It seems that every day now, we read articles or hear stories about the “drug wars” south of the U.S. border: how civilians are getting caught in the cross-fire, and whether we should finally admit defeat. Almost no one, however, is exploring the intricate relationship between the war on drugs and the broader, more global, war on women. Here in the United States we’ve been talking a lot about the Republican, or GOP War on Women, which involves bogus investigations into family planning facilities, massive cuts to women’s health programs, and draconian measures to limit women’s reproductive freedoms.
In places like Central America, however, the War on Women has a far more violent meaning.
This past January, a women’s delegation of human rights activists, journalists and foreign policy experts, led by Nobel Peace Prize winners Jody Williams and Rigoberta Menchú Tum and Just Associates, traveled to Mexico and Central America. Hearing from more than two hundred women survivors and grassroots organizers, as well as meeting with Presidents Porfirio Lobo and Otto Perez Molina, Mexican Attorney General Marisela Morales and other high-level officials, the delegation documented numerous cases of femicides, disappearances, rapes, attacks on women human rights defenders, violations of women’s human rights and persecution. Women testified that the attacks come from not just organized crime, but also the government security forces charged with fighting crime and protecting citizens.
Tomorrow, the delegation will be releasing its formal report, documenting a 257% increase in femicide in Honduras; a 40% increase in Mexico, and a more than 30% increase in Guatemala over the last ten years.
On Wednesday June 6, Fem2.0 will be hosting a Twitter Chat at 12:30PM EST to talk about their findings and what needs to be done to stem the tide of this violence. We’ll be tweeting at #defensoras, a word that means “women human rights defenders” in Spanish. (This tag was also used to live-tweet the delegation’s trip in January, if you were following them at the time.)
The trend we’ll be discussing is particularly alarming considering the concurrent increases in military spending. Some of the report findings are as follows:
- On average, one woman is murdered every day in Honduras. Honduras now has the highest per capita homicide rate in the world. Between 2002 and 2010, US military and police aid almost doubled to Honduras, and more recently (in 2012), US military and police aid tripled.
- In Mexico, femicides have gone up 40% since 2006, in the context of the war on drugs, which has left more than 50,000 dead, 250,000 displaced and thousands forcibly “disappeared.” US military and police aid to Mexico was over US 500 million dollars in 2010, as compared to US 20 million dollars in 2000—this represents a 2,400% increase.
- The Mexican border state of Chihuahua has a female murder rate of 34.73 per 100,000—15 times higher than the world rate. Femicides in Chihuahua (where systematic femicide was detected in Ciudad Juarez back in 1993) increased 1,000 percent between 2007 and 2010.
- 685 women were assassinated in Guatemala in 2010, compared to 213 in 2000. US military and police aid to Guatemala in 2010 was 3x higher than it was in 2000.
The problem is not limited to the murder of women in these countries: it is being felt across the entire civil system. For example, women are being incarcerated at higher rates than ever before. In Mexico, between 1999 and 2010, the male prison population increased by just under 40%. The female prison population, however, almost doubled: leaping from 6,000 to close to 11,000. Mexico’s National Women’s Institute reports that the number of women incarcerated for federal drug and organized crime charges has quadrupled in the last five years to 4,292, out of the 11,000 female prisoners. While it’s true that there are also more women involved in the drug trafficking trade, and at higher levels, the vast majority of them are blackmailed, threatened, or otherwise coerced into joining drug trafficking organizations, and are therefore still being exploited by the entire drug apparatus.
This gender disparity is not only evident in Mexico’s drug trafficking industry. In other fields – business and politics to name but two – women are severely underrepresented, underpaid, and undervalued. Mexico has never had a female head of state and has very few female cabinet members. Women comprised only 1/3 of the workforce as recently as 2005 and on average have experienced significant wage disparity as well. Examining the difference in literacy rates between men and women, economic participation, and political representation, the gender inequality in Mexico is pronounced.
The rise in the number of women in prisons and the surge in their crime rate are symptoms of this broader problem. Now, threats or violence against women are being used to send messages to governments and even the press to cease their work in combating drug trafficking. Last May, for example, a young woman’s decapitated head was found inside a phone booth, with a message warning the government to stop “policies aimed at impeding criminal activity.” Because the protection of women is considered to be a man’s honor, it can be inferred that in some way, these cartels are challenging the masculinity of the competition: the Mexican government, law enforcement, and national press.
By all accounts, the drug war is having a devastating and often fatal impact on the women it touches – from the families of rival cartels to exploited mules to innocent civilians.
Many of us perhaps don’t think much about “the fear” of drug cartels – that deathly tension in the air that permeates a community. The chance that you might do something wrong, or somehow catch the attention of the wrong person, or somehow stumble into something you didn’t mean to. But this trend of increased violence – and brutality – against women in connection with the drug war isn’t just something we care about because ‘women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.’ It’s affecting us here at home, as well.
The May 2012 Jobs Report was dismal, an inescapable confirmation that our economy is still sputtering. As of last June, the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s declaration of the War on Drugs,
Americans had spent a staggering $1 trillion trying to beat back the cartels. Two government reports released last year specifically criticize the government’s growing use of U.S. contractors, which were paid more than $3 billion to train local prosecutors and police, help eradicate fields of cocoa, and otherwise provide assistance and support. All to little avail.
In essence, Americans are spending money to fuel violence against women.
That’s why on Wednesday June 6, Fem2.0 will be hosting a Twitter Chat with The Nobel Women’s Initiative at #defensoras at 12:30PM EST to talk about their findings and recommendations. We’ll be joined by Lisa VeneKlasen of JASS (Just Associates), a long-time women’s rights defender and member of the January delegation to Central America.
War has typically been a man’s game – money, weapons, and soldiers thrown at enemies in centuries-long conflicts over land, resources, and power. Resulting violence against women is nothing new, and wars being fought on the bodies of women has, as well, taken on an “age-old sentiment” of inevitability.
As long as we are funding the global war on drugs, we need to acknowledge the increasingly brutal and often fatal effect it is having on the innocent women of these battlefields, caught in the crosshairs of these raging conflicts. It is long past time that their stories are heard and their lives are protected. The past does not have to become the future.