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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Women in Black March on Ciudad Juarez

A caravan aimed at upholding women’s rights and stopping violence against women in Ciudad Juarez and Mexico is headed to the U.S. border. Organized by Women in Black along with other women’s and human rights organizations, the caravan set off from Mexico City on November 10.

Prominent Chihuahua City women’s activist Irma Campos Madrigal spoke to about 100 people gathered in the Mexican capital as the Exodus for the Life of Women prepared to embark on its journey.

“The great distance between Mexico City and the old Paso del Norte is shorter than the breadth of impunity,” Campos said, “but never greater than the demand for justice for women murdered in the city in which [Benito Juarez], present here today, and the lay Republic, found refuge in during the 19th Century.”

The Exodus for the Life of Women promotes a 10-point program which calls for finding missing women and clearing up murders, defending sexual and reproductive rights, advancing gender equality in the political system, demilitarizing the country, and ending military impunity in human rights violations against civilians.

Women in Black and its allies are urging local legislatures in the states they pass through to codify femicide as a crime.

On the long road north, the caravan has stopped in several cities to hold public protests and document violence against women.

In the central Mexican city of Queretaro, caravan participants were present in a demonstration demanding justice for Maria Fernanda Loranca Aguilar, a 17-year-old local university student who was found murdered with signs of sexual violence in late October. At the Autonomous University of Queretaro, the caravaneers painted a mural that included the names of Ciudad Juarez femicide victims.

Reached briefly while marching near the border of San Luis Potosi and Aguascalientes, Chihuahua human rights lawyer Luz Castro told Frontera NorteSur the caravan should reach Ciudad Juarez on November 23, two days prior to the celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In Ciudad Juarez, caravan organizers plan to deliver a big bell constructed from keys collected over the years in memory of femicide victims, Castro said.

In Aguascalientes, the marchers faced down local police reluctant to allow the bell onto a section of the city’s main square, Plaza Patria. Gathered in the city which was the scene of Mexico’s historic 1917 Constitutional Convention, mothers of murdered and disappeared women recounted their suffering and struggles.

“There is a lot of pain on this road,” said Norma Ledezma, mother of 16-year-old Paloma Angelica Escobar murdered in Chihuahua City back in March 2003. “It is very tiresome, and our strength is extinguished,” Ledezma said. “Nonetheless, the position of a mother is that I am going to struggle until the end of my life to find the murderers of my daughter.”

Eva Arce, mother of Silvia Arce who disappeared in Ciudad Juarez in 1998, also delivered a message of persistence and resistance. Arce pledged that the mothers on the caravan will aid all mothers of victims in the states visited by the caravan.

Surrounded by pink wooden crosses assembled on Plaza Patria, other speakers addressed violence against women in Aguascalientes. As if delivering a huge wake-up call to Mexico and the world, the bell lugged by the caravan rang out after each presentation. The event concluded with the singing of “Ni Una Más,” the anthem of the Mexican anti-femicide movement.

As it nears the borderlands, the caravan will retrace the route of a similar event in 2002, when Women in Black and others traveled from Chihuahua City to Ciudad Juarez in protest of the femicides. Now, more than seven years and hundreds of murders later, most crimes remain unpunished and the killing of women in Ciudad Juarez is at an all-time high.

The Exodus for the Life of Women coincides with a flurry of activity around the Mexico femicides on the international front. At a meeting in Washington, D.C. earlier this month, representatives of Mexican human rights groups requested that the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) once again send an investigator to Ciudad Juarez.

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