Recognition of and Recommitment to International Solidarity for Women in the Age of Trump

By T Engel

I’m a self-defined activist. I participate in marches and demonstrations in my country of residence, Guatemala, and in my country of birth, the USA. I deeply believe that public activism is necessary and important, that it instigates social change, and that it inspires peace, unity and solidarity.

So, when the Women’s Marches blossomed all over the internet in the days leading up to and after the inauguration of Trump, I voraciously scoured the news for articles and pictures covering protests all over the world, from my home in Guatemala City.  They filled me with so much pride and joy that I was brought to tears on multiple occasions, especially when I saw the people I love actively engaging in the type of work I love.  

But they have also stimulated anxiety within me. So what now…?! seems to be the persistent question I ask both publicly and privately, and it is a question that fills me with dread. There is all this opposition, all this resistance, all this fear, all these calls to action, all this presencia and solidaridad, but what will it actually achieve? The future is more uncertain than we have seen it in years, and confronting that reality can be paralyzing.

One thing that feels concrete and solution-based is the work that I am engaging in with MIA, Mujeres Iniciando en las Américas. March 8th (International Women’s Day; how fitting!), 2017, marks my 3-year anniversary as a volunteer with the organization, and I began as Project Coordinator just a month ago.

It may sound like hyperbole, but MIA’s work changes lives. Its preventive-education based structure has durable, lasting results. Its didactic material facilitates dialogue about sensitive topics that are still taboo in Guatemalan society, such as sexual harrassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, gender identity and sexual diversity, and child sexual abuse. MIA’s courses open safe, confidential spaces where participants of all ages can and have expressed incidents of abuse at home, in the workplace, at school, on the bus, and on the street. Some of these students share that they’d never before spoken openly about this personal information — that they’d felt silenced, powerless, and voiceless. MIA gives a voice to the voiceless.  MIA has deeply affected thousands of Guatemalan men, women, boys and girls, and its education is empowering.

Just to give you a sample of the day-to-day work that is currently being done: we are preparing the Hombres Contra Feminicidio diploma course which will take place at the San Carlos National University at the end of February; we are meeting and collaborating with the National Men’s Network of Guatemala; we are carrying out workshops at an all-girls elementary school; we are writing project proposals for funding; we are participating in local forums and events. We are constantly busy and working to improve, and yet there is still so much to be done.

And thus the challenge I have forced myself to engage in is to channel my fear and apprehension and uncertainty about the politics of the US (and by default, the world) into tangible solutions and achievements through MIA’s programming. Every morning, and anytime I open The New York Times/Atlantic/Guardian/Al Jazeera/PrensaLibre/Nomada/etc., and read about the latest executive order, Cabinet appointment, statistic on femicide, or number of Guatemalan GIRLS (aged 9-15) who became pregnant in 2016, my commitment to MIA is reaffirmed.

Of the dozens of articles I pored over in the aftermath of Election Day, one by Lindy West, entitled “Her Loss” particularly resonated with me. West, expressing her acute feelings of grief over not only the results but the insufferable nature of both campaigns and Hillary Clinton’s tireless battle just because of her sex writes, “We, as a culture, do not take women seriously on a profound level. We do not believe women. We do not trust women. We do not like women.” This is, of course, a universally-held concept, but in my personal comparison of the conditions for US women to Guatemalan women, there is no comparison; Guatemala easily trails the US by 75+ years.

At the end of West’s article, she defines the battle cry that I so desperately needed to hear, ponder, and believe in, post-election. “We [women] have been weathering this hurricane wall of doubt and violence for so long, and now, more crystalline than ever, we have an enemy and a mandate. We have the smirking apotheosis of our oppression sliming, paw-first, toward our genitals. We have the popular vote. We have proof, in exit polls, that white women will pawn their humanity for the safety of white supremacy. We have abortion pills to stockpile and neighbors to protect and children to teach.”1

Children to teach. Children to teach. Yes, I said to myself, we need this kind of education so badly. But it would be harmful and self-sabotage if we were to focus on educating just the children. We need to educate the girls, the boys, the women, and the men. The men. The men. The men.

So, when I feel inundated by horrible news from my country and its leaders, and the horrible news from Guatemala and its leaders, when I think that women’s rights and human rights couldn’t possibly become rolled-back any more, I seek resilience and protection in knowing that MIA’s education work in Guatemala affects not only Guatemalan women, but women the world over.

1 West, Lindy. “Her Loss.” The New York Times. 9 November 2016.

Women Empowerment by Gabriela Dieguez

gadiehur at yahoo dot com

Gabriela’ss speech at Women´s Movement Conference in Milwaukee, May 2011.

Thank you very much for inviting me to this meeting I hope we can learn together and feel inspired about how to empower women and girls in our lives.

I am a native from Guatemala and I have lived in the US for 16 years. I came at the age of 17 and now after many years of study and practice I work as a counselor at Sixteenth Street Clinic providing services to undeserved population. I am also a consultant for Head Start and an active member of the Milwaukee Latino health Coalition which has as a mission to increase the health and well being of Latino communities by organizing power for social change.

I recently shared with a close friend how I come from a long lineage of women who are activists and workers for change. One example of this is my grandmother, who with two other women were the first three females to obtain a high school diploma in Guatemala what permitted them to enter university. We all have empowered women in our lives who have provided an inspiration to work for our communities in a local and at a global level.

Who are empowered women that have inspired your lives?

Looking back to my upbringing I can remember many other inspiring women in my life. I lived in Nicaragua during the 80s, after the Sandinista had won the revolution, and the country was surviving under an embargo from the US. Women were crucial during the revolution an unprecedented event in history. Women in Nicaragua fought as guerrilla and had important roles on the reconstruction of the country. I grew up hearing about the martyr Arlen Siu, a young woman who joined the Nicaraguan guerrilla at age 18 and was killed during an ambush by the Somoza army at age 20. I also remember seeing on TV Gioconda Belli and Rosario Murillo, both great writers, inspiration of empowerment and determination.

A present example of global perspective in empowering women close to me is the immigration process of Latinas into this country. I came to the US as a married woman during a time when the US needed my husband’s skills and the doors for legal immigration in his area of work were open. As a young immigrant I saw my self in need to learn English, strengthen my study skills in my new language and strengthen my social support system. I enrolled in ESL classes several evenings while my husband took care of our kids, I also enrolled in GED classes to refresh my knowledge in sciences and math. I created a play group for mothers with young children at the apartment complex where we lived, what gave me opportunity to have social support, cultivate friendships and practice my English skills. I consider myself a bicultural woman that is able to serve as a bridge between cultures to other immigrant women.

The process of immigration in a more global perspective affects women greatly. In my work as a counselor I have learned about many grandmothers that stay back in Mexico raising their grandchildren while their husbands and grown up children come to the US to work and send money to sustain their families. Many women who travel to the US are exposed to great dangers. In a recent documentary sponsored by Amnesty international I saw testimony from women from Latin America who start the trip towards US with the knowledge that in the process they are likely to suffer rape and as part of their preparation for migration they get a birth control injection.

Women who migrate to the US have an empowered position in their families. A good number of Latina women who have a husband and kids are able to stay home to raise their children and have the opportunity to study English and become the cultural brokers. The women who need to work to help support their families are strong women who are able to juggle one or two jobs, home care and parent their children.

A couple of weeks ago a young Mexican anthropologist visited Milwaukee and gave two talks about her work investigating deaths of migrants in the border between Arizona and Mexico. Rocio Magana a sociocultural anthropologist has been working in developing an ethnographic analysis of contemporary struggles over border control, humanitarian intervention and unauthorized migration. Rocio takes a look at the process of migration bringing voice to the people who migrate back to Mexico when their families are able to recover their bodies from the Sonoran Desert region located in Arizona.

