Violence Against Women in Mexico Has Become Dangerously Normalised, One Lawyer Says

Foto aportada por Fabiola Higareda, abogada experta en violencia contra las mujeres.

Photo provided by Fabiola Higareda, lawyer expert in violence against women.

Violence against women is all to common in Mexico, a country with antiquated gender norms and a government that seems to only offer insufficient or naive solutions to the problem.

The danger goes beyond sexual abuse — in many places women are losing their lives daily, with impunity for their killers. The UN has even labelled Mexico as one of the 25 most dangerous countries for women.

In the past few days, Global Voices has published a series of articles related to the crisis of violence against women in Mexico. We have addressed, among other things, the government's response to the problem and the reaction of female victims of harassment, both from Mexico and various Latin American countries, who shared their experiences online.

As a continuation of this work, we spoke to Fabiola Higareda, a lawyer who for several years has dedicated her time to dealing with violence against women as a civil servant.

Global Voices (GV): In your opinion, is the coverage in traditional media and by the Mexican citizens on the subject of violence against women justified, or has it just ‘blown up’ the situation?

Fabiola Higareda (FH): En la actualidad, los medios de comunicación constituyen una herramienta fundamental para evidenciar lo que se ha normalizado por años. Los altos niveles de violencia de género contra las mujeres siempre han estado presentes, sin embargo, justo por esta normalización, existe una cifra negra (no denunciada), y es justo ahí, donde los medios de comunicación resultan un elemento útil y necesario para poder concientizar y visibilizar que las mujeres seguimos siendo violentadas en múltiples formas.

Fabiola Higareda (FH): Nowadays, the media is key in showing what has become normalized over the years. High levels of violence against women have always been there, however, because of this normalisation, a dark figure exists (unreported crimes) and it is here where the media becomes a useful and important tool to be able to raise awareness and show people that women continue to to feel abused in various ways.

GV: Two questions in one: Do you think that the Mexican government is right in its strategy of creating bodies such as CONAVIM (The Mexican Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women,) and INMUJERES (the National Institute of Women) to tackle the problem? Is this tactic of creating more local and federal offices enough?

FH: La creación de instituciones encargadas de hacer políticas públicas para erradicar la violencia de género contra las mujeres ha sido fundamental para promover, respetar, proteger y garantizar el derecho de las mujeres a una vida libre de violencia. Sin embargo, es importante cambiar la perspectiva desde la que se ve esta problemática. Con esto me refiero a la necesidad de crear instituciones dedicadas a prevenir y atender la violencia de género desde una óptica en donde los hombres sean el eje central. Lugares en donde puedan diseñarse políticas públicas encaminadas a crear nuevas masculinidades. Para ejemplificar lo anterior expongo el siguiente caso: cuando una mujer es víctima de violencia familiar por parte de su pareja, acude a alguna institución a recibir atención multidisciplinaria e integral. Ella se convierte en el centro de acción del aparato gubernamental, mientras que el hombre generador de violencia se anula en su totalidad. Éste no recibe ningún tipo de apoyo o terapia para modificar su conducta y entender que existen otros medios no violentos de resolución de conflictos. Por lo tanto, este hombre seguirá actuando a lo largo de su vida de forma violenta.

Es necesario que las estrategias tomen en consideración que la violencia de género no es un asunto exclusivo de mujeres violentadas, sino también de hombres generadores de violencia.

FH: The creation of institutions charged with putting the eradication of violence against women into public policy has been fundamental to promote, respect, protect and guarantee the rights of women to a life without violence. However, it is important to change the perspective of how the problem is seen. I am referring to the need to create institutions dedicated to preventing and dealing with violence against women with men being their main focus point. Places in which new public policy directed at creating a new masculinity can be designed. To exemplify this last point I present the following case: When a woman is a victim of domestic violence, she can turn to an institution and receive multidisciplinary and comprehensive care. She is taken right into the middle of the government's aid system, whereas the man who committed the acts of violence is totally void of help. He receives no type of support or therapy to change his behavior and understand that there are other ways to resolve conflicts than violence. Therefore, this man will continue being violent throughout his life.

Strategies need to take into consideration that gender violence is not just a matter of the female victims of violence, but also of their violent abusers.

GV: Looking at sexual violence, is traditional media partly to blame for the generalisation or ‘normalisation’ of this kind of violence?

FH: Los medios de comunicación atienden y cubren las necesidades de la colectividad, siguen las reglas básicas del mercado de “a mayor demanda, mayor oferta”. En México, al igual que en muchos otros países, las mujeres somos vistas como objetos sexuales y este aspecto es reforzado por los medios de comunicación. En el discurso, la sociedad exige que las mujeres tengamos un protagonismo en los medios de comunicación igualitario con independencia del sexo. Sin embargo, en la práctica seguimos teniendo un trato diferenciado y asimétrico. Son muchos los medios de comunicación dirigidos a la población masculina que sexualizan a las mujeres para tener mayores ventas. Periódicos que en su página principal muestran a una mujer con poca ropa, al lado de la noticia principal del día o anuncios televisivos que “objetivizan” a mujeres para la venta de algún producto. De esta forma, constituyen un elemento clave en la normalización de la violencia de género.

