Human rights activist killed in Mexico

January 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

Mourners at the coffin of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz: Reuters

A call to arms here over the murder of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, the Mexican activist who has fought tirelessly for almost two years to bring the killer of her daughter to justice in the most violent city in Mexico. Now a suspect in the killing of the mother as well as the daughter, Sergio Barazza confessed to murdering Ortiz’s teenage daughter Rubi, whose burned body was found in July 2009, but was still released on bail.

The statement from women’s campaigning group AWID is below to give you more background to this sad case and the situation for women in Mexico.

“The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition joins the community of activists in Mexico and internationally in denouncing the killing of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz on 16 December 2010 in front of the state capitol in Chihuahua city, Mexico.

A women human rights defender, Marisela had been peacefully campaigning for a week in front of the governor’s office for a conviction in the killing of her daughter, Rubi Marisol Frayre Escobedo, whose burned and dismembered remains were found in a trash bin in the border city of Ciudad Juarez on 18 June 2009 after she had been missing for nearly a year.

A security video recording shows masked men pulling up in a car in front of the governor’s office. One appeared to exchange words with Marisela, who was holding a vigil outside. She tried to flee by running across the street, but the gunman chased her down and shot her in the head, said Jorge Gonzalez, special state prosecutor for crime prevention. Marisela was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where she died within minutes.

Marisela launched a campaign pressing for the conviction of Sergio Barraza who had been the main suspect in the killing of her 17-year-old daughter. Barraza was acquitted by a three-judge panel in April for lack of evidence. The three judges were suspended pending investigation of Marisela’s death after a group of demonstrators gathered outside the Interior Department in Mexico City last Friday, 17 December, to protest the killing and the miscarriage of justice in the acquittal of Barraza.

A tireless fighter for justice for her daughter and also a leader of Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (Justice for Our Daughters), Marisela had been speaking out against the pattern of femicides in the city. “This struggle is not only for my daughter,” she said through a megaphone during one of the marches. “Let’s not allow one more young woman to be killed in this city.” She and other women human rights defenders have been receiving intimidating phone calls and threats for demanding accountability for the killings and abductions of women in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua.

For close to two decades now, a wave of femicide — a progression of gender-based acts of violence against women that range from emotional, psychological, and verbal abuse through battery, torture, rape, prostitution, sexual assault, child abuse, female infanticide, genital mutilation, and domestic violence have been occurring in Ciudad Juárez and then spreaded to the State Chihuahua within a broader context of escalating violence in the region involving organized crime gangs, drug cartels and Mexican security forces. Most of the perpetrators remain nameless and at large and state apathy, corruption, and inept investigations have made people suspicious of governmental efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

We urge the Mexican authorities to conduct a thorough investigation regarding the death of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, to arrest the convicted murderer of her daughter, Rubi Marisol Frayre Escobedo, and bring the perpetrators to justice in accordance with international human rights standards. Having ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1981, the Mexican government is also obliged to take appropriate and effective measures to overcome all forms of gender-based violence, whether by public or private act, and to provide effective complaints procedures and remedies, including compensation and reparation for victims of femicide and other forms of violence against women. In December 2009, the Inter American Court of Human Rights issued a ruling against the Mexican State for the disappearances, sexual violence and homicides of women in Ciudad Juárez and recognised the harassment and systematic aggression against the families and the defenders that are demanding justice for the victims in these cases, condemning the government for not guaranteeing their protection, and for the prevailing impunity and for the lack of reparation for the victims.

Under the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Mexican government is primarily responsible for the safety and security of all human rights defenders that have been advocating for justice in this case and all the unsolved cases of femicide in the country. The Mexican government must ensure that all human rights defenders, particularly women human rights defenders carrying out their legitimate work in defence of women’s human rights to be free from any form of gender-based violence, are able to operate free of any restrictions and reprisals.”


Lack of coverage on “honour killings” shames us all

December 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Having the word “honour” associated with any type of crime is a contradition in terms, and honour killings have to be one of the least spoken about crimes against women, in my opinon.

A report from the UN finds today that Afghan women are still at massive risk of violence and “honour” crimes. The government is simply not doing enough to protect women – probably because they are not really adressing issues like education or financial independence, which have the power to place women in a much stronger position than simply bringing in a new law – which they have done. Laws are easy to bring in, but not to enforce, particularly in a difficult scenario like this which delves into the heart of private communities.

Women in Afganistan

The other day I was on the Stop Honour Killings site, and with less than five minutes on it you can see examples of recent honour crimes in Iraq, the UK, India, Kurdistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sweden, Turkey and Uganda  – and it really hammers home that this is a worldwide  issue. This site has a gallery of victims on its homepage of honour killings, and it makes chilling viewing to see so many women assualted or killed in the most gruesome of circumstances, in cases that never made it into the papers.

Perhaps because it goes on typically within smaller or more private communities, or perhaps because they frequently take place in Islamic communities where the press is wary to probe, these crimes just don’t seem to get the press coverage you’d think they would.