Violence against Women is one of the focus areas for United Nations women. UN says “This fundamental violation of women’s rights remains widespread, affecting all countries. Women need strong laws, backed by implementation and services for protection and prevention.” Mujeres de Juarez is an example of the work done in regards to violence against women. Mujeres de Juarez is a non governmental agency in Ciudad Juarez a border city in northern Mexico. This organization works providing support to families that have lost a female family member due to violence. Some of these women are women who were traveling from south of the continent towards the US seeking a better future for themselves and families back in their own countries.

Rigoberta Menchu is the closest person who comes to my mind when thinking about the focus area of Peace and Security. Rigoberta Menchu is an indigenous Quiche woman from Guatemala, who was awarded in 1992 with the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work for peace and security for indigenous people in Guatemala. Peace and Security is one of the focus areas of UN. UN recognizes that women bear the burden of modern conflicts. Many times women are left by the men who leave to fight and they are exposed to extreme poverty, need to protect their children and recently in danger of being victimized by rape as a war weapon. UN states that specific threats to women must be identified and stopped, and women must be at the center of peace talks, and post-conflict reconstruction.

Rigoberta Menchu is a perfect example of this UN focus area Peace and Security. During the 1980s Guatemala’s 36 year civil war intensified and during these years Rigoberta Menchu’s family was persecuted and some of her family members assassinated. Rigoberta was forced to flee Guatemala and from Mexico she continued her work in defense of indigenous people. Rigoberta was an active player in Guatemala’s peace talk agreement in 1996 and continues to be an activist in Guatemala, working to build a better country.

Economic Empowerment is one of the other focus areas for United Nations women. Recently I read “Half the Sky” by Kristoff and WuDunn one of their stories talked of a young Pakistani woman who with a $65 loan from a microfinance organization started a small business selling embroidered clothing. Her small business grew and she was able to pay the family debts, bring back her daughter to live with the family and employ some of the neighbors in her business.

This example is no exception many times I have read of programs lending money to women. I also remember my father in law talking about how women who had small loans were the most responsible and creative in using money always putting the well being of the family first. Invest microfinance is a local example of global work in economic empowerment. Envest is a loan fund which manages a unique mix of programs that seek to alleviate poverty and promote an earth-friendly economy. Envest has microfinance projects in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua and their offices are located in Madison Wisconsin.

Leadership and Participation is the other focus area of United Nations women. This focus relates to the need that women take active roles in policy-making and leadership of their countries. Leadership is not narrowed to the need for women to participate as representatives and senators but the need for them to organize in grassroots movements that educate and transform their communities. In “half the Sky” there is an inspiring story of how women in Senegal have created a movement of education and empowerment to fight genital cutting. The story talks about how legislation was not affecting this practice until a group of women organized and started focusing on education, talking about human rights and opening the possibility to discuss what are the health risks of the practice. These women also discovered that the change needed was the support of the town’s people in order not to create rejection towards the women who were no longer practicing genital cutting.

United Nations has a chapter focused on women United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. They have six focus areas some of which I covered today in my talk: Violence against women, Peace and security, Economic Empowerment, Leadership and Participation, National Planning & Budgeting; Millennium Development Goals

A guide for global perspective in my life has been the idea that I am part of the world and the “suffering of any man or woman diminishes me”. I feel a strong connection with all people in the world and feel a strong call to work to make the world a better place. When I was 14 I read “For Whom the Bells Toll” and memorized the poem on the first page which has been my guide for work:

“No man is an Island, entire of itself;

every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,

as well as if a promontory were,

as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were;

any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind;

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

LIBRO: No olvidamos ni aceptamos: Femicidio en Centroamérica 2000-2006

No olvidamos ni aceptamos: Femicidio en Centroamérica 2000-2006

Ana Carcedo, Coordinadora.



La escalada de homicidios1 de mujeres que se vive en Centroamérica, particularmente en El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala y, -en menor medida-, República Dominicana, así como la crueldad con que estas muertes son ejecutadas, plantean una serie de interrogantes que aún no son respondidos. Denunciadas inicialmente por las organizaciones feministas y en general por el movimiento de mujeres, la preocupación por estas muertes se ha extendido a otros sectores, en particular a las organizaciones de derechos humanos, los gobiernos de la región y los organismos internacionales.

El ensañamiento con que muchas de estas muertes de mujeres son cometidas muestra que no se trata de homicidios casuales o producto de encuentros esporádicos. La crueldad deja entrever la existencia de relaciones cargadas de contenidos y significados. Expresa en ocasiones un odio misógino, en otras la necesidad de borrar las huellas del vínculo entre la mujer y su victimario o la urgencia por borrar la identidad misma de la mujer. Se trata de un lenguaje que es necesario descifrar si queremos detener las muertes de mujeres y en particular esta escalada que estamos viviendo en la región.

Los homicidios de mujeres, y en particular los femicidios, ocurren y han ocurrido en todas las sociedades y en todos los tiempos. Sin embargo, como comprobamos a lo largo de esta investigación, asistimos a un trágico fenómeno inédito en la región, al menos en la historia reciente. Se trata de una escalada de homicidios de mujeres que parece no tocar techo y que es, por otra parte, de origen reciente. En menos de una década Guatemala, Honduras y El Salvador duplican sus tasas de homicidios de mujeres, despegándose de un nivel histórico que parece haber sido común a todos los países de la región.

Esta situación nos enfrenta al reto antes que nada ético de detener esta carrera mortal. Y por eso también nos exige reacciones rápidas y certeras, para impedir que esta escalada eche raíces y logre instalar en forma definitiva las dinámicas que la alimentan. De lo contrario, los escenarios que favorecen estas muertes se enraizarán en el entramado social, los actores que las causan encontrarán sus espacios y formas de sobrevivencia, y las lógicas de muerte se harán cada vez más complejas y difíciles de erradicar.

Esta investigación intenta aportar en este sentido. Plantea algunas preguntas necesarias para entender este problema, y trata de dar respuestas, aunque son muchos los interrogantes que siguen abiertos. No hay duda de que se trata de una escalada de homicidios, pero ¿es también una escalada de femicidios? Es decir, este aumento desmedido de muertes violentas e intencionales de mujeres ¿es parte de una violencia generalizada o es expresión particular de la condición de subordinación que las mujeres vivimos en la sociedad? ¿Qué está generando esta escalada? ¿Por qué ahora? ¿Por qué se da en Guatemala, El Salvador y Honduras pero no en Costa Rica, Panamá o Nicaragua? ¿Será que en estos países no se da aún? Y sobre todo ¿cómo podemos actuar como sociedades, y cómo pueden actuar los Estados para en forma inmediata detener esta escalada? ¿Se podrá hacer algo en este sentido o la batalla está perdida?

Para responder estas preguntas se requiere ir más allá del conteo de homicidios de mujeres. Es necesario conocer quiénes eran estas mujeres, quiénes sus victimarios, los contextos en que se movieron y relacionaron, las circunstancias en que las mataron.

Hemos construido para esta investigación el concepto de escenario de femicidio para saber si aquellos homicidios que son femicidios responden a las relaciones y contextos de poder y control masculino -la pareja, la familia, el ataque sexual- presente en todas las sociedades, o si bien han surgido nuevos contextos y dinámicas regionales que favorecen esta forma extrema de violencia contra las mujeres. Y de ser así, cuánto de la escalada de homicidios se debe a la aparición de estos nuevos escenarios.

Para analizar con mayor profundidad estos escenarios de femicidio, así como algunas respuestas estatales y sociales frente a ellos, se han desarrollado en esta investigación 9 estudios de caso que permiten tener un mejor panorama del contexto regional en que se da esta escalada de muertes de mujeres. Estos  estudios de caso conforman la segunda parte de esta publicación. Algunos de estos estudios cualitativos se refieren a femicidios ocurridos después de 2006. La razón es que se trata de casos particularmente ilustrativos sobre la forma en que operan algunos escenarios. Esto permite conocer mejor el trasfondo detrás de la escalada de femicidios en la región, ya que estos escenarios están operando al menos desde inicio del siglo.

