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Central America: Horror of femicide reaches far beyond Ju Rez

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MEXICO CITY, Nov 24, 2006, 2006 (IPS/GIN via COMTEX) -- More women were murdered in Toluca, near Mexico City, and Guadalajara, in the central state of Jalisco, between 1995 and 2005 than in the so-called "femicide capital" of Ciudad Jurez.

Human rights organizations have brought public attention to the murders of about 400 women killed in that border city in the last 13 years. But there is little public discussion about the murders of women elsewhere in Mexico, as well as in Guatemala and El Salvador.

An average of 1,000 women a year were murdered in Mexico, a country of 103 million, between 1995 and 2005, according to official figures. And across the border in Guatemala, which has a population of 13 million, 566 women were killed in the first 10 months of this year, while in El Salvador, a country of 6.9 million, 286 were killed between January and August.

"Jurez has become a by-word as a result of all the denunciations and demonstrations that the femicides there have provoked, but in other Mexican cities, and particularly in Guatemala, the situation now is extremely serious," Teresa Rodriguez, head of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) for Mexico, Central America, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, told IPS.

"We are very concerned about these murders, which for the most part go unpunished," Rodriguez said ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, commemorated on Nov. 25.

"There is a culture that continues to turn a blind eye to this situation, and we cannot tolerate it. It must be combated and prevented by means of public policies, but also, as has happened in Ciudad Jurez, it must be exposed and denounced, and we have to make it clear that these killings are not normal, just as violence against women and girls in general is not normal," she said.

Femicide refers to misogynist or gender-motivated murders of women, sometimes accompanied by sexual violence.

In Ciudad Jurez, next to the U.S. border town of El Paso, sexual violence was a factor in 78 of the 400 killings since 1993, according to official reports.

The Special Prosecutor's Office Investigating Crimes Related to Violence Against Women, created by the outgoing Vicente Fox administration, reported in February that there is no pattern indicative of serial killings in Jurez, contrary to what human rights organizations have claimed.

The report also said that 125 women died in their own homes, at the hands of relatives or acquaintances.

UNIFEM estimates that between 20 percent and 30 percent of the women murdered in Mexico and Central America are killed by their partners or relatives.

In Jurez, most of the murdered women were in the 15-30 age group. Many were from low-income social strata and worked in maquiladora factories, which operate in tax-free zones and assemble products for export using imported materials.

These factories are concentrated in Ciudad Jurez and other Mexican cities along the U.S. border. Their work force mainly consists of young women, many of whom are living away from their families.

Although the Guatemalan context is different, the killings are similar. Femicides in Guatemala are attributed mainly to drug trafficking, organized crime and youth gangs.

Deputy Nineth Montenegro, chair of the Guatemalan Congressional Commission on Women, said that in most of this year's 566 deaths the motive remained unknown. The crimes are not a high priority for police, Montenegro said, and are spreading and taking root in society.

Rodriguez said a lot of work must be done to reverse the trend.

"Better training is needed for the police and in the justice system. These sectors are especially lagging in Central America, but now draft laws towards that end are being debated," she said.

The "In-Depth Study on all Forms of Violence Against Women," published in July by the United Nations, mentioned the Ciudad Jurez murders, but also referred to the killings in Guatemala.

"Femicide occurs everywhere, but the scale of some cases of femicide within community contexts -- for example, in Ciudad Jurez, Mexico and Guatemala -- has drawn attention to this aspect of violence against women," the report said.

In line with the complaints by human rights groups and women's organizations, the U.N. states in its report that "impunity for these crimes is seen as a key factor in these occurrences."

The report does not mention El Salvador, but the situation there is also very serious.

Between January and August, 286 murders of women were reported in El Salvador, indicating an increase in the annual average of such deaths. From 2001 to the end of 2005, 1,320 women were killed, according to a study by the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson (PDDH).

Sixty percent of these killings, most of which were committed in a domestic setting, remain unpunished.

Rodriguez hopes that the exposure and denunciation of femicides in El Salvador, Guatemala and several cities in Mexico will encourage civil society and governments to create new programs and actions to combat them, for what is happening "is totally unacceptable."

Copyright (c) 2006 IPS-Inter Press Service. All Rights Reserved.

(C) 2006 Inter Press Service. All Rights Reserved

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