Women confront an epidemic of gender-based violence in Mexico and Central America, while doors slam shut for protection in the US

Women in Mexico and Central America have many reasons to demand their rights as International Women’s Day is commemorated  this March 8. Thousands of women in the region seek the protection they are denied in their countries of origin in the United States, even as the US takes more steps to block the right to asylum.

March 3,2020— Seeking asylum in the United States has been one of the few alternatives for women  in Mexico and Central America who seek protection from gender-based violence that they cannot obtain in their own countries. Femicides (a term used to describe murder of women because they are women) have attracted a lot of media attention in recent days. However, violence and violent death has been part of  everyday life for women in Mexico and Central America for almost three decades. Twenty-seven years ago, Ciudad Juárez, in northern Mexico, became infamous for the femicides of young women workers in the maquiladora industry and subsequent impunity for the perpetrators.

The failure of public policies to prevent violence and to protect victims is evident in the statistics, studies and cases reported daily in the region.  This data shows a consistent trend of women and trans women as especially likely to be the targets of violence.

In addition, factors such as environmental degradation are impacting violence against women.  A recent study noted that climate adaptation responses must include a gender analysis if they are going to be successful.

Widespread impunity characterizes the institutional response to physical and sexual violence against women thorughout the region. Those survivors who seek protection in the United States or another country, now face a host of new barriers. The Trump administration has consistently taken steps to limit access to asylum in the region, actions that have devastating impacts on women who seek the protection here that they cannot find in their own country. The inclusion and consideration of a gender perspective along with efforts to include and recognize violence against women as a reason for persecution, deserving of protection under asylum, are an essential tool. However, these very criteria are among those that have been eliminated or undermined. A larger number of asylum cases have been resolved in fiscal year 2020, than in previous years, but more cases enter in the system every day. The percentage of cases in which asylum was denied has increased from 69% in fiscal year 2019 to 72% in the first months of fiscal year 2020.

Mexico and Central America: among the most violent regions for women and girls

People in Mexico have been horrified in recent days by the murder of Fatima, a 7-year old girl, who was found dead with signs of torture, five days after she disappeared after leaving school. The authorities are investigating the school for a series of negligent actions that ended in the tragedy. As shocking as this case is, it comes on the heels of a long history of violence suffered by women and girls in Mexico. Last year ended with almost 3,000 femicides in which 98 were girls. Child femicide has grown 96% in the last years, according to data from the Executive Secretary of the National Public Security System. This year continues the upward trend with more than 265 murders of women characterized as femicides. The Mexican government has largely failed to bring these cases to justice, marking a systemic failure in the justice system.  The impunity for perpetrators is compounded by lack of capacity for gender-sensitive criminal investigation and lack of specialized help families. 

The situation for women in the countries of northern Central America is equally alarming. In the case of El Salvador, the highest rate of femicide ever was recorded in 2019 with an index of 6.8 caser per 100,000 women. Last year, Honduras, recorded 843 murders, of which 391 were women, as reported by the National Violence Observatory of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (OV-UNAH). That same study reminded us that a woman loses her life to violence every 23 hours in Honduras. Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of femicides in the region with two cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to CEPAL.  In Guatemala, violence against women often occurs at the intersection of generalized violence and hate crimes against indigenous peoples.

Violence against women must become an urgent priority for the governments of Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and in Guatemala. If not, women will keep dying, for no other reason than being women in a context of impunity and official indifference.  At the same time, the United States must be held accountable for its role in denying asylum and closing its doors to women who need protection. Alianza Americas demands respect and protection of the lives, freedom and integrity of women across the region.