Lamentablemente no todas las preguntas pueden ser hoy respondidas con la información disponible. Y algunas respuestas que aventuramos carecen de la precisión que quisiéramos por la misma razón. La falta de información se levanta como el mayor obstáculo para conocer mejor este problema y por tanto para poder enfrentarlo en forma adecuada y efectiva. Esta deficiencia no es de carácter simplemente académico. La razón fundamental por la que no contamos con la información necesaria es la falta de investigación policial y judicial en gran parte de estos homicidios. Esto impide que se haga justicia en cada muerte femenina particular que no se investiga, y obstaculiza la identificación de acciones que podrían garantizar la seguridad de las mujeres.

Los problemas de información no pueden detenernos ni a las investigadoras, ni a los estados y a las sociedades, en el necesario y urgente camino de entender mejor qué está pasando y actuar en forma eficiente para cambiar el curso de los acontecimientos. Los datos que esta investigación recoge, y los que aquí se ofrecen, deben ser entendidos como una aproximación al problema, y desde una perspectiva histórica, como provisionales. Continuamente sale a luz nueva información que aumenta las estadísticas y aclara dudas, y esto hace variar las cifras, porque la vida, la muerte y la violencia no se dejan encerrar en un cuadro estadístico petreamente concluido2. Sin embargo, la abundancia de información rescatada, a pesar de los vacíos, así como la persistencia de ciertas tendencias que algunos datos muestran en esta investigación, son suficientes para extraer conclusiones valiosas. Se trata de leer este documento considerando que tanto los datos estadísticos como los análisis cualitativos que se presentan conforman la radiografía que, en relación al femicidio en la región, se ha podido tomar en los años en que se ha desarrollado este estudio.

Justo es señalar que desde que se inició esta investigación, las autoridades de la mayoría de los países incluidos en ella han tomado conciencia de la necesidad de definir e implementar una política de investigación y registro adecuada. En algunos se han creado comisiones y en ocasiones instancias judiciales especiales, se han redefinido categorías, se han diseñado formas de registro, o en general se han implementado acciones que indican un mayor interés sobre este grave problema. Son avances que hay que celebrar, y que es necesario consolidar en políticas permanentes, ya que muchas veces son conquistas frágiles3. Solo prosiguiendo en este sentido se podrá demostrar que en nuestros países sí importa este problema y no es la falta de voluntad política lo que impide que se enfrente en forma eficiente.

Con esta investigación esperamos, en el aspecto académico, dejar el camino abierto para seguir profundizando en torno a los femicidios, los homicidios de mujeres y su escalada en Centroamérica y República Dominicana. Los hallazgos que aquí se presentan son, además, valiosos insumos para definir políticas, así como para diseñar acciones concretas dirigidas tanto a prevenir como a investigar, perseguir y sancionar el femicidio en la región.

1 Salvo que se indique lo contrario, se utiliza en este estudio el término homicidio en un sentido general, como toda muerte violenta e intencional que una o unas personas provocan a otra. Cuando se requiera se utilizarán los tér- minos jurídicos correspondientes a los tipos incluidos en los Códigos Penales de cada país.

2 Usualmente distintas fuentes oficiales tienen diferentes datos sobre los homicidios cometidos en un país en un mismo año. Aunque pudiera esperarse y desearse lo contrario, las cifras oficiales sobre estos delitos no están siempre claramente establecidas. De hecho en esta investigación las investigadoras de la mayoría de los países encontraron un número mayor de homicidios de mujeres que los establecidos en algunas fuentes oficiales.

3 Lo que se ha podido comprobar con el golpe de Estado en Honduras el 28 de junio de 2009; la Fiscalía de la Mujer fue disuelta y los homicidios de mujeres dejaron de ser tratados como especiales y volvieron a investigarse como delitos comunes.



Click on image to enlarge.



By Lucia Muñoz

M.I.A. | Executive Director and Founder

To call these experiments “a dark chapter in U.S. history” is to pretend that it is over. Today, as the U.S. government mulls indefinitely over granting TPS to Guatemalan citizens while their homeland is besieged by natural disasters, as it continues exploitative economic policies that mine the labor of Guatemalan workers, it reminds us that even today the Guatemalan body and voice are expendable.

Last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton revealed that 700 Guatemalan citizens, soldiers, prisoners, sex workers, and mentally disabled patients were infected with syphilis and gonnorhea by the United States government between 1946 and 1948.

While MIA understands that neither the current administration, nor the American people are directly responsible for what President Colom has called ‘crimes against humanity’, we feel strongly that this “experimentation” is symptomatic of the arrogance and disregard for the autonomy of others that has characterized not only terrible scientific judgments, but also the U.S.’s diplomatic relations with the nations of Latin America and the Global South.

The metaphor of the octopus, headed by the United Fruit Company with tentacles of power and influence entangling nearly every aspect of the governance and economy of Guatemala, has long been a popular image to describe the nefarious reaches of the United States in this nation. This latest, shocking revelation reminds us that these tentacles were not abstract or white collar machinations, the tentacles invaded the most intimate regions of body and soul. They scratched the cheeks and arms of Guatemalans, broke their skin and forced disease into their veins. These were acts that knowingly abused power and privilege, that victimized the marginalized, that invaded bodies and destroyed lives less precious than those of Americans.

The asymmetry of power and knowledge between the scientists, guardians of wisdom, and representatives of authority, and the “test subjects” selected because their agencies were compromised in the face of such authority by their citizenship and their positions in society, is not confined to experiments, nor to the past.

To call these experiments “a dark chapter in U.S. history” is to pretend that it is over. Today, as the U.S. government mulls indefinitely over granting TPS to Guatemalan citizens while their homeland is besieged by natural disasters, as it continues exploitative economic policies that mine the labor of Guatemalan workers, it reminds us that even today the Guatemalan body and voice are expendable.

The Guatemalan Peace and Development Network has called on the United States to immediately comply with three proposals, to establish a fund of compensations (reparations) to the families of those who were affected by these trials; to immediately grant TPS for Guatemalans in the United States as a show of good will; and to put in place an economic plan comparable to the Marshall Plan, which would allow the countries ravaged by decades of civil wars instigated and funded by successive U.S. administrations to finally and definitively recover from years of economic turmoil.

MIA does not seek to hold individual Americans responsible for decades of exploitation. But it is time the United States take responsibility not only for the individuals harmed by these trials, but by the families, communities, and indeed, nations who live under the shadow of arrogant, self-interested U.S. decisions. It is time for the United States to accept that Guatemalans, regardless of their station in life, are endowed with the same rights and merit the same dignity as any U.S. citizen.

We call on the U.S. government to back up its words of contrition with concrete actions, and to stand with Guatemalans, to show us that a Guatemalan body and a Guatemalan voice are just as precious as any other, to help us turn the dying tentacles which sucked us dry into roots that nurture our growth.

Fighting Femicide in the Americas

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two articles about resisting femicide in the US-Mexico borderlands and the Americas

In a room hidden away in the basement floor of a campus building, gut-wrenching  images greeted visitors. A “life-size collage” constructed like a statue projected women’s faces, missing persons posters, death masks and other snapshots of sexual violence. Nearby, a poster of a skeleton and blind-folded girl depicted the “duality” of femicide (also known as feminicide) in the form of a victim coming back to life to give a potential victim advice. The works of art were products of New Mexico State University (NMSU) students and staff.

“We just wanted to show (people) what femicides looked like,” said student and collage creator Johana Bencomo. Jose Montoya, a retention adviser for NMSU’s College Assistance Migrant  Program, added that  his art  was meant to encourage people to visualize and think about femicide, the killing of women based on gender,  as the “most extreme form of violence against women.”

The collage and poster were appropriate if disturbing backdrops to a recent presentation of a ground-working book at NMSU’s main Las Cruces campus.  Terrorizing Women: Femicide in the Americas, is a book that examines women’s murders in Mexico, Central America and South America. Its chapters tell the personal stories of  victims and their relatives, delve into femicide theories, portray the cross-border anti-violence movement, and explore the notion of transnational justice.

