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'Not high on our radar': The epidemics of murdered women in Canada and Mexico

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"Zapatos Rojos" (Red Shoes) by Elina Chauvet. Each shoe represents one woman mur

To review the minimal, mostly belated media "coverage," in the first half of 2015, of the epidemic of femicides in the State of Mexico is perhaps, for many Canadians, to contemplate the staggering realities of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in this country through another lens.

Apart from the obvious and all-too-familiar homicidal misogyny that drives events in both instances, are there instructive links to be discerned between them that do not sacrifice the specificities, not only of distinct societal phenomena separated geographically by the continental U.S., but of each murder, its circumstances and outcome?

The sequence of events that has been graphically abbreviated as #MMIW and #MMIWG has been reported and analyzed in mainstream and alternative Canadian media, and decried nationally and internationally by human rights organizations, damaging the already tarnished image of the Harper government well before the recent release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report, which includes among its recommendations a renewed call for a national inquiry that the federal government has repeatedly spurned. According to the report,

"the available information suggests a devastating link between the large numbers of murdered and missing Aboriginal women and the many harmful background factors in their lives.  The complex interplay of factors -- many of which are part of the legacy of residential schools -- need to be examined, as does the lack of success of police forces in solving these crimes against Aboriginal women."

Increasingly widespread knowledge -- if not full comprehension -- of the magnitude of the crisis has resulted in the mobilization of activists and some elements of civil society, but no action on the part of the federal government.

Mexican authorities have likewise rebuffed demands from family and community members to respond effectively to the deaths and disappearances of countless -- or at least uncounted -- women and girls in the State of Mexico (Estado de Mexico, or Edomex) over at least the past decade. As Nina Lakhani reported in The Guardian in April, "A staggering 1,258 girls and women were reported disappeared in Edomex in 2011 and 2012 -- of whom 53 per cent were aged between 10 and 17, according to figures obtained by the National Citizens Observatory on Femicides. Over the same period, 448 women were murdered in the state."  It is worth noting that, between 2005 and 2011, Edomex was governed by Enrique Pena Nieto, currently the President of Mexico; 1,200 women were reported murdered in the state during his tenure as governor.

Better publicized is the epidemic of homicidal violence against women in the northern city of Juarez:  379 women were reported murdered in the border city between 1993 and 2005. Local mobilizations, media coverage, growing international awareness, inquiries and legal reforms ensued.  It is all the more shocking to learn, after the fact, that in the same period, as Lakhani notes, "10 times as many women were murdered in Edomex than in Ciudad Juarez."  

To date, the most detailed and extensive research and reporting on femicides committed during this period is collected in the volume Las Muertas del Estado:  Feminicidios durante la administracion mexiquense de Enrique Pena Nieto, by Humberto Padgett and Eduardo Loza.  As Padgett summarily conveyed to VICE News reporter Daniel Hernandez regarding the "uptick" in femicides in Edomex over the past decade, "the facts revealed not the work of a serial killer, but rather that of a society in decay that was murdering its own women": Not a crime or series of crimes, then, but a distinctly sociological phenomenon.

Still, according to Lakhani,

"state officials have repeatedly said they need more proof that women in Edomex are being systematically targeted because of their gender, rather than falling victim to the violence of Mexico’s drug wars.  Last year, the state governor's spokesman said there were 'more serious issues to deal with' than gender-based violence."

More serious issues to deal with.

Not high our radar, to be honest.

Not a sociological phenomenon.

Indistinguishable assertions like these, emanating from law enforcement and elected officials, bind the crisis of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada to the overlooked epidemic of femicides in the State of Mexico.  Impunity prevails, at all levels: from the killers themselves, to the police, local administrations, the legal (aka "justice") systems and the highest levels of government.

As the now notorious Red River winds through Winnipeg, so the little-known Draga Canal runs sluggishly through the mostly poor and forgotten communities of Edomex -- indelible reminders of the pitiless violence that has transpired in their environs, and beyond.


Image: Flickr/ho visto nina volare

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