Our real shame in these crimes is that we just don’t hear enough about them – shocking when the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that as many as 5,000 women and girls a year are murdered by members of their own families. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia suspect the victims are at least four times more. So, as many potentially as 20,000 women and girls are directly affected – and many reports suggest that incidents are increasing in the last 20 years. The victim’s family members – male and female, guilty or innocent – are affected. Their communities are affected, by implication their economies are affected, and the country is affected.  

How many more people have to be affected before this stops being a “women’s issue?”

This book changed my life

December 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

Half the Sky: How to Change the World

I’ve never written a book review before – and I don’t intend to do one now. All I will say is simply that if you are interested in politics, international development and any issues relating to women’s rights should read the book Half The Sky: How to Change the World by two American journalists, Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl Wudunn. I’ve just finished it, and I genuinely think it’s fair to say it changed the way I think about issues relating to women forever.

To quote from the opening chapter: “We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. That is the process under way – not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen.”

The phrase “half the sky” is from a quote from Mao Zedong, who for all his (massive) faults did mange to bring in some measures which benefitted women enormously. In fact the organisation Half the Sky  targets Chinese orphans in reference to this famous quote. This book looks at issues relating to the sex trade, war, maternal mortality, women’s involvement in politics, education – in short, all the things this blog writes about. It details real examples and individual cases, but counters it with how they fit into the worldwide scheme of poverty and development. The main thrust of the book is that if only half of the population of any country are being educated, working and contributing to the economy, then the country can only ever reach half of it’s potential. Some parts of this book are easier to swallow than others, inevitably, and some parts will make you cry and stay with you indefinitely. But what is so brilliant about it is the way that it takes a real hands-on, grass roots approach. The final chapter is entitled Four Steps you can take in the next ten minutes and the back is a full index of charities, NGOs and women’s groups worldwide that you can get involved with, and how to contact them. It is the bible of women’s rights and I know I will be referring to it again and again. Let me know what you think.

“Sensationally interesting – I think this is one of the most important books I have ever reviewed” – Washington Post

Top stories of the last week…

December 6, 2010 § 1 Comment

After arriving back into a very cold and snowy Gatwick airport in the small hours of this morning, I have spent today catching up on the week’s latest through slightly bleary eyes.. I promise not to do round ups too often, but here’s a list of what I missed so you don’t have to!

An Iranian woman was hanged in Tehran for stabbing the wife of a famous footballer – she herself was a “temporary wife” of his at the time. Amnesty International protested on the grounds that she is not believed to have had a fair trial, and may have been forced into a confession.

A really interesting piece here about female sexworkers in Kenya being given microloans to help them out of prostitution and poverty .

A report from WOMANKIND Worldwide and the Institute of Education concludes that schools are still failing women with one in three reporting sexual bullying on a daily basis.

The Guardian reported that Mexico drug cartels are increasingly targetting women :

And a Pakistani cleric reportedly offers a bounty reward fee of $6,000 to anyone who kills a Christian mother convicted of blasphemy against Islam.

…After that list of rather gloomy news, a more lighthearted piece to cheer you up (because everyone needs a little light relief on a Monday!) Actor George Clooney visited Sudan to help raise awareness of the war-torn country’s needs, and in a local tradition is spat on by a village elder for good luck. “I’ve had people spit at me before – but it wasn’t a blessing”, Clooney said.

Women-only cabs are a necessary evil in Mexico

September 2, 2010 § 1 Comment

Women cab drivers in Mexico City have found themselves caught up in the latest controversy surrounding the city’s current liberal Mayor Marcelo Ebrard. The city has long held a policy of gender divides on public transport with a third of the carriages of metro trains just carrying women only at key times.  But, Mayor Ebrard has just given in to calls for a women-only taxi service, and a new fleet of pink taxis will cruise the roads in a month-long pilot scheme.

The calls for female only fares has been championed by Susana Sanchez, a taxi driver who was stabbed by one of her male clients, and she first requested that the city run the service more than ten years ago.

Being seen by some as a discriminatory measure and a step backwards for equality, this story is also a personal triumph for Sanchez as an individual living in a male-centred culture, a terrific comeback after what one can assume was a fairly horrific attack. When it comes to separating out services or products across the gender divide, there is always a risk of being accused of bigotry – and in an ideal world, the streets would be safe enough to make these measures unnecessary.

However, in Mexico, seven out of every ten women over the age of 15 has been the target of a violent attack, according to the Mexican National Human Rights Commission. Almost a third has suffered violence in the workplace, and 12.4% of working women have experienced at least one act of sexual harassment.

Clearly there is a very serious and very real problem that needs to be addressed.

It’s time to celebrate a ballsy move by one victim who dedicated herself to improving her working conditions. How many of us would have got back into our cab after being stabbed in it by a male aggressor? This women only system is a necessary evil to give women safer working and travelling conditions, and to stand up to the threat of violence.

And of course no post on this would be complete without a picture of said pink taxis… So please see the wonderful photo below, courtesy of AFP.

A cheery female taxi driver in one of Mexico City's new pink cabs

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