Published by Duke University Press, the new book is co-edited by Dr. Cynthia Bejarano, associate professor of criminal justice at NMSU, and Dr. Rosa-Linda Fregoso, professor of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of California-Santa Cruz. “This book is really a call to social action,” said Bejarano, stressing that the book’s concept goes beyond typical academic tracts to incorporate off-campus voices.

Two community women were on hand to discuss the book and share their personal stories: Ciudad Juarez mothers Evangelina Arce and Paula Bonilla Flores. Arce’s daughter Silvia disappeared in March 1998, while Bonilla Flores’ daughter, Sagrario Gonzalez, was murdered the same year. Both women have been committed and outspoken human rights activists over the years.

“We were driven to write this book by our shock and outrage,” said UC’s Rosa-Linda  Fregoso. “We’re writing against centuries of invisibility of violence against women.”

In a panel discussion, Fregoso set a framework when she spoke about violence against women in Latin America and other parts of the world as a kind of “low-intensity warfare on women’s bodies.” In places as geographically and culturally diverse as World War Two Europe, Vietnam, Africa, and the modern Balkans, women have been treated as “war booty,” Fregoso said.

With drug-fueled violence devastating Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, only 40 minutes south of  NMSU, the discussion soon began to consider the connections between femicide and other forms of violence. In the El Paso-Las Cruces area, the violence hits home. For instance, Johana Bencomo recently lost a relative to the violence devastating the state of Chihuahua.

The NMSU student told Frontera NorteSur how her father’s uncle was murdered on a trip back home to a little Chihuahua mountain town. The man had relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the urging of his son, but went back to check the house only to encounter an unexpected and violent end. The relative was not involved in the drug business, Bencomo insisted.

“It’s really scary how much this drug cartel violence has hit every single corner of Mexico and not just Juarez and the bigger cities,” Bencomo said, adding that she has relatives in Ciudad Juarez but doesn’t visit them because of the unsafe situation in the city. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s sad, really sad,” she said.

Dr. Hector Dominguez-Ruvalcaba, an associate professor in the department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Texas-Austin, also participated in the panel discussion. Dominguez-Ruvalcaba said “impunity” was a common thread linking the femicides with other homicides in Mexico.

“Anyone can kill anyone with the possibility that they will get away with it,” the one-time Ciudad Juarez resident and former NMSU student warned. Mexico, he added, has good laws on the books, but the problem resides with applying them.

Central to their mission, the panelists analyzed strategies and tactics to combat gender violence. Bejarano was a co-founder of the Las Cruces- based Amigos de las Mujeres, a group established to aid the relatives of femicide victims in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City.

She recalled how activists had brought US Congressional delegations to the border and engaged high-level US authorities to put pressure on the Mexican government. Ultimately, she said, the strategy had limitations due to Washington’s stance that Mexico was a sovereign ally of the US and a “friend of business.”

Bejarano criticized other aspects of US policy, including Washington’s failure to ratify the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The US’ inaction on the treaty sets it apart from virtually all the world’s nations.

In recent years, Bejarano added, an increasing number of groups in Latin America have returned to the grassroots to  resist gender violence. The New Mexico scholar cited the example of community defenders in Peru who accompany victims of violence to court and pressure the justice system to uphold women’s rights.

The issue of vigilante justice was debated by Bejarano, Fregoso and others in attendance at the Las Cruces event.

On September 22, residents of Ascension, a small town in the northern part of the Mexican state of Chihuahua, rose up and detained a gang of kidnappers which had been terrorizing the populace for months. Two of the suspected kidnappers, young men, were severely beaten by townspeople and later died while awaiting transfer by law enforcement officials.

Residents then took over city hall and disarmed the town’s police force, which had been accused of collaborating with criminals, and vowed to defend their farming community. In subsequent days, the Mexican press carried stories of other alleged rapists and kidnappers killed by outraged citizens in Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez.

In the absence of effective rule of law, the “Ascension Syndrome” represents a double-edged sword, Bejarano said. “Even though I can understand Ascension, it is a dangerous precedent,” she added. “I think we need to reinvigorate or reinvent this movement at the community level… and we’re seeing some of that in Ascension.”

Bejarano cautioned against the Ascension uprising as being misinterpreted in the US as another instance of the violence some contend threatens to spill across the border. In her view, Ascension is an opportunity for people on both sides of the border to come together for the purposes of mediating grievances, restoring the rule of law and assuring genuine justice. “Unfortunately, it will take something like this to be a wake- up call on this side of the border,” Bejarano contended.

For NMSU student Johana Bencomo, fundamental awareness is still lacking at home. As part of a class with Dr. Bejarano this year, Bencomo helped interview 15 randomly selected NMSU students, mostly in their 20s, about their knowledge of femicide in general and the murders of women in nearby Ciudad Juarez in particular. According to Bencomo, only three or four students knew about the Ciudad Juarez slayings, and one student even said the word “femicide” meant “some sort of pesticide.”

“I was unpleasantly surprised how many people didn’t know,” Bencomo said.

-Kent Paterson

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news

Center for Latin American and Border Studies

New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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Opinión, Diario La Hora, Guatemala / Viernes, 05 de Marzo de 2010 / Ing. Raúl Molina Mejía /

Cedo la palabra a mi hijo, Pablo Molina Toledo, para hablar de las luchas de la mujer: “La igualdad de género y el desarrollo de Guatemala. La sociedad guatemalteca está enferma. Hay grandes problemas cuya solución requiere enormes esfuerzos. La destrucción de nuestros recursos humanos, naturales y culturales ha llegado a proporciones extremas, provocando los problemas que hoy vivimos, por ejemplo, miseria, pandillas, corrupción, violencia y degradación de nuestra calidad de vida. Para combatir el racismo, la discriminación y la desigualdad económica, necesitamos imaginación, voluntad, determinación y cambio de mentalidad. Necesitamos también la verdadera igualdad entre los hombres y las mujeres.”

“Es motivo de vergüenza que Guatemala ocupe el puesto111 entre 134 países en el Índice de Disparidad entre Géneros del Foro Económico Mundial. Compartimos con países como Nigeria (108), con 25% de las mujeres víctimas de mutilación genital femenina; y la India (114), donde hay lugares en que un hombre puede desfigurar a una mujer si siente que fue agredido su honor. Con las estadísticas de nuestro país, nuestro puesto no es sorpresa. En Guatemala, demasiadas mujeres son asesinadas, 708 en 2009, mostrando muchas señales de violación y tortura; otras son encontradas desmembradas o cortadas en pedazos. El año pasado, Mindy Rodas, en Santa Rosa, sobrevivió varias puñaladas; pero despertó sin rostro.”

“La falta de seguridad para las mujeres ha dado origen al femicidio, y la total impunidad de ese crimen incrementa su ocurrencia, por lo que el Estado tiene gran responsabilidad. El problema sólo lo podemos enfrentar con un cambio de mentalidad. Esta violencia contra nuestras compatriotas -madres, hermanas e hijas- es aplicada por nosotros los hombres. La actitud de los hombres impacta a la mujer: somos quienes hacemos chistes o comentarios sexistas, quienes golpeamos a nuestras parejas, quienes violamos niñas y mujeres, a veces en la propia familia. Esta omnipresente cultura patriarcal y machista es la que nos ha conducido a los actuales niveles de violencia contra la mujer.”

“No todos los hombres cometemos estos actos; pero tenemos todos la responsabilidad de actuar para que cesen. Es injusto que la mujer tema por su seguridad física fuera de casa, o en el mismo hogar, y que el Estado no pueda protegerla. Los hombres, quienes hemos tenido más privilegios y más posibilidades de cambiar las cosas, debemos terminar con este círculo de violencia, ponernos al lado de las mujeres y luchar junto a ellas para lograr la igualdad de género. Hay que pugnar dentro de nuestras familias, círculos de amigos y otros ambientes para reconocer la dignidad de la mujer. Esto pasa por la educación de los hombres, para ser aliados en la lucha por la seguridad física y, más aún, generar una nueva mentalidad. Cambiar de mentalidad es difícil para quienes somos adultos; pero la niñez no está obligada a crecer igual. Valoramos el trabajo que hace Mujeres Iniciando en las Américas (MIA), sensibilizando y educando a miembros de la Policía Nacional Civil y a estudiantes de la Usac, así como su presencia en las escuelas primarias, donde enseña que otra sociedad es posible.”

