murders of men and women in the relevant areas of Mexico, if we could standardize for all relevant variables (number of drug gangs, the individual's role in that context, whether participant or opponent, robbery as basis for murder etc.), and if we then found out that after taking all that into account being a woman or a girl raises one's chances of being killed, then we could say that Mexico has a problem of femicide.