‘Bruised and battered’ activists demand government do more to stop violence against women in Mexico

MEXICO CITY— Underneath the hot, late-morning sun in Mexico City, a group of young women wearing ornate quinceañera-style dresses gathered on the stone patio in front of the regal Fine Arts Museum to protest a perceived increase in violence against women.

“Not one more. Not one more murder!” shouted the women, whose faces were made up with nasty-looking bruises and smeared with streaks of fake blood to simulate abuse.

Women wear quinceañera dresses to protest femicides and violence against women.Nathaniel Parish Flannery

Women wear quinceañera dresses to protest femicides and violence against women.

The Sunday morning protest was part of a growing call for action against the epidemic of femicides in the bleak, working-class neighborhoods that surround Mexico City.

“Everyday there’s a disappearance, a murder, or a rape,” said Silvana Ornelas, a 20-year-old activist who works with an organization called Solidaridad por las Familias (Solidarity with the Families).

Recently a few particularly morbid cases have attracted media attention from Mexico City’s tabloids, but femicides are much more common than the press acknowledges; almost every day a woman’s body is found dumped on the side of the road or in one of the dirty canals outside the city. Mexico State is now known as the most dangerous in the country for women. The number of women murdered there now exceeds figures documented in Ciudad Juarez, the border city once known as the world’s femicide capital.

Silvana Ornelas Tapia applies makeup during Sunday's protest in Mexico CityNathaniel Parish Flannery

Silvana Ornelas Tapia applies makeup during Sunday's protest in Mexico City

Silvana remembers one case that stands out. “Diana Castañeda de Fuentes. She was 14 [when she disappeared.] They found her a year and a half later. Her head and her feet were in a bucket with cement in the river.”

Other disturbing incidents have also made headlines in recent months. Last June a 28-year-old single mother was abducted and burned alive. She was kidnaped while walking home from a store two blocks from her house.

Still, activists claim that even the most brutal of crimes committed against women don’t seem to be drawing due attention from President Enrique Peña Nieto, despite the fact that many of them are occurring in his home state, which helped him get elected. Instead, the issue of violence against women has been largely avoided by a president who appears to be focused issues of narco crime and economic growth.

Photos of recent victims of violence in MexicoNathaniel Parish Flannery

Photos of recent victims of violence in Mexico

“Femicides in Estado de Mexico are a real problem, but [President Peña Nieto] has never mentioned the murders, the femicides. He just talks about human rights in very general terms. He doesn’t talk about the daily violence against women in the periphery of Mexico City. The issue just gets coverage in the tabloids,” says Manuel Amador, a human rights activist and protest organizer.

Yuridia Gallardo, a 17-year-old activist who lives in neighborhood just outside Mexico City, said she thinks police aren’t doing enough to combat the problem. “There was a case where a guy killed his girlfriend but he was freed because there wasn’t enough evidence. Then [the girl’s] mother was killed because she was seeking justice. But they still said there wasn’t enough evidence” to convict anyone.

Yuridia’s twin sister Yuriko added, “I think it’s worse since Peña Nieto became president; there’s been more crime and more people getting killed.”

17 year old activist Yuridia Gallardo saysNathaniel Parish Flannery

17 year old activist Yuridia Gallardo

Peña Nieto, who served as governor of the State of Mexico prior to being elected president, was also criticized for not doing enough to protect women back then. Between 2011 and 2012, more than 1,250 women and girls were reported missing in his state. Over half of the victims were between 10-17 years old.

Between 2005 and 2011, when Peña Nieto was governor, nearly 2,000 women were murdered in his state. The number of women murdered in Mexico State has increased steadily every year from 2007 to 2013, the most recent year for which data from the national statistics agency is available. State police did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s so corrupt here. I don’t think the government will do anything unless people really protest for security measures for women. The government…just protects businesses and the ruling class. Nobody else gets anything,” said protester Guadalupe Trejo. “You see it in the newspapers there’s always a half naked woman and a picture of a dead body. It eroticizes and normalizes the violence and makes women objects.”

T-shirts for sale in a store in Mexico show the uneasy confluence of pop culture and violence against women.Nathaniel Parish Flannery

T-shirts for sale in a store in Mexico show the uneasy confluence of pop culture and violence against women.

“This generation of young people is accustomed to the violence,” echoes activist Paula Romero, 20.

Romero said she thinks that violence and poverty are connected. “You want an education? There’s no education. You want a job? There are no opportunities,” she says. “It’s bad.”