Agradezco a Pablo sus aportes e insto a escucharlo y a apoyar las luchas de las mujeres.

Pablo Esteban Molina reside en Montreal, Canadá y actualmente esta cursando estudios en la Universidad Concordia. Desde el año 2008 desempeña el trabajo de subsecretario de Asuntos de la Mujer para la Red por la Paz y el Desarrollo de Guatemala.

Guatemalan Masculinity and Feminism: A Happy Marriage?

Update of PBRC Summer Stipend | Professor Sarah England

Assessing Educational Campaigns against Gender Violence in Guatemala

The primary objective of this project is to observe and analyze educational campaigns carried out by NGOs in Guatemala City targeted at deconstructing cultural ideologies that perpetuate gender inequality and specifically violence against women. My aim is to understand how these organizations conceptualize gender, how they present their material to the intended audience, and to what degree the audience responds to these ideas, especially men. I am also interested in understanding how the members of the organizations themselves have arrived at their own analysis of gender, gender inequality, and feminism. I am especially interested in what has led men to be involved in these campaigns and what strategies they use to get other men to rethink the fundamental premises of patriarchy.

In the summer of 2009 I traveled to Guatemala City with funding from the PBRC summer stipend and began preliminary investigations on the questions listed above. Through the collaboration of the Costa Mesa-based organization Mujeres Iniciando en las Americas (MIA), founded and run by activist Lucia Munoz, I was able to contact several different women’s organizations, observe gender equality workshops designed and carried out by MIA, and interview men and women involved in the campaign for gender equality in different capacities. From this preliminary set of observations and interviews I gained several insights into the way that Guatemalan activists think about gender and gender inequality, and also came up with some new ideas for theoretical and methodological approaches for further investigation of the topic.

The two gender equality workshops that I observed were initiated and carried out by MIA based on a manual designed by the Canadian-based White Ribbon campaign. One of the workshops took place in a primary school in Zona 18, one of the poorest neighborhoods of Guatemala City with high rates of violent crime, and the other took place with university students and activists at the University of San Carlos, the largest public university in Guatemala. During these workshops students were asked to list basic ideologies about the traditional roles of men and women and to question their reality, origins, and validity as models of social comportment. What I realized from observing these workshops is that both the primary school-age students and the university-level students were quickly able to list the stereotypical gender roles and characteristics of men and women that make up what scholars call “the patriarchal bargain” in Latin America-that is the model of gender relations in which men are the heads of household, financial providers, and sources of authority while women are responsible for domestic duties, child rearing, and sexual fidelity. The university students were also quick to recognize the sexual double standard in which men are sexual subjects with a large degree of autonomy over their sexuality and sexual behavior whereas women are meant to be the objects of men’s desire and control. However, upon further discussion it became clear that despite everyone’s ability to recite the model of patriarchal gender relations and roles, the reality of their own lives was much more complex than the model suggests. Children mentioned mothers who work, fathers who do some housework, changing ideas about the ability of girls to get an education and so forth. The university students and activists also questioned the sexual double standard and its role in controlling even women who are students and public figures. Some of the male students also questioned women’s roles in perpetuating patriarchal ideologies in raising their sons and talked about the way that gender ideologies have also limited their ability to act outside of patriarchal norms. I concluded that these workshops are excellent avenues through which to gain an understanding of the models of gender that men and women grow up with and learn through their parents, peers, school, the media, etc. but also to see how their realities are more complicated and how, through various avenues, they are learning to rethink these models. However my preliminary observations suggest that this rethinking has mainly taken place in relation to the gendered division of labor, that is questioning whether women should be able to work, men’s role in the household, and so forth. What I saw less of was questioning the way that the social construction of male and female sexuality plays a large role in limiting women’s spatial mobility and justifying gendered violence.

The second method, interviews with activists, was also very fruitful in beginning to understand the various processes that have led certain men and women to rethink standard patriarchal models of gender and the barriers that they have faced in trying to act outside of those norms. Though the men’s pathways to becoming conscious of gender inequality were various (participation in the revolutionary movement of the 1970s/80s, being raised by single mothers, living with abusive fathers, having to take over domestic duties in the home), one commonality was that all feel that there are still enormous social pressures to enact machismo such that it is very difficult for men to promote and enact a feminist ideology, even within the activist community. This is a topic that I would like to explore in much more depth in future research. What are the models of masculinity that they have been exposed to? How did they develop an “alternative masculinity” and what have been the barriers they have faced in trying to enact that masculinity? Though all of the interviwees clearly articulated a belief that gender inequality is a complex set of social structures and beliefs that disempowers women and make them vulnerable to violence (structural, physical, and symbolic), a few also recognized that gender inequality not only structures power relations between men and women but also between men. Rather than seeing patriarchy as a privilege that attaches to all men, they expressed the idea that patriarchy (in the local form of machismo) not only harms women, but also harms men in that it encourages violence, power struggles between men, abusive relationships, and so forth. This is also an avenue that I would like to explore further as it aligns with much of the recent scholarship on masculinity that questions the degree to which it is a privilege or a liability both for men as individuals and of course for society as a whole.

Based on the insights I have gained from this preliminary research I plan to apply for the Wenner-Gren Post PhD Research Grant, the Fulbright Scholar Program, the American Council of Learned Societies Fellowships, and the Latin American Studies Association “Other Americas Project.” I plan to continue with the two primary methods of observing gender equality workshops and interviewing activists. My primary focus will be on extending feminist theory and methodology to the study of masculinity in Guatemala by 1) recognizing the social construction of gender and sexuality and the ways that these are linked to but not completely congruent with sex (in other words both men and women can be discriminated against for enacting what is perceived to be feminine behavior– being a biological male does not guarantee male privilege) 2) recognizing the way that gender ideologies are always linked to power 3) recognize multiple masculinities, cross-cut by race, class, and generation 4) separating out the models of gender and their actual enactment in people’s lives and 5) trying to understand all of this from the point of view of the subjects themselves, that is from the emic point of view of men and women who both live these ideologies and social structures and are trying to deconstruct them to form a more equal and peaceful society.

In August 2009, Professor Sarah England of Soka University worked with MIA on “Guatemalan Masculinity and Feminism: A Happy Marriage? Assessing Educational Campaigns against Gender Violence in Guatemala” funded by Soka University’s Pacific Basin Research Center. The idea behind this project was inspired by MIA’s work with the White Ribbon Campaign in Guatemala City which seeks to talk directly to men about issues of gender inequality and gendered violence.

Through my research on these issues in Latin America I have realized that the majority of work being done in this area, both among activists and among academics, seems to still frame gendered violence as primarily a woman’s issue that is discussed among women about how women can cope with it. However, since men are the main perpetrator’s of gendered violence it is very important that they be a part of the conversation about how to resolve the problem alongside women. But in order to do this it is important to understand how men think about the issue, how they conceptualize gender and gender inequality, the role that their own sense of masculinity plays in the construction of gender, and how they think that educational programs can be designed that will get men to think critically about these ideas of gender.

For this project I attended several workshops designed by MIA in collaboration with local Guatemalan NGOs and educators and interviewing facilitators and participants in order to gain insight into the questions posed above.

MIA is a wonderful example of an organization that has this as its explicit goal and has been very active in creating gender equality workshops among different sectors of the population. I first came to know about MIA in 2008 when Lucia Munoz visited the Soka University campus as part of a mini-conference on violence against women in Latin America. I then traveled with her on the summer 2008 delegation to Guatemala and was overwhelmed by the wealth of information, personal stories, and contact with activists that the delegations provide. It was truly an amazing experience both intellectually and emotionally to meet so many people dedicated to improving women’s lives and hearing the personal stories of suffering but also strength. I immediately recognized that the work of MIA aligned perfectly with the goals and missions of Soka University to create engaged, global citizens and asked Lucia to help me organize a Learning Cluster (4 week intensive course) with students from Soka to travel to Guatemala for two weeks to study more intensively the question of gender violence in the country.

