Violence against women, including domestic violence and more recently feminicide (the intentional killing of women, based on gender), has become somewhat of a common occurrence in Mexico. According to the Diagnostic Investigation on Femicide Violence, a legislative commission of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, “more than six thousand girls and women were murdered in Mexico between 1999 and 2005. While a majority of these murders occurred in the states of Chiapas, Chihuahua, Guerrero, Mexico, Morelos, and Veracruz” (Panther, 18), feminicide is most commonly associated with the U.S. borderland, and Cd. Juarez, in particular. Borderlands and feminist scholars have demonstrated that patriarchy contributes both to continued violence against women and a prevailing culture of impunity surrounding the feminicide. Indeed, the practice of femicide, especially on the U.S. Mexico border, has the purpose of dominating and controlling women in order to maintain the patriarchal system in place.


The ideology placing males as dominant in Mexico begins at a young age and often takes place within families. Traditional male and female roles insinuates that if these are broken, there will be consequences. This has proven to be true in places along the border, specifically Ciudad Juarez. Livingston explains in Murder in Juarez “…the women interviewees describe a societal structure based on male dominance in the workplace and male rights to women who are perceived as stepping out of their traditional roles, whether by remaining unattached to a male protector or by attempting to enter the realm of paid labor” (66). Thus, cultural gender ideologies and patriarchal societal structures have contributed towards people's tolerance of violence against women on the border. Ultimately, patriarchal constraints have resulted in expressed “gender oppression, the inequality of the relations between what is male and what is female, a manifestation of domination, terror, social extermination, patriarchal hegemony, social class and impunity” (Fregoso, 2). While varouss forms of gender oppression are common throughout Mexico, femicide is most prevalent today in Ciudad Juarez, having peculiarities not found in other cities. Indeed, Ciudad Juarez is not only a site of constant migration but also a popular region for drug cartels and prominent industrialization zone based on maquiladora (assembly plant) production.


The maquiladora industry emerged in 1965. First developed as the Border Industrialization Program (BIP), the program sought to develop the border region through industrial production. Maquilas, or asemblyy plants, are foreign-owned, controlled or subcontracted manufacturing plants that process or assemble imported components for export. Generally, maquiladora inputs are imported duty-free, and countries, like the U.S. only tax the value-added portion of maquiladora exports. Thus, maquiladora production provided a cheap and effective way to produce manufactured goods. At the same time, the Border Industrialization Program provided a font for much needed employment in Mexican border cities, which were growing at exponential rates by the 1960s.

Maquiladoras have continued to dominate industrial production along the borderlands. As of December 2006, they made up roughly 50% of the workforce. Yet, employment in maquiladoras has tended to heavily favor the employment of women in the labor force contributing to the feminization of the labor force in mexico's assembly plants. Women are preferedd based on stereotypical assumptions about women's capabilities as agile, nimble, maleablee and docile workers. As anthropologist Jessica Livingston (2005) suggests, thousands of women have been “lured” or enticed to the border region by the prospect of job opportunities in the maquiladora industry. Indeed, wages in these factories are higher than in other parts of Mexico, however, these higher wages come with extreme disadvantages, particularly for women.


The majority of the jobs available to the women seeking work at the Maquiladora’s are “unskilled labor” jobs, those that require repetitive movements and very specific, machine-like tasks.  Most of these jobs occur in the micro-electrics industry (Biemann.)  In her article, Biemann argues that by enticing all of these women to perform these machine-like tasks, women have come to be viewed as machines themselves.  Labor, for huge transnational companies that employ these women, has become nothing more than a figure, one that is conveniently priced at around $1 per hour.  Because this labor is in such high supply, and conveniently accessible, companies can afford to be very strict on their hiring and firing policies, and do anything and everything they can to promote the efficiency of their workforce.  For instance, any sort of worker benefit that would cost the company money is rarely implemented.  Women work extremely long hours, often under adverse conditions, including overcrowding and exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals[1]. Attempts to unionize and demand better conditions are immediately squelched.  Women can also be fired for becoming pregnant, with regular ovulation testing a commonplace activity in the Maquiladora workplace.  Moreover, basic benefits such as health care are absent.    

women in maquiladora factory.


What does such a widespread machine-like treatment of these women do to the psychology of those who view them?  Most broadly, and probably most importantly, it dehumanizes the individual. Biemann goes as far as to say that the labor force is represented as a “depersonalized, quantifiable unit and thus similar to any other incentive offered to entice manufacturers.”   Women are no longer viewed as people, but as numbers, many of the same “type” of person.  Indeed, investigations into the serial murder of more than 300 women in the city of Juarez sheds a violent light on the perspective of other individuals towards these women at the most extreme level.  Biemann describes the serial killer’s acts like this- “What the industry constructs as consumable, disposable bodies is literally tossed into the desert nearby in acts of informal “garbage disposal.”   Indeed, as stated in Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s article, The Maquiladora Murders, the women who were murdered shared many of the same demographics.  They were slim, short, dark-haired women who had come to Juarez to find a job at a Maquiladora.  Many of the victims found dead were still wearing their Maquilla uniforms (Biemann).

