Most women’s attackers remain free while the Mexican government does next to nothing to prevent and punish gender violence
MIAMI — María de Jesús Jaime Zamudio, also known as Marichuy, died a week after falling from the fifth floor of the building in Mexico City she lived in, in the night between Jan. 15 and 16, 2016. Her mother, Yesenia Zamudio, has never believed the fall was an accident or a suicide attempt, as the local authorities suggested at the time of the tragedy. For the past four years she has insisted that her daughter was murdered.
In September 2019, Marichuy’s case was reclassified as a femicide. That makes her yet another woman among the thousands regularly killed in Mexico as a result of gender-related violence. Nothing is being done about this sad state of affairs. The attackers, for the most part, remain free.
“What I know now, from the experts’ analyses and investigations, is that Mary was a victim of gender-based violence. She was assaulted,” Yesenia told me about her daughter’s death during an interview. “She fell. No one helped her. Then, they left her to bleed out.” Marichuy, who was only 19, died in a Mexico City hospital from the multiple fractures sustained as she tried to escape her aggressors. Her family maintains that one of Marichuy’s college professors and three classmates assaulted her in her apartment after a night out, but so far no arrests have been made related to her case.
Yesenia recently gained some notoriety thanks to a video that went viral on social media. “So, what if I set things on fire, wreak havoc and raise hell in this city? What’s the problem with that?” she says in the video. “They killed my daughter! I’m a mother whose daughter was killed! And yes, I’m an empowered, feminist mother, and I have had enough. I have every right to burn down and destroy whatever I want, and I’m not going to ask for anyone’s permission. Because before they murdered my daughter, they murdered many, many others.”
The video was taken during a protest that Yesenia and other women staged in front of the building where another young woman, Ingrid Escamilla, was recently murdered. The body of the 25-year-old victim was found dismembered, and her male partner was accused of the brutal crime. The publication by several news outlets of a series of photographs showing the woman’s bloodied corpse elicited strong criticism of the media, accused of exploiting and further violating the victim’s memory, and of the government of Mexico City for its role in the leak of the images.
Yesenia’s anger, so public and digital, is the expression of a new culture against silence and machismo taking root in Mexico, a culture in which women are demanding equal treatment. Still, stopping the killings remains the priority. And even in that endeavor, with their demands and protests, women are taking the lead. On Sunday a massive march against gender-based violence will take place in Mexico City, followed the next day by a rare nationwide women’s strike, promoted under the hashtag #UnDíaSinMujeres (#OneDayWithoutWomen) on social media.
Femicide is the murder of a woman simply because she’s a woman. To classify a crime as a femicide, Mexico’s federal criminal code requires that the victim “displays signs of sexual violence,” or the existence of previous threats, evidence of harassment, a history of violent episodes, a romantic relationship, the deprivation of the victim’s freedom or the forced exposure of a person’s body in a public place.
In 2019, 1,010 femicides were registered in Mexico by the local authorities, more than double those reported in 2015. The problem is that in many cases women’s murders are simply classified as homicides. And since the vast majority of homicides in Mexico aren’t investigated, that category is like a mass grave.
As of the end of January, 40,299 Mexicans had been killed since Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, also known as AMLO, took office on Dec. 1, 2018. These are the highest figures ever recorded in the country.
The rise of femicides has contributed to the end of Mr. López Obrador’s nearly 15-month honeymoon period in office, and it has created one of the first true challenges to his government. Sometimes it seems that AMLO, whose approval rate has fallen sharply in recent months, doesn’t know what to do about the issue. Many Mexicans wonder if he has the capacity and a solid plan to face one of the country’s most serious problems: the crime culture that has been pervasive in Mexico for decades.
In a 2017 interview, I asked Mr. López Obrador if he was a feminist. Eluding my question, he told me, “Women deserve to go to heaven.” AMLO showed that same ambiguity at a recent news conference, when he recited a vague decalogue of good intentions to confront femicide. “You have to respect women” and, “Machismo is an anachronism, an act of brutality” were among the entries. During another meeting with the press, when a female reporter asked him about his plan to reduce the number of murdered women, he assured her that they were “addressing the causes,” only to fall back into his empty rhetoric right after. “May there be lots of love and no hate,” he said.
That same day, the president said that there was no impunity in Mexico. But that is not true: Ninety-three percent of crimes in Mexico went either unreported or uninvestigated in 2018, according to a survey by Mexico’s statistics agency. This is why the proposal put forward by several nonprofits and activists for the creation of a prosecutor’s office specializing in crimes against women is a step in the right direction.
In February, after protesters spray-painted slogans against gender-based violence over the facade of the National Palace, President López Obrador asked the feminist groups staging the action to refrain from “painting the doors” of the building, in which he lives and works.
Yesenia, Marichuy’s mother, has other plans. “We don’t want to paint your door, sir, we want to kick it down,” she said during our interview. “We want you to listen to us.” And then, almost resigned to the fact that the government won’t take action, she launched a message to other women: “Just as an act of rebellion, let’s stay united. Let’s protect each other. Let’s love each other. And let’s take care of our daughters and our sons, because this government doesn’t care about us.”
She knows that, in Mexico, women are killed, and nothing is ever done about it.