The lower house of Mexico’s Congress this month approved tougher prison sentences for crimes of femicide and sexual abuse of minors, following the public outcry after a 7-year-old girl was murdered in Mexico City. Legislators voted to raise the sentence for femicide by five years, to between 45 and 65 years in prison, and to increase penalties for sexual abuse of minors to 10 to 18 years, up from six to 13 years currently. The proposals now go to the Senate. How far would raising prison sentences go in terms of reducing the number of femicides in Mexico? What else can the government do to curb violence against girls and women? To what extent can the root causes of femicide be addressed through policy?
Lisa Sánchez, general director of Mexico United Against Delinquency (MUCD): “Mexico is living an undeniable crisis of gender violence and femicides that must be resolved urgently. According to data from the executive secretariat of the national public security system (SESNSP) and the national statistics institute (INEGI), in our country, 10 women are murdered daily. In accordance with the Mexico network for children’s rights (REDIM), one of every 10 femicides is committed against girls and adolescents younger than 17 years old. The national survey on the dynamics of household relations (ENDIREH) shows that of the women who live past 15 years old, 66 percent of them suffer incidents of aggression, be they domestic (34 percent), emotional (49 percent), economic (29 percent) or sexual (41.3 percent), and that these are suffered at the hands of both known and unknown attackers, in both private and public spaces. Unfortunately, in the face of such a phenomenon, governmental responses are scarce, and when they do appear, they are far from appeasing. Meanwhile, the urgency and indignation have accumulated and have given way to new forms of demand that circumvent the traditional political routes. Today, the youngest women organize, and they do so from the streets, from social media and women’s strikes. The demand is clear: the Mexican state must recognize the magnitude of the violence against us and change accordingly. Can it?”
Caroline Beer, professor of political science and director of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Vermont: “While this type of reform may give members of Congress an opportunity to claim that they are doing ‘something’ to confront the crisis of gender violence, increasing prison sentences is unlikely to actually do much at all to reduce rates of violence. The problem in Mexico is not that convicted murderers and sex offenders are spending too little time in jail; the problem is that femicide and other types of sexual violence are not being investigated or prosecuted. Only about 5 percent of all murders in the country lead to a conviction. Investigators and prosecutors are poorly paid, poorly trained and overworked. A genuine effort to address gender violence would start with public officials treating it as a serious crime and establishing institutions that can competently address the crisis. The government should construct specialized units of investigators and prosecutors who are trained specifically to address gender violence. The government should also invest in fully staffed hotlines, more shelters and legal advocacy for women experiencing violence. Good public policies can reduce gender violence, but first the government needs to prioritize the lives of women.”
Julia Escalante, regional coordinator at the Latin America and the Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights (CLADEM): “At the Latin America and the Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights, we believe that the use of criminal law and an increase of penalties for crimes that primarily affect women do not diminish violence against them. The penalty, or increase of penalties, while launching a message of zero tolerance is frankly ineffective in reducing high rates of violence against women, girls and adolescents. All this given that the problem facing the Mexican state is the high rates of impunity for the vast majority of crimes—impunity that undoubtedly affects crimes with a significant gender burden in a different manner. One thing that the women’s movement demands from the Mexican government is for it to give relevance to the issue of violence against women, starting with public discourse that does not banalize, minimize or stigmatize it. Therefore, clear and forceful statements are necessary regarding the application of the law, the implementation of public policies and the strengthening of institutions for the prevention, care and punishment of all forms of violence; as well as an approach that shows political will through the allocation of sufficient, labeled and transparent public budgets. Civil society must also be allowed to monitor government actions. The U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) establishes an obligation for the state to generate all the necessary actions to motivate cultural changes that affect sexist practices that prevail across the world. This can only be carried out through effective public policies, where the subjects of such policies participate in their design, implementation and evaluation. Likewise, it is important to transform and strengthen the mechanisms of access to justice, incorporating a gender approach at all stages and strengthening the capabilities and skills of human resources.”
Tania Reneaum, executive director of Amnesty International Mexico: “Increasing sentences does not solve social problems. The Mexican state must train those who seek and deliver justice to administer justice with a gender perspective. Likewise, it must fulfill its duty to prevent, and for this it must have programs with measurable and quantifiable goals, which it should be possible to evaluate.”
Editor’s note: The Advisor requested a commentary for this Q&A from the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as U.N. Women, and received the following statement: “We consider it a positive sign that Mexico’s Congress places violence against women and girls (VAWG) as a priority on the public agenda and strives to take measures to stop femicides in the country. VAWG is a complex phenomenon that requires multidimensional approaches and the improvement of the legal frameworks is certainly important. However, there’s no reliable evidence of increasing the severity of punishment having a substantial deterrent effect, whereas strong findings indicate that variation in the certainty of punishment has a large deterrent effect. We strongly encourage authorities to focus the political discussions and institutional efforts on improving women’s access to justice as a core strategy to end VAWG, including: 1.) Strengthening of prevention and attention to VAWG root causes; 2.) Improving legislative frameworks and policies that are gender sensitive and effectively applied; 3.) Strengthening state institutions to better prevent address and sanction VAWG; 4.) Generating quality data and information for evidence-based decision making; and 5.) Providing quality and accessible essential services for victims which disrupt the continuum of VAWG. In the same regard, the CEDAW Committee made four recommendations to Mexico in order to improve women’s access to justice, which we believe should also be at the center of the legislative discussions that are taking place right now.”