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Femicides delegates return from Juarez

Photo by Ixquel Sarin

When most people say they've spent their spring break in Mexico, one imagines a vacation of a typical tourist, spent on sandy beaches in the sun. This was not the case for ten Mills students and one Mills faculty member who traveled as a femicides delegation to Juarez and Chihuahua, Mexico over spring break to learn firsthand about a plethora of Femicides towards maquiladoras, or factory workers, in Juarez and Chihuahua.

"The women who are victims to the horrific crimes are brown, indigenous, and poor women who have no status in their society where they work endless hours and confront humiliation, violence and no protection," said freshwoman delegate Ixquel Sarin.

Delegates met with owners of a maquila (factory), police, government officials, maquiladoras workers and family members of victims to learn firsthand about the unsolved brutalization and disappearances of women workers, and to bring what they learned from their experiences back home.

Junior delegate Daisy Gonzales said the delegation spoke "with a variety of individuals that truly allowed the delegation to get a well-rounded view and experience as to what is currently happening in Juarez, in terms of policy, law, government agencies and personal family experience."

According to senior delegate Kelsi Johnson, the delegates met with government commissions who didn't know they were a femicides delegation, and that if some of the organizations and factories they visited and toured had known they were a femicides delegation, the group would have been unable to talk with them.

"Their main concern is to make the quickest and easiest profit possible," Johnson said. The organizations that knew their true purpose were organizations and families who are working against the femicides, according to Johnson.

Delegates said they met with government officials that mothers of victims had not been able to meet with.

"It was [an] important opportunity for us to be able to speak with government officials, and representatives of government created agencies specifically created to deal with violence against women and the femicides, to hear first hand what they were doing for the families who have lost their daughters," Gonzales said. "Simultaneously, in having had the privilege of also being able to speak with the victim's families, we were able to see the reality of the situation for the families in Juarez."

Delegates retold stories they heard that demonstrated the impunity of the Mexican government. Victims' family members spoke of contradictions in government stories, in which government officials would notify them that a woman had been identified as their missing family member based on clothes found on the body. However, the deterioration of the body and clothes would not match. Johnson said that examples such as this one serve as evidence that police are setting up femicide crime scenes. She said an independent Argentinan Forensics Group is helping families identify bodies.

Interim Director of Student Diversity and delegate Mary Galvez said that "it seems like the families want to have the police accountable for their negligence." According to Galvez, the Mexican government designed special commissions to investigate the femicides. She said this is why "the government feels that they are doing their job" in helping the families of femicide victims. However, she says these special commissions are not working.

"They [aren't] providing help and in some cases they [are] providing problems for the families," said Gonzales.

Johnson said families of the victims do not receive support from their communities because the femicides are not publicized and are downplayed by the government. The government has told the people of Juarez that 90 people have died based on gender, while other missing or murdered women have either run away or are the victims of domestic violence (which they do not attribute to gender), according to Johnson. Sarin said the lack of community support is rooted in Maquila workers' status.

Johnson said, however, that this number is debated because the bodies of many of the missing women have not been found or identified by police. Even so, she said that organizations in support of the families of femicide victims estimate total femicide victims at roughly 400, which is a stark contrast to the government's totaal.

The trip was organized through representatives of the Mexico Solidarity Network and students stayed with host families who work in the maquilas and receive money from MSN to provide room and board to visitors.