by Daniela Philipson Garcia *
Violence against women and girls in Mexico and Central America is prevalent and on the rise. Ten women are killed in Mexico every day. Moreover, El Salvador is the country with the highest rate of femicides, the term for the murder of women and girls because of their gender identity, in the world. El Salvador is closely trailed by Guatemala, ranked third, and Honduras, ranked sixth.
There is no single factor behind the rise of gender-based violence (GBV) in Mexico and Central America. Rather, it is due to a confluence of variables such as economic inequality, gender stereotypes, corruption and high levels of overall criminal violence. Many of these factors have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. In this context, multiple, cross-cutting regional policies ought to be leveraged to successfully address the root causes of GBV in the region.
Mexico-U.S. security cooperation initiatives have long sought to address violence, disrupt organized crime and enhance stability. However, efforts to specifically address GBV have fallen short. Under the current Mexican and U.S. administrations, there is a set of policies that can help achieve success where previous governments failed.
On the Mexican side, these policies include the López Obrador administration’s commitment to a Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) and its diplomatic initiative to curtail the illegal flow of small arms and light weapons. In the U.S., the policies include the Biden administration’s effort to address root causes of instability in the Northern Triangle of Central America and the implementation of the 2019 U.S. Global Fragility Act to prevent and reduce conflict. Scholarship shows that gender inequality is one of the main predictors of conflict. Thus, to achieve stability in the region, Mexico and U.S. joint initiatives should put GBV at the forefront of their strategic goals.
1 Mexico’s commitment to a Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP)
When the government announced its commitment to a FFP in early 2020, Mexico became the first country in the ‘Global South’ to do so. Since then, Mexico has received significant praise from the international community. However, along with praise, came the unprecedented responsibility to spearhead regional efforts to address the issues that disproportionately harm women, particularly GBV. In a September 2021 report on the state of FFPs around the world by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), the Mexican government reaffirmed its commitment to work closely with civil society and stakeholders to address GBV at both the domestic and international levels. In this regard, Mexico’s FFP is a key commitment that should nudge U.S.-Mexico security cooperation initiatives to prioritize GBV, particularly in its relation to organized crime and gang violence.
2 Mexico’s diplomatic effort to curb the illegal flow of firearms
The Mexican government estimates that 2.5 million guns have been illegally trafficked across the Mexico-U.S. border during the past decade. Over the same period of time, the number of women murdered by firearms has steadily increased–so much more that the trend of women being killed predominantly in private settings has been reverted. Today, Mexican women are more likely to die from a firearm in a public space. To end this trend in GBV, Mexico and the U.S. should work closer together to curtail the illegal flow of small arms and light weapons between the U.S.-Mexico border. In December 2021, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution, drafted by Mexico, to address the transfer, accumulation and diversion of arms and related materials. The resolution specifically calls for regional cooperation by land, sea and air to prevent arms trafficking.
Mexico and the U.S. can increase cooperation by sharing information on suspected gun traffickers and illegal distribution channels. Renowned journalist, Ioan Grillo, also recommended that President Biden “puts his weight behind universal background checks” of firearms in the U.S. as a way to close a loophole that allows traffickers to acquire guns through private sales.
3 The U.S.’s goal to address the root causes of instability in the Northern Triangle
In July 2021, the Biden administration issued a statement detailing a strategy to address the root causes of immigration in Central America. Immigrants from Central America are driven to flee for multiple reasons–a lack of economic opportunities and high levels of violence are chief among them. Moreover, a New York Times article found that GBV is an issue that disproportionately causes women to migrate North. Given Mexico’s strategic geography, the U.S. should enhance its ties with Mexico to address the aforementioned root causes.
4 Implementation of the U.S. Global Fragility Act
The U.S. Global Fragility Act (GFA) was signed into law in December 2020. The GFA lays out a roadmap for the U.S. to prevent violent conflict and address the root causes of state fragility. Furthermore, it requires interagency cooperation to streamline government efforts and earmarks US $230 million to fund these efforts for five years.
In alignment with its efforts in the Northern Triangle, the U.S. government ought to leverage the GFA to address the root causes of migration in Central America. A Women in International Security Policy Brief states that the GFA can benefit from mainstreaming a gender perspective and can enhance its outcomes by explicitly tackling GBV and gender equality. Mexico, once again, has the potential to be a key ally to achieve the intended results if the Northern Triangle is selected as a priority region for the GFA.
Tackling GBV is key to address the root causes of instability, migration, and conflict. Hence, it is in the interest of Mexico and the U.S. to reduce GBV in Mexico and Central America. The combination of the aforementioned policies creates a ripe opportunity for the U.S. and Mexico to jointly address GBV, both domestically and in Central America. However, for these policies to be successful, they ought to be redefined as strategic and financially-backed. Furthermore, cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico is pivotal to ensuring these policies get the buy-in they need to be sustainable in the long-term.