By Liz Hensler
Cover Photo: Reuters
People around the world are standing up for their human rights.
Do Good, Better stands with them.
This piece is the first in our new Fight for Rights series on these important social movements and opportunities to stand and act in solidarity.
Content Warning: This piece contains frank discussion of brutal violence and killing of women.
On Saturday, Victoria Salazar Arriaza, a Salvadorean woman residing in Mexico as a refugee was murdered after police knelt on her neck while responding to a call for “disturbing the peace”, mirroring the murder of George Floyd in June 2020. An autopsy stated that her cause of death was a broken neck caused by the officer.
Victoria Salazar Arriaza’s death reignited on-going anti-femicide protests that have been in effect since February 2020.
Femicide, the killing of a woman or girl on account of her gender, is a documented global phenomenon and a hate crime classification in Mexico, with a penalty of 45-65 years in prison – however as of 2017, only 8% of femicides and 5% of sexual assaults are punished. Activists in Mexico have been fighting against femicide since the 1990s, with little change. In 2019, femicides sharply rose by 10% – approximately 10 women a day are killed – inciting national outrage from women. In 2020, 939 women were killed and about 16,000 were raped.
President López Obrador has come under severe criticism for his cavalier response to the crisis. At a press conference in 2020, he stated that women are safer than they have ever been, in response to a question about budget cuts for protection against gender-based violence. Most recently, this has included his lack of condemnation for Félix Salgado Macedonio, a nominee from his party accused of sexual assault. Over the past year, and as recently as this month, he has accused the movement of being politically motivated against him.
His response to outrage and calls for justice has been to state that his cabinet is the first to have half of the seats filled by women. This argument is nonsense, although frequently used against feminist movements, as it equates representation with justice for violence inflicted against women. The President’s campaign ran on a platform of support for marginalized communities, leaving his constituents feeling betrayed and angry at his stance.
- In early February 2020, Ingrid Escamilla, 25, was murdered, skinned, and disemboweled by her partner. Photos of her body were leaked in tabloids and social media. Within the same month, 7-year-old Fátima Cecilia Aldrighett was abducted from her school and found dead. Their well-publicized deaths and the pattern of widespread femicides sparked massive protest movements, which included throwing red paint at and graffitiing the walls of the Presidential Palace.
- On March 8th, 2020 (International Women’s Day), women sought justice by taking to the Mexico City streets in record numbers. Approximately 80,000 people marched – led by mothers of murdered daughters. In solidarity, protestors wore purple, chanted, and sang. In response to criticism of associated vandalism, protestors said ““Las morras no regresan, los muros sí se pintan.” – The girls won’t come back, but the walls can be repainted.”
- The following day, March 9th, 2020, many women did not attend work or school in “A Day Without Us“, showing what society would be without their valuable contributions.
- Protests continued throughout 2020, the majority of which were peaceful. However, in November, during a protest in Cancun after the brutal murders of three women, police fired live rounds into the crowd.
- On Monday, March 8th, 2021, hundreds of people marched on Mexico City’s Presidential Palace with tools to damage the fencing President López Obrador had constructed around the building. Protestors and loved ones of the victims have responded by painting the names of murdered and missing women and girls.
- Police fired flash bang grenades into the crowd, causing panic. The New York Times reports that at least 62 police and 19 civilians were injured.
- This past Saturday, March 27th, Victoria Salazar Arriaza was pinned down by police in Tulum and died from a broken neck sustained in the encounter. Four police officers were arrested and will be charged with femicide. El Salvador’s President Bukele released a statement condemning the murder, promising to care for Salazar’s family, and pressuring the Mexican government to enact justice. On Sunday, in Mexico City, Tulum, and San Salvador, people took to the streets demanding Justice for Victoria.
- Beginning Monday, March 29th, Mexico began co-hosting the UN Generation Equality Forum in Mexico City, the primary goal of which is “to generate urgent action and accountability on gender equality, spotlighting the power of women’s rights activism, feminist solidarity and the leadership of the youth to achieve transformative change.” In advance of this event and to demand justice, families of femicide victims held a vigil.
To get involved, whether you’re in Mexico or looking to support from somewhere else, check out these local, national, and international feminist organizations working to fight femicide and support women. Donate, advocate by sharing their work on social media, or volunteer.
- Red Nacional de Refugios: Network of 69 shelters and safe spaces protecting and caring for women and children in situations of violence.
- Observatorio Ciudadano Nacional del Feminicidio: Organization tracking, monitoring, and publishing data on femicide and justice. They also provide legal services to families of victims.
- Fondo Semillas: Non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of all women in Mexico. Their programs focus on ensuring women have access to education, health services, a decent job, justice, and happiness.
- Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa: Civil association founded by relatives and friends of young girls who have disappeared or murdered in the State of Chihuahua. They advocate for and support other families in similar situations.
- ILSB: Civil Society organization strengthening social leadership and citizen participation with a gender and rights perspective as a strategy to advance towards gender equality and social justice.
- PSYDEH: Non-profit organization focused on funding indigenous women’s education and entrepreneurship.
- GIRE: Reproductive justice and rights organization, focused on women’s human rights, such as contraception, obstetric violence, maternal death, assisted reproduction, and reconciliation of work and personal life.
- Las Libres: Civil service organization dedicated to women’s rights advocacy, safe abortion access, and healthy relationships between genders.
- Feminasty: Arts group creating public pieces on issues affecting women and LGBTQ+ communities, including violence, discrimination, gender exploration, the redefinition of beauty and femicides.
If you have more information about the anti-femicide movement in Mexico or have suggestions for other social movements you’d like to see covered in our Fight for Rights series, comment below!
Liz Hensler, MPA (she/her/hers) is the founder of Do Good, Better. She works in philanthropy in the humanitarian aid sector and has a background in NGO program management, corporate and community engagement, volunteer management, and communications. She is based in Brooklyn, NY.