Clearly, there are many effects of the Maquiladora system on the female workers employed there.  Many other topics could be studied, including the effects that the massive female population has on the overall culture and the way that it becomes tailored to its poor, female population.  However, most broadly and most useful in this argument is the idea that the Maquiladora system systematically turns hundreds of thousands of women into “machines” and that perceiving them in this dehumanizing, de-individualizing way is correlated to increased violence towards them, as evidenced by the profiling of serial killings in Juarez.  These acts of violence are an extreme example, and could never be causally proven to be the result of the implementation of the Maquiladoras.  However, the other ways in which women are dehumanized through their treatment in the system itself, including many actions that violate basic human rights, shows that less extreme examples of discrimination are frequent and widespread.  It seems only logical that escalating this discrimination could, in certain cases, lead to violence and even feminicide.  


According to Livingston, Mexican authorities often respond to these murder cases with accusations about the character of the girls involved.  They suggest that the women are at fault by saying things like “if she wasn’t a bad girl, why did she leave?”.  Even the state attourney general once blamed the murders on the “double life” of
prostitution that many of these women are forced to lead (Livingston, 63).  Suly Ponce, the first state-appointed representative assigned to the the women’s murder cases, thouroughly investigated the backgrounds of the women.  She could not reach any broad conclusions because many of the girls were good girls, “good, clean, hard workers” (Livingston, 63). 

Gangs and various leaders have been blamed for the murders.  For instance, in 1995 most of the blame was placed on one man, Sharif Abdel Latif Sharif, who was arrested and placed in jail.  However, the murders continued.  Later gangs like “the rebels” were also blamed, and said to still be working with Sharif, however, cases of abuse and torture, in order for police to more quickly wrap up these cases, have been widespread (Livingston, 64).  Also complicating the issue are what Lourdes Portillo calls a “web of complicity” in her documentary about the relations between police, government officials, and the murders.  Feminist organizations have recently striven to attack these corrupt officials, blaming them from benifiting from the pain and suffering of the victims and their familes (Livingston, 64).  


Other trends, like masculine authority and impunity, seem to have an influence on the treatment of these women.  Mexico’s judicial system provides little in the way of providing justice for women who are victems of male violence, particularly if the violence is domestic in nature.  For instance, a woman in Mexico is not permitted to file domestic abuse charges unless her wounds take longer than 15 days to heal.  The Chihuahua legislature attempted to reduce the sentence for rape from 4 years to one, provided that the perpetrator could prove that the victim “provoked the attack”.  This legislation was only prevented by a last minute intervention by the Mexican government.  A striking example of males who believe they can kill females with impunity is the case of Maria Luisa Carsoli who was killed by her husband Ricardo.  Apparently he was seen to boast that he could kill his wife and the government would do nothing about it, long before he murdered her.  And, true to his word, he is still not in prison. (Livingston 66, 67).  

Some of this male aggression towards women may be due to the socio-political dynamic of work.  Women are by far the most frequently employed people in these areas of widespread Maquilladora use.  Chavezbelieves that having women occupy such a large space in every area of social and economic culture in these areas, it creates backlash from men by seemingly decreasing their masculinity (Livingston, 70).  It also does not help that while the women are the dominant force when it comes to sheer numbers, the men are still treated with higher respect and more political and judicial impunity than their female counterparts.  A report from the special commission of the Chamber of Deputies established to look into the Juarez killings calls the impunity a "rupture of the state of law".  It states that the state is incapable of "guaranteeing the life of a woman, of acting with legality and enforcing respect, or of achieving justice and preventing and eradicating the violence to which it gives rise" (Godinez, 33).  Unfortunately, this type of indefference still rules the day in Ciudad Juarez and the state of Chihuahua.  Indifference of this magnitude is in itself a type of femicide (Godinez, 33).  


Many of the groups that seek to promote better conditions in this community where femicide runs rampant are focusing in on the issue of impunity, and trying to draw attention to the fact that many of these murders are going unaccounted for and unpunished.  Activist groups including the Catholics for the Right to Decide, the Mexican Commission to Defend and Promote Human Rights, the Morelos Academy of the Woman, monitorfemicide on a national level (Godinez, 33).  More locally, in the face of a lack of Mexican police competence, mother's of the victims have formed their own organizations, with two missions involved- the recovery of the bodies of their daughters, and justice in the form of punishment for those responsible (Godinez, 32).  Two of the most significant of these organizations are Justice for Our Daughters and Our Daughters Return Home.  Important to both of these organizations efforts is the element of education, thus, from 1995-2005 both groups, with the help of forensic anthropologists, have documented and brought awareness to over 400 murders and 600 disappearances (Godinez, 32).  There have been a few advances in legislation due to the actions of these groups.  For instance, there have been increases in penalties for sexual abuse as well as sexual harassment, as well as classifying rape within a marriage as a crime in Chihuahua.  It also eliminates the ridiculous requirement that rape victims be “chaste and honest” when the crime took place (Godinez, 33).  However, there is still much work to be done, with most of the murders still unaccounted for. 

Works CitedEdit

Biemann, Ursula. "Performing the Border." Rethinking Marxism 14.1 (2002): 29-47. Web.

Godinez Leal, Lourdes. "Combating Impunity and Femicide in Ciudad Juarez." NACLA May 2008: n. pag. Web.

Livingston, Jessica. "Murder in Juarez: Gender, Sexual Violence, and the Global Assembly Line." Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 25.1 (2004): 59-76. Web.

"Maquiladora Statistics." Maquiladora Statistics. Comité Fronterizo De Obrer@s CFO, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2014.

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