The trip was very successful and the comments from the students were extremely positive, stating that the trip had been a life changing experience, opening up their eyes not only to the Guatemalan reality as a whole, but also cementing their resolve to become politically engaged in issues such as gender equality. I hope that this research project will foster continued collaboration between Soka University and MIA specifically, and between academia and activists more generally to tackle such a pressing social issue as gender violence.

Gender Savagery in Guatemala by Michael Parenti and Lucia Muñoz

By Michael Parenti and Lucia Muñoz

First Publish July 14, 2007

On the outskirts of Guatemala City the body of an 18-year-old woman of indigenous ethnicity was recently discovered by her frantic parents who had been searching long and hard. Forensic evidence showed that she had been repeatedly raped and tortured and that her head had been severed from her body with a blunt knife while she was still alive.

This killing was more than just a passing aberration. Nightmarish crimes against women have been occurring with horrifying frequency in Guatemala. In the last seven years, over 3,200 Guatemalan women have been abducted and murdered, with many of them raped, tortured, and mutilated in the doing. The number of victims has shown a striking increase in the last few years with some six hundred murdered in 2006 alone.

The victims often are from low-income families deracinated from their rural homesteads during the civil war and forced to crowd into Guatemala City and other urban areas in search of work.

We might recall Guatemala’s horrid history of violence. From 1962 to 1996, a popular insurgency was defeated by that deranged murder machine known as the Guatemalan Army, trained, advised, financed, and equipped by the United States. A United Nations-sponsored Truth Commission in 1999 characterized much of the counterinsurgency as a genocide against the Mayan people, a holocaust that left 626 villages destroyed, approximately 200,000 people dead or disappeared, including many labor union leaders, student leaders, journalists, and clergy. Hundreds of thousands more were either displaced internally or forced to flee the country.

Those years of untrammeled massacres provide some context for the current wave of femicide sweeping the country. The 1996 peace accords officially declared an end to the butchery but the war against women continues albeit in more piecemeal fashion. Guatemalan women are enduring the whiplash of decades of dehumanizing violence—boosted by the same kind of deep-seated sexism and gender-specific crimes (rape) that are perpetrated in many societies around the world.

Independent investigators charge that the vast majority of present-day atrocities against women have been committed by current or former members of the Guatemalan intelligence services. Having escaped prosecution for human rights violations during the internal war, these trained killers are now members of private security forces or police and paramilitary units that have been strongly implicated in the crimes of the last seven years.

For the most part, authorities show little inclination to bring the perpetrators to justice. Some officials blame the victims for their own deaths, implying that the women bring it on themselves because of their supposed involvement in gang activities or drugs, or because in some way or another they refuse to lead properly conforming lives within the safe confines of a traditional family and community

Some of the victims indeed may have been entangled in shady operations. But many more have been working women, including those of indigenous stock, trapped in poverty. They are the prime victims of a broader “social cleansing” that reactionary hoodlums are conducting against a variety of groups including street children, teenagers, gays, and homeless indigents, a campaign that has claimed thousands of additional victims.

Guatemala is known as the country of “eternal spring.” Some analysts have called it the land of “eternal impunity,” given how right-wing thugs continue to get away with rape, torture, and murder. Statistics reveal that hardly one percent of the perpetrators are ever tried and convicted and the sentences are outrageously light.

Even those rare cases that make it all the way to a prosecutor’s desk have little chance of resulting in a conviction due to the lack of reliable evidence. Recent reports reveal the continuing failure of investigators to collect and preserve essential evidence from crime scenes. More than ordinary incompetence is operative here. Guatemalan authorities manifest little interest in training skilled cadres who might unearth really damaging information about who is behind the crimes.

Anonymous death threats have been sent to the volunteer exhumation teams that locate and examine the bodies of the murdered women and who try to publicize the evidence they discover. In May 2007 the leader of one such team was informed that his sister would be “raped and dismembered into pieces” if he continued to investigate the crimes.

While these murders may seem like little more than random thrill killings to some observers, in fact they serve a function of social control much as would any form of state terrorism. The violence perpetrated against individuals creates a pervasive climate of fear and horror within the victimized families and communities, thereby discouraging social protest and popular resistance. Instead of organizing around any number of crucial politico-economic issues, many of the demoralized and traumatized families cower in stunned silence.

In time people grow numb to the violence. Feeling helpless they almost routinely check the news each day to see how many additional victims have been reported. The effects on children can be especially telling. Growing up in a climate of fear, they learn that their parents and community cannot keep them safe and that homicidal fury might strike anyone at any time.

Family members of murdered women report that authorities show hostility towards them when they request government intervention.

Guatemala’s legal system is rife with provisions that minimize the seriousness of violence against women, a system codified and enforced by men who have seldom displayed any concern for the safety of women. The Guatemalan Penal Code long reflected this bias, treating domestic abuse as a minor offence and generally offering scant protection from gender-based violence.

Guatemalan president Oscar Berger voices a commitment to confronting the crisis but has done next to nothing. Rather than devoting the necessary resources to investigation and enforcement, Berger appeared on national television in 2005 to announce that, for their own safety, women would do best to stay at home.

In 2005 Guatemala appointed its first female Supreme Court President, Beatriz De Leon, and two years later a female police chief. But there is little indication that high-placed female officeholders are going to buck the Old Boys network. Until the government makes some significant efforts towards implementing the recommendations outlined by human rights organizations (such as Guatemala Peace and Development Network, MIA, NISGUA, GHRC-USA, Rights Action, and Center for Gender Studies), the lives of Guatemala’s women will hang in the balance.

There are some encouraging signs. The Human Rights Committee of the Guatemalan Congress is giving serious consideration to a bill that purports to guarantee life, liberty, dignity, and equality for women along with stiffer penalties for those who physically and mentally abuse women and otherwise violate their rights.

Meanwhile a growing number of Guatemalan women are moving into nontraditional careers. In the upcoming election, at least one hundred women will be running for Congress. Some parties have designed campaign strategies intended to promote electoral victories for more women. At present of a total of 158 seats in the Guatemalan Congress only fourteen are occupied by women.

There also are efforts by human rights organizations to create a central, unified database of femicide victims, as well as an emergency response system for missing girls and women that would include utilization of state-of-the-art internet capabilities, DNA testing, and the like.

Awareness of the atrocities has been reaching other countries and gaining international attention. There is a growing demand from abroad that Guatemalan law enforcement agencies get serious about responding to the gender-based atrocities. The U.S. Congress is being pressured to get into the act. A House resolution condemns the murders and expresses condolences and support to the families of victims. The resolution urges the government of Guatemala to recognize domestic violence as a crime, and to investigate the killings and prosecute those responsible.

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling on the Guatemalan Congress to approve the actions of the U.N.-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. The commission intends to investigate the clandestine groups that use violence to advance their illicit political and financial interests.

Meanwhile innocent and unoffending women continue to suffer nightmarish fates at the hands of misogynistic maniacs who, some years ago, developed a taste for inflicting rape, torture, and death “in service to their country.”

Michael Parenti is a noted author and social commentator. His recent books include Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader (City Lights); The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories); Democracy for the Few 8th ed. (Wadsworth/Thomson) and The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press). See
Lucia Muñoz is founder and executive director of MIA, Mujeres Iniciando en las Américas, and founder member of Guatemala Peace and Development Network. She has lectured across the United States and Guatemala on the struggles facing Guatemalan women.

