My parents are both Mexican immigrants.
From an early age, they instilled in me a sense of pride for my Mexican heritage. My ancestors built pyramids and the Olmecs were one of two civilizations in the entire world to independently invent writing.
My pride in my heritage is a huge part of my identity. But as a little girl I also learned that within this rich culture, I would be treated as subordinate to a man.
Men controlled my life. They had all the authority and final say.
It is my personal belief that this accepted notion of female inferiority is a major factor in the unresolved murders of hundreds of women in my mother’s home state of Chihuahua. In my view, it is also why thousands of women are abused nationwide.
Last month, the 87 countries that make up the United Nations Human Rights Council issued 176 recommendations to the Mexican government. Among them is the recommendation that Mexico must thoroughly investigate all disappearances, particularly of women.
While it is true that violence in Mexico has increased across the country, the increase in violence against women began long before the nationwide surge in 2006. Amnesty International reported last year that the murders of Mexican women total 34,000 between 1985 and 2009.
We must not lose sight of the fact that violence against women is a pattern in Mexico. Take the story of Miriam Isaura López Vargas, for example.
In February 2011, Vargas was detained by soldiers dressed in plain clothes. She was blindfolded and taken to a military barracks where she was tortured with electric shocks and repeatedly sexually assaulted. She was forced to endure this for seven months, accused of drug trafficking but never charged. When she was finally acquitted and released, she decided to pursue a legal claim for the abuses to which she was subjected.
In 2012, Amnesty International submitted a report about its concerns for women’s rights to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The Committee published its recommendations, citing serious worries that impunity and corruption have contributed to the intensification of already existing patterns of discrimination and violence against women.
The Mexican government must enforce a strict code of conduct for its security officials, which will help to guarantee the respect of human rights, especially those of women.
As a woman, I walk the line between extreme pride in my heritage and frustration.
Experiencing the inequity firsthand was hard to understand as a child. Even today, I must bite my tongue from time to time. However, when it comes to the women in Chihuahua, the beautiful state I visited as a child, and all over Mexico, I will not be silenced.
Calling attention to inequality does not mean I am any less proud of my heritage, nor does it mean I am a traitor, no matter what some have said or may say after reading this article.
Violence against women in Mexico is rooted in patriarchal attitudes that serve to minimize the crimes and make the suffering almost invisible.
Join me in shining a light on the abuses and suffering of Mexican women and women all over the world.
The 16 Days Campaign and Amnesty International’s Write For Rights Campaign are both underway. As we approach Human Rights Day on December 10, it is important to remember not only to stand against gender violence in Mexico, but to take action on behalf of individuals like Miriam who are at risk for human rights all over the world.
Esmeralda Lopez is a Mexico Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA.