Spike in murders of women in Mexico erases decades of gains

The number of women being murdered in Mexico has risen sharply over the last decade amid the country's drug war, more than wiping out two decades of gains when the rate fell by half, a study said Wednesday.

The report from Mexico's Interior Department, the country's National Women's Institute and the UN Women agency said the annual femicide rate was 3.8 per 100,000 women in 1985 before it began a steady decline to 1.9 in 2007. From there it rose sharply to peak at 4.6 per 100,000 in 2012, tapering off somewhat in the following years and then rising again last year to 4.4.

Of the 52,210 killings of women recorded over the 32-year period, nearly a third took place in the last six years, the report said.

The rise in such killings coincided with Mexico's militarized offensive against drug cartels launched in late 2006 by then-President Felipe Calderon. It also roughly tracks overall homicide trends during the period.

About 12 percent of homicide victims in Mexico were women last year, compared with about 10 percent in 1985. That was down slightly from the early and mid-2000s.

"Violence against women and girls - which can result in death - is perpetrated, in most cases, to conserve and reproduce the submission and subordination of them derived from relationships of power," the report said.

The tiny state of Colima registered the country's highest femicide rate in 2016, with 16.3 per 100,000. It was followed by the states of Guerrero, Zacatecas, Chihuahua and Morelos.

For sheer numbers, the highest for a single state was 421 in the State of Mexico, which surrounds the capital on three sides and is the country's most populous state.

Most of those are states with a heavy presence of organized crime gangs. Guerrero, in particular, is a hotspot of cartel violence. The Pacific coast resort city of Acapulco in Guerrero registered more killings of women last year than any other municipality, with 107.

Next were Tijuana, in Baja California state across the border from San Diego; Ciudad Juarez, in Chihuahua state across from El Paso, Texas; Ciudad Victoria, in the border state of Tamaulipas near Texas; and Ecatepec de Morelos, a sprawling suburb just north of the nation's capital in the State of Mexico.

The study also noted an increase in recent years of murders of women outside the home, "which probably is related to the increase in organized crime activities."

The percentage of such killings that took place in public bottomed out in 2004 at just above 25 percent of total homicides, before spiking to 49 percent by 2012. Last year 41 percent of murders of women happened outside the home.

"The increase in killings of women in public constitutes one of the most important findings of this study, which explains a good part of the recent total growth of femicides in Mexico," the report said.

The study also said that while the vast majority of male homicide victims are killed with firearms, many femicides continue to be by "the most cruel means" such as stabbing, beating and strangling, which it said reflects misogyny.

"This means there has not been success in changing the cultural patterns that devalue women and consider them disposable, allowing for a social permissiveness in the face of violence and its ultimate expression, femicide," the report said.

It recommended all levels of government tackle the problem by strengthening "public policies to prevent violence and to achieve greater empowerment and economic autonomy for women, as well as eliminating the risks they face in public spaces."