Femicide in Guatemala and Ciudad Juárez: The Underlying Causes that Have Spurred an International Phenomenon

By Samantha Serrano

On average, two women are killed every day in Guatemala. At least 4,000 women have been murdered in the Central American country since 1999. (1) More than 500 women have been slain in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico since 1993. (2) This city is often referred to as the City of Lost Girls. Many activists believe the statistics the Mexican government admits are very conservative and the number of women killed is more likely in the range of 4,000 to 6,000. (3)

What is just as staggering as the volume of murders in the two regions is the manner in which many of the women are killed. Women’s corpses in both areas of Latin America are found mutilated, strangled, burned, decapitated, raped, and abused. Bodies have been found with skulls crushed in, fingernails pulled backwards, wrapped in barbed wire, or with the word venganza (Spanish for vengeance) carved into the body with a knife. (4)

The term used to define such high numbers of violent homicides of women is femicide. According to Diana Russell, the author of Femicide in Global Perspective, femicide is not simply the murder of females, but rather “the killing of females by males because they are female.” (5) I believe that the presence of machismo and impunity in both Ciudad Juárez and Guatemala, paired with independent historical and contemporary tensions within each region, have fueled the two epidemics of femicide. This situation has instigated a cry for both women’s rights and human rights.

In many people’s minds, machismo walks hand-in-hand with Latin American culture. Machismo is an overemphasized masculinity centered on the domination of women. (6) This is typical in patriarchal societies where violence against women has become a cultural norm and an accepted custom for centuries. Machismo is present in both Guatemala and Ciudad Juárez and has been established since the time of the Spanish conquest.

When the Spanish settled in Central and South America, they brought every aspect of their culture with them, including how they treated women. Spain, although it is rapidly changing, has historically been a patriarchal society in which men controlled women. In patriarchal societies, women serve as bearers of children and housewives while remaining financially dependent upon men. In patriarchal societies men dominate both politics and households. (7)

The societal belief that women are inferior to men promotes violence against women, just because they are women. Psychologically it becomes a man’s right in a patriarchal society to invade a women’s body through rape, other forms of violation, or murder. Machismo promotes a need to exterminate or dominate uncontrollable women to maintain patriarchal systems. The result of the need for male dominance that causes some men to murder women is femicide.

For many men in Ciudad Juárez and Guatemala, machismo is a cultural norm and for some men being macho is a good thing. Macho is often understood as being a term used to describe an honorable man or a good provider for one’s family.

Sociologist David T. Abalos believes that many Latino men have internalized the deception that Spaniards, other Europeans, and white Americans are inherently better than Mestizos. Abalos says that the Mestizo men of places like Mexico and Guatemala internalize this notion and continue to comply with how society expects them to behave. The inherited idea of male dominance, which culturally appears to be the only place Latino male’s power remains, translates into a manifestation of violence towards women in order to maintain control. If a woman attempts to become more independent and this dominance fractures, feelings of insecurity and inferiority arise and a man is more likely to become violent toward the women in order to regain power. (8)

Machismo also continues to be a norm in contemporary Latin American society due to the fact that the majority of police officers and officials running the justice system are men. Often times in both Ciudad Juárez and Guatemala when women file complaints that their husbands have abused or raped them, the police officers do not get involved and tell the woman that the dispute should be left between her and her husband.

Machismo within the justice system is one of the factors that cause impunity for crimes against women. Considering the lack of laws for women’s protection from violence, the unwillingness or ignorance of a majority of the people involved in the justice system, and the lack of training and supplies for crime investigators and prosecutors, impunity for men who commit femicide seems almost positive.

Of the 1,500 women that were assassinated between 2003 and 2007 in Guatemala, only 14 cases ended in a prison sentence. (9) Only one percent of the cases involving femicide in Ciudad Juárez have resulted in prosecution and sentencing. (10) Low rates of prosecution and sentencing found in both Ciudad Juárez and Guatemala send a clear message to potential assassins that they can and will get away with murder.

In both Guatemala and Ciudad Juárez authorities are quick to blame gang violence and prostitution for unsolved murders involving both men and women. (11) The former President of Guatemala, Oscar Berger, said in June 2004 that in a majority of cases involving femicide, “the women had links with juvenile gangs and … organized crime,” although he did not site any evidence to support that.

In 1995, the Chihuahua State Assistant Attorney General blamed women of Ciudad Juárez who worked all day and then went out dancing and drinking all night for the femicide. He said they invited rape and murder and the large number of assassinations was their fault for going out alone and not holding to the societal expectations of women. Government officials placed ads throughout the city that said, “Do you know where your daughter is?” That same year, fifty-two women were murdered in the city, which was the highest number up until then. (12)

Most police and crime scene investigators in both Guatemala and Ciudad Juárez lack proper training to solve cases. In Ciudad Juárez evidence is often mishandled. Police investigators have misidentified bodies and have given some victims’ families remains of the wrong victims. Some crime scene investigators do not use gloves to handle evidence and do not use bags to place and transport evidence.

In Guatemala femicide victims’ families have reported that victims’ clothes are often returned to them rather than kept as evidence, and DNA testing is not done. Despite the existence of an anti-kidnapping squad in Guatemala, police customarily stall searches until three days after a person is reported missing.

One of the reasons officers are so poorly trained is their low wages. Both the Mexican and Guatemalan government fail to allocate enough money to pay officers adequate salaries. To make up for their low wages, police and government officials in both regions often take bribes as well. Bribes to traffic officers are as customary as highway tolls. Officers and other officials can be bribed to tamper with evidence or ignore a crime. (13)

The laws in both Mexico and Guatemala have done little to protect women from domestic abuse and rape. Both domestic abuse and rape have been linked to female homicides. Until late 2006 in Guatemala, a rapist could legally escape charges if the father permitted him to marry his victim and she was at least 12 years old. (14) Domestic violence cannot be prosecuted unless signs of injury are still apparent 10 days later and marital rape is not a criminal offense. A law empowering men to prohibit their wives from working outside the home was revoked only in 1999. (15)

Women in Mexico cannot file domestic abuse charges if their injuries take less than fifteen days to heal. If a rape victim is twelve years of age or older and a proven prostitute, there can be no charges filed against the perpetrator because authorities consider the victim an active participant. If it is believed that a rape victim led the attacker on and then refused to have sex, the perpetrator will only have to serve one to six years in prison. Forced penetration by anything other than a penis is not considered an act of rape in Mexico. (16)

Although femicide in both Guatemala and Ciudad Juárez can be credited largely to machismo and impunity, both regions have independent factors and histories that have helped catalyze the two separate epidemics. Guatemalans took in a thirty-six year civil war that included the largest per-capita genocide ever experienced in independent Latin American history. The people of Ciudad Juárez have experienced a radical change in the labor force from male domination to female due to the development of maquiladoras.

Mass murders, rape, and torture are not new to Guatemala. An American-organized rightist military coup violently overthrew the government of the elected president, Juan Jacobo Arbenz, when he tried to initiate land reform in 1954. The coup led to more than three decades of civil war between the army and left-wing guerrillas. Before it ended in 1996, more than 200,000 were killed. A large percentage of the victims in Guatemala were indigenous people slain by the army in a government-mandated genocide. A United Nations-sponsored truth commission calculates that the army is responsible for more than 90 percent of the killings during the civil war. (17)

During the civil war, women were seen as spoils of the battles that soldiers could use however they wished. Women made up about a quarter of those killed during the war, although they almost never participated in fighting or politics. Rape was often used as a scare tactic and a display of power by the military. Soldiers or paramilitaries would often cut fetuses from the wombs of victims because they claimed the unborn babies were potential rebels. Violence against women today seems to be a continuum of the violence committed during the war. Many of the people considered responsible for the random murders, rapes, and genocide during the war have taken on positions of power in post-war Guatemala. Some of their jobs include politicians, police officers, and high-ranking officials in the military. Former dictator Efrain Rios Montt ruled during perhaps the most violent time of the civil war and perpetuated the genocide of the indigenous people between 1982 and 1983. Rios Montt became a member of congress both during the war and after the peace accords were signed between 1990 and 2004. After instigating riots in the streets of Guatemala City in 2003, he was able to run for President. Thankfully, he lost by a landslide. (18)

