On Sept. 8, 19-year-old Mara Fernanda Castilla used a ride-hailing app to find a ride home — generally considered a safer alternative to hailing a taxi on the street for women in Mexico. A week later she was found dead.
Ten days later, thousands of people marched in the streets of Mexico to protest against violence against women, specifically femicide — which the World Health Organization defines as the murder of a woman simply because she is a woman — according to Al Jazeera.
Femicide and violence against women is not a new problem in Mexico.
In the early 1990s, news got out that hundreds of women had been murdered in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, drawing international attention and prompting Mexico to request a special inquiry by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in 2004. In fact, the creation of the term “femicide” is often credited to Mexican activists who referred to the murders as “feminicidios.”
Over two decades later, Mexico continues to grapple with violence against women throughout the country. The problem is particularly acute in Mexico State and the Mexico City, the nation’s capital. According to AP, 346 femicides have been recorded in Mexico State, the country’s most populous state, in the last six years alone.
The state has the second highest number of femicides after Mexico City, though it is difficult to get accurate figures because the difference between femicide and murders committed with other motivations is difficult to determine, according to the World Health Organization.
What is exceedingly clear is that women in Mexico are not safe from violence.
In recent months, a young girl disappeared on the way home from school, only to turn up dead. A doctor was abducted while working at a hospital — two days later her mother identified her decapitated body at the morgue. A student was stabbed to death by her jealous ex-boyfriend.
It seems that no girl or woman in Mexico should take her safety for granted, the Associated Press reports. While femicide is often related to domestic abuse, many killings have been perpetrated by strangers.
“I don't feel safe,” a 15-year-old girl who attends self-defense classes told the AP. “A woman cannot walk down the street freely because there are always people, men, who start harassing you, who try to touch you just because you're wearing shorts or tight jeans,” she added.
While Mexico has made efforts to combat the problem — on Tuesday a man convicted of murdering 11 women was sentenced to 430 years in prison — the issue has been hard to tackle because it is tied to gender discriminatory cultural norms.
“This problem is difficult to eradicate because it is rooted in ideas that assume that we as women are worth less than men, that we as women can be treated like trash,” deputy state prosecutor for gender violence crimes Dilcya Garcia Espinoza de los Monteros says.
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Last month’s protest was not the first time Mexicans have protested violence against women. At least two other marches have been held to demand justice for female victims of gender-based violence since April 2016.
And over the last two years, thousands of women around Latin America have taken a stand against the gender-based violence and femicide, which is not only pervasive in Mexico, but also in other Latin American countries like Honduras and Peru.
Two years after the government of Mexico issued a “gender violence alert" because of the astounding number of femicides, the widespread violence against women remains a crisis.
"As a Mexican woman, it is very difficult to know that leaving your house you may not return,” one protester told Al Jazeera. “I think things are going to change, not today, but in time,” she added.