One year after Ayotzinapa, women still disappear in Mexico every day

On September 26th, 2014, 43 students were disappeared in Ayotzinapa, Mexico and the whole world heard their story. Protests took place across the country and even news outlets outside of Mexico began covering the violence that was rocking the country. But one year later, those 43 male students still make up a small percentage of the estimated 25,000 people reported missing in Mexico since 2007, many — if not a majority — of them women.


Loved ones mourn Ruben Espinosa, a campaigning journalist killed in Mexico City earlier this summer. (Image credit)

According to UN estimates, 2,500 women have been killed in Mexico in the year that has passed since the Ayotzinapa attack.

Less than a quarter of those murders are usually investigated, and only 2 percent of investigated cases lead to a sentence. Though Ciudad Juárez, located in the state of Chihuahua and the birth place of the term “femicide,” is notorious for its devastating history of violence against women, it is not the only state where this occurs, nor does it have the highest rates of femicide. Other border states like Sonora and Chihuahua deal with similar problems, as does the crime-ridden state of Guerrero. But what’s even more alarming is that this epidemic of femicide is no longer limited to the more dangerous border states; in fact, the state of Mexico, home to the country’s capital, is now the most dangerous place for women in Mexico. In 2014 alone, 400 women were disappeared from the area.

And those numbers might not even be representative of the size of the problem: Rafael Castillo notes that there are no complete figures on the murders of women at the state or federal level, and those organizations that do keep track don’t always differentiate between gender, whether the violence committed was lethal, or the motive of the murder. What we do know is that most of the women targeted are young, low-income, and of indigenous descent. They’ve often traveled north from poor rural regions of Mexico, and kidnappers target them for ransom money or extortion, or to force them into sex trafficking.

Nadia Vera

Nadia Vera was a 32-year-old social activist and artist, killed in her apartment alongside another journalist and three other women. (Image credit)

People throughout the country are protesting this violence, but those who do stand up find that they become targets themselves. Marisela Ortiz Rivera and Norma Andrade, the founders of the Juarez-based group May Our Daughters Come Home, have been shot at and received death threats for leading protests to raise awareness of the disappearances. Earlier this summer, artist and human rights defender Nadia Vera was killed in Mexico City alongside her friend the journalist Rubén Espinoza and three other women. According to the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders of Mexico (RNDDHM), Vera was the 36th women’s human rights defender to be killed in the past 5 years in Mexico. In a now devastating interview recorded seven months before her death, Vera told her interviewer that if killed, she knew that the governor of her state of Veracruz would be to blame.

Vera is not the only one to place the fault on the government: According to a report by the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders, Central American governments are responsible for 90 percent of attacks on women in the region. The Mexican government has recently come under fire by an independent group of experts who released a report challenging the government’s account of what happened to the Ayotzinapa students. The group, working under the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, found that not only was it was scientifically impossible for the 43 students to have been burned in the garbage dump where the government had allegedly identified their remains, but that state and federal forces had been monitoring the students’ movements from the moment they left their school, and quite possibly were involved in their deaths.


Women in Juarez march to honor lost daughters, sisters, and loved ones. (Image credit)

And though this pattern of violence at the hands of Mexican government forces might seem limited to within its borders, it has roots in United States foreign policy. The US has funded these forces with $2 billion worth of services and equipment, in an effort to protect American business interests but with no regard for the dangerous effect that increased power and militarization of the Mexican government might have on its people. Meanwhile, neoliberal economic policies led by the US have helped to deepen the chasm between the rich and the poor throughout the Americas, especially in Mexico, forcing rural and indigenous women to risk the journey north to escape crippling poverty. However, once migrants reach the border, they are funneled through the hottest, most deadly parts of the desert. Thousands of people have died making that crossing in the past two decades, and plenty more have simply gone missing and unaccounted for, their families and loved ones too scared or too poor to find out what happened to them.

The US government undoubtedly feels little responsibility for the death of 43 students in a city most Americans have never heard of. But the problem in Mexico is so much bigger than those 43 students, and it reaches much farther north than most politicians would like to believe. Their blood — the blood of the Ayotzinapa students, the thousands of disappeared who will never make it into the newspaper, and those who die uncounted while migrating away from violence and poverty — is on our hands.

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Bay Area, California

Juliana is a digital storyteller for social change. As a writer at Feministing since 2013, her work has focused on women's movements throughout the Americas for environmental justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. In addition to her writing, Juliana is a Senior Campaigner at Change.org, where she works to close the gap between the powerful and everyone else by supporting people from across the country to launch, escalate and win their campaigns for justice.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and campaigner based in the Bay Area.

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