Even though Rios Montt is currently on trial in Spain for human rights violations during the war, his lasting effect on Guatemala’s post- peace accord government exemplifies how the violence of the war is engrained in present-day Guatemala. According to Guatemalan-American artist and radio producer Ana Ruth Castillo, “A lot of violence was taught, indoctrinated, and institutionalized (during the civil war), and I think that our generations now are still victims of that and have not been able to heal from that.” (19)

The violent society that the people became accustomed to living in during the war is still thriving today. In spite of the 1996 peace accords, Guatemala has one of the worst homicide rates in the world. The fact that victims of femicide are often killed in the same ways they were killed during the war is proof of the lasting impression the violence of the war has left. As women attempt to gain more rights and change society in post-war Guatemala, they not only face machismo, but they also battle for rights against politicians and officers who formerly instigated genocide and used rape as a weapon. To several of these men, women’s rights are not an option. Women who seem to challenge traditional gender roles by working, wearing sandals, drinking alcohol, or having a belly button ring are often victims of femicide. (20) Castillo explained, “Because violence is so cyclical between families and partners it has gone past the civil war and it is still very present.” (21)

The women of Ciudad Juárez live in distinctly different conditions from those of the women in Guatemala. Ciudad Juárez is the Mexican city across the border from El Paso, Texas. Since the U.S./ Mexican border was established, there has been great economic disparity between the two cities. Ciudad Juárez has inherited violence due to the ongoing battle to bring illegal drugs into the United States across the border. The drug wars in 2008 put death tolls at record highs. One aspect of border towns that many people overlook, however, is the maquiladora.

Maquiladoras are factories set up by foreign companies (mostly American) in Mexican border towns. Maquiladoras were rare until the Mexican government launched the Border Industrialization Program (BIP) in 1965 to bring business and employment back to the border cities after World War II. (22) The BIP granted licenses to foreign companies (mostly from the United States) for the tariff-free importation of machinery, parts, and raw materials. The surge of foreign factories marshaled in the maquiladoras. The businesses that came to Mexico, however, did not desire male workers. They desired female workers because they were more docile, submissive, and cheaper than male workers. When the Mexican government passed the BIP they unintentionally converted Mexican border towns into manufacturing sectors. Migrant workers from rural areas rushed to the border towns seeking employment at the maquiladoras. The flow of discouraged migrants seeking employment, as well as transient workers hoping to hop the border to the U.S., resulted in over-crowding of the city and a high crime rate.

Skyrocketing female employment and plummeting male employment changed the makeup of the workforce in Ciudad Juárez. Female maquiladora workers became the main wage earners in the home. Although women seemed to achieve greater financial independence, husbands, fathers, and brothers did not normally allow women to play a significant role in household decisions. In actuality, the switch to women becoming the main breadwinners in the home caused most men to tighten their control over women. The typical male usually refused to resign from his position as head of the household and would not help with housework or cooking. Female maquiladora workers had to take on the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children in addition to a ten-hour workday. (23)

In 1993, the corpses of young females started appearing in the deserts on the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez. Before 1993 most murders in Ciudad Juárez were drug and gang-related. However, the majority of the victims found at this point had no relation to either gangs or drugs. (24)

As the bodies began emerging, tensions concerning male domination and employment were gaining momentum due to the upcoming passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which would further empower the maquiladoras and augment female employment.

The passage of NAFTA in 1994, which allows for an economic open trade policy between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, caused a renewed surge of maquiladoras in Juárez, as predicted. More than 400 maquiladoras now operate in Ciudad Juárez and continue to produce billions of dollars in exports. Young women from other parts of Mexico migrate to the already overpopulated Ciudad Juárez hoping to find economic security in Juárez’s maquiladora job market. (25)

Thousands of young women in Ciudad Juárez commute to maquiladora jobs every day before sunrise to work ten to twelve hour shifts where they will be lucky to make $5 a day. The women often have to walk in dangerous areas with little outdoor lighting in the shantytowns outside of Ciudad Juárez to arrive at the nearest bus stop to get to work. A 20-year-old woman named Claudia Ivette once arrived three minutes late for her shift at a maquiladora and was turned away into the dark night. Her body was later found in a ditch alongside the corpses of eight other women. (26)

With increased employment tensions and women forced into unsafe situations to keep employment at the maquiladoras, femicide in Ciudad Juárez has escalated. Last year saw the highest number of victims of femicide, with eighty-six women’s bodies found. (27) More than fifty percent of femicide victims are maquiladora workers.

Maquiladoras also illustrate the cultural idea of female disposability. (28) This disposability refers to the excessive turnover rate of employees in the maquiladoras. Another reason maquiladora managers prefer to hire women is because they are less likely to strike. Women in maquiladoras can be fired for any reason. If a woman does not meet the company’s weekly goals of production or if a woman gets pregnant it is automatic grounds for termination. Women’s activist Esther Chávez claims that the attitudes of maquiladora managers toward female workers with regards to their disposability have permeated the minds of the men of Ciudad Juárez. They take on the belief that the bodies and lives of women are also disposable. (29)

Maquiladoras promote segregation and competition between men and women in the work place as well. Maquiladora managers separate the sexes in the workplace. When male workers do not meet the maquiladora’s standards or are disobedient, they are forced to sit with the female workers as a penalty.

The tactics used by the maquiladora manager give the male workers a feeling of superiority. When they are “punished” by having to sit with the women, they feel their masculinity is threatened. This could result is a violent reaction towards the women they are forced to be in the company of.

Perpetrators of femicide also have an advantage in that many of the maquiladora workers are transients from other parts of Mexico. (30) It is not likely that victims with few or no ties in the area will be searched for. Several women’s remains are found in the deserts on the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez that are never claimed or identified. If there is no one battling for a murder case to be solved in Ciudad Juárez, officials do not bother with an investigation. (31)

The exact causes or motives in each case of femicide in Guatemala and Ciudad Juárez will never be known. One would have to question the murderers of the more than 3,000 woman in Guatemala and 500 women in Ciudad Juarez. However, one can be sure that the presence of impunity for the perpetrators of femicide as well as the cultural acceptance of male domination over females, or Machismo, has played a role in or contributed to the killers’ willingness and desire to take the lives of innocent women. The scars of civil war and genocide in Guatemala, as well as indoctrinated violence, have contributed immensely to the contemporary epidemic of femicide. The defensive reaction to the change in employment in Ciudad Juárez due to the maquiladoras, as well as the anonymity and disposability of such a large portion of the female population, has contributed to the motives behind femicide in the border town.

As more and more bodies turn up in both regions, more and more men and women join the fight against femicide. There is an ongoing battle by Nongovernmental organizations, concerned citizens, and victims’ families and friends against the acceptance of femicide and the murderers. (32) They claim that although more men are murdered than women in both Ciudad Juárez and Guatemala, people must take into account the way these women are killed. While men are normally just shot or stabbed, women are raped and then seriously mutilated. The manners in which the women are murdered exhibit hatred towards the female sex that is also apparent in how women are treated while they are alive. The fight against femicide is a fight for the rights of all women, dead or alive.

As Guatemalan sociologist Ana Silvia Monzón said, “We have to recuperate the feeling of living, of living well…. We are not able to continue in this dynamic of poverty, of discrimination, of racism, and of machismo that only brings us destruction.” (33)

Sam Serrano is currently earning her M.A. in Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Sam graduated from California State University of Fullerton in May 2009 with a double major in Spanish and Latin American Studies and a minor in Journalism. She plans to continue her work for human rights in Guatemala throughout the rest of her career.


(1, 33) Ana Silvia Monzón, personal communication, December 14, 2008

(2, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 16, 22, 23, 24, 26, 28, 29) Panther, 2007
(3) Gwin, 2008
(4, 7, 20, 32) Lucia Muñoz, personal communication, December 19, 2008

(5) Russsell, 2001
(9, 11) Lakshmanan, 2006

(14) Benitez, 2007
(15) Impunity Rules 40-42

(17) Tuckman, 2007

(18) Aznarez, 2008
(19, 21) Ana Ruth Castillo, personal communication, December 14, 2008

(25, 30, 31) Osborn, 2004
(27) Washington Valdez, 2009


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