FH: The media deals with and covers the needs of the masses. They follow the basic market rules of “supply and demand.” In Mexico, like in many other countries, women are seen as sexual objects, and this perspective is reinforced by the media. In principle, society demands that women play an equal role in the media, independent from our sex. However, in reality we continue to be treated differently and asymmetrically. Many media that target a male audience sexualise women in order to boost their sales. Newspapers which show half-dressed women on their front pages next to the main news story of the day, or television adverts that objectify women in order to sell a product. In this way, they play a key role in the normalisation of violence against women.

GV: Recently, the cases of Andrea Noel, who was accosted by a man who lifted up her dress and took down her underwear, and Gabriela Nava, who had photos taken up her skirt by a worker at her university, have made headlines. In your experience, how can the harm inflicted in cases like this be repaired? 

FH: Es necesaria una reparación del daño a nivel social e institucional, ya que van de la mano. A nivel social, resulta necesario hacer visible que los hechos que vivieron Andrea y Gabriela fueron actos de violencia que por ningún motivo deben pasarse por alto. A nivel institucional se necesita que las autoridades sean conscientes de que este tipo de actos deben ser investigados y sancionados. Ambos tipos de reparación del daño demuestran a la sociedad que no será permitido ningún tipo de violencia de género hacia las mujeres, lo que repercute directamente en la prevención de la misma.

FH: Reparation on a social and institutional level is necessary, they go hand in hand. On a social level, it becomes necessary to make it clear that what happened to Andrea and Gabriela were acts of violence that should not, for any reason, be overlooked. On an institutional level, the authorities need to be aware that these acts have to be investigated and punished. Both types of reparation of the harm done show to society that no type of violence against women will be tolerated, and they will also have a direct effect on preventing such acts.

GV: What is your opinion on the role that social media has played in cases like those previously mentioned, or that of “Los Porkys” — the four well-to-do young men from Veracruz who were accused of sexually assaulting a minor?

FH: Las redes sociales también han tenido un factor preponderante en evidenciar los grandes índices de violencia que vivimos las mujeres en nuestro país, así como evidenciar el silencio y el machismo que muchas veces existe en torno a ésta. Este silencio y machismo se refleja en las amenazas, insultos y burlas que han recibido las víctimas en las redes sociales.

Dichas redes constituyen entonces un arma de dos filos: por un lado, sirven para resaltar los desequilibrios y exigencias sociales, mientras que, por el otro, funcionan como instrumentos para ocultar, detrás de una pantalla, a miles de personas que aún consideran que las mujeres somos violentadas porque nos lo merecemos, ya sea por nuestra forma de vestir, hablar, actuar o por el simple hecho de ser mujeres. Muchos de estos comentarios han sido rebatidos por miles de voces que somos conscientes del verdadero génesis de la violencia de género, así como de sus repercusiones.

La indignación social debe seguir siendo el motor en las redes sociales. Es esta indignación la que ha hecho que las autoridades volteen a ver a las víctimas cuando en un principio les fueron negados sus derechos; que hombres y mujeres nos cuestionemos sobre las relaciones de poder que practicamos en el día a día, pero los más importante, es que ésta indignación le ha puesto voz a miles de mujeres que hemos vivido algún tipo de violencia en nuestras vidas.

FH: Social media has also played a key role in exposing the high rates of violence that Mexican women endure, as well as the silence and machismo that often surrounds it. This silence and machismo is reflected in the threats, insults and taunts that victims have received on socal media.

These sites therefore have both positive and negative repercussions: On the one hand, they serve to highlight inequality and social demands, whereas, on the other hand, they work as instruments that can hide behind a screen thousands of people who still think that women are abused because we deserve it, because of the way we dress, talk, act or for the simple fact of being a woman. Many of these comments have been rebutted by people who are aware of the truth of the origins of violence against women, as well as its repercussions.

Social outrage should continue to be the motor for social media. It is this indignation which has made the authorities sit up and see these victims, where before they were denied their rights; that men and women question the relationships of power that we have day to day, but most importantly is that this outrage has given a voice to the thousands of women who have been victims of some kind of violence in our lives.

GV: Do you have a message for the millions of Mexican women who have been victims of violence and faced difficulties getting justice?

FH: Aún falta hacer mucho en el tema de acceso a la justicia. Necesitamos instituciones fuertes que den respuesta a nuestras demandas: funcionarias y funcionarios debidamente capacitados y sensibilizados en el tema; así como leyes que no se rijan bajo un esquema androcéntrico. Me parece que vamos caminado; sin embargo para lograrlo es necesario que mujeres y hombres, conjuntamente, sigamos exigiendo nuestros derechos y exhibiendo, por todos los medios posibles, las deficiencias que se tienen.

FH: Much still needs to be done on the subject of getting justice. We need strong institutions that respond to our demands: Competent male and female officials who are sensitive to the subject, as well as laws not governed under an androcentric system. It seems to me that things are changing, but to reach our goals, men and women together need to keep demanding our rights and showing by any means possible the shortcomings that exist.

GV: And finally, do you feel safe walking on the streets, or using public transport alone at night in Mexico City?

FH: Yo creo que no hay mujer en la Ciudad de México que se sienta 100% segura de caminar sola por las calles o al abordar el transporte público. Quizá sea más viable decir que nos vamos acostumbrando a vivir con ese miedo siempre latente.

FH: I don't think there is any woman in Mexico City who feels 100% safe walking on the street or using public transportation alone at night. It might be more reasonable to say that we are getting used to living with this constant underlying fear.

Fabiola Higareda spoke to Global Voices in a personal capacity, sharing her own opinions on violence against women in Mexico.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.