If you break a girl’s rib she’ll grow 40 new ones.
“As far as the politicians are concerned, it’s a reality that doesn’t exist.”
Who: Casa Amiga
What: Centre for support and advice for women who have been subjected to violence.
She was a retired accountant who settled in Juarez where, in 1993, she began to notice the many reports in the local paper of young girls who had been found murdered and raped. Why was this spate of murders not attracting any attention?
Esther began collecting information about the cases, and she made her own lists, contacted some friends and started asking the authorities for answers. No-one took them seriously. But Esther’s interest had been awakened, and in 1999 she opened a crisis centre for women who had been raped and subjected to violence where social workers, lawyers and psychologists helped them to move on.
“We are continuing her work,” says psychologist Irma Casas, as she shows us all the files in her small office.
There are boxes of material. Thick files with countless stories. All the women who turn to Casa Amiga are interviewed using a questionnaire, before telling their full story to a psychologist or social worker.
The facts that Irma has do not match the authorities’ version of the murders in Juarez. The official explanation for the dramatic increase in women’s murders is that eight out of ten have fallen victim to acts of vengeance in the drugs war. But Irma does not believe that to be true.
“The police say that because they are not interested in these women. They decide on a cause of death and don’t bother to investigate the case. The police may insist that she is a drug dealer, but when we ask around we hear that she was an ordinary factory worker.”
She had the mark from a single needle on her arm and so the murder was written off as yet another drugs murder.
She opens a file and quickly finds an example.
“This is a woman who came to us for advice and told us she wanted a divorce and that her husband had threatened to kill her. Her body was later found on waste land, she had the mark from a single needle on her arm and so the murder was written off as yet another drugs murder.”
There are more examples of ‘ordinary’ crimes in relationships being covered up as drug-related murders.
“It’s becoming increasingly common for women to be threatened by their husbands saying things like: I’ll shoot you and then plant drugs on your body,” says Irma.
Irma is of the opinion that all murders of women should be treated as feminicides, gender-related crimes, unless the opposite can be proved. She believes there is a gender aspect even when women who have been involved in the drugs trade are killed.
“Because gender roles are conservative even in the criminal world. The women either cook the food or have to undertake the most dangerous actions. And not only that, but women can be killed as a form of revenge between men, if they are the girlfriend of an enemy. So in a way, they are almost always killed because they are women. Because they are disposable goods.”
Women can be killed as a form of revenge between men.
Irma is planning to open a library and make ten years’ documentation public. She has shown the material in the files to politicians and offered to make it available for research purposes.
“But for them, it is a reality that does not exist.”
Maternal deaths: 51 deaths per 100,000 births.
Number of children/woman: 2.3 (2010)
Abortion legislation: Varies greatly from state to state. In Mexico City, a woman has the right to abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy, while in the states of Guanajuato and Querétaro abortion is punishable by 30 years’ imprisonment. ****
Law against rape within marriage: Yes
Violence against women in close relationships: Every third woman in Mexico is, or has been, subjected to violence in a close relationship.