I grew up hearing about women disappearing in Mexico, but I didn’t fully understand the extent of the issue until I stood in a room fully surrounded by stacks of files of unresolved cases of disappeared women.
The room was part of a temporary exposition in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance in Mexico City. The woman responsible for putting together this exposition is Teresa Margolles.
For the past fifteen years this Mexican artist has been speaking out against femicide. Margolles defines the term, Femicide, as “the murder of women for the simple fact of being a woman. This is not simply homicide: it is a deliberate violence against women that is based on their gender.”[i]
Margolles’ exposition brings awareness to the “violence, the social injustice, the repression, Femicide, and crime,” in Mexico.[ii] Margolle designed it to bring attention to the over “7,000” disappearances of women in Mexico. In Mexico City alone between the year “2013-2014” there were “2,567” disappeared women. In cities like Juarez, Mexico, the city with the largest number of cases only “25 of these cases have ended in a judicial sentencing.” [iii] The exposition also seeks to implore a call for the prevention of violence for youth and asks them to advocate Ni una mas, that no more women falls victim to these forms of violence. [iv]
The exposition seeks to shed light on women’s experiences through a set of displays designed so the visitor is placed in a simulated situation of the negative experiences women face. I believe that its design not only informs visitors of the exhibit, but it helps visitors understand what it is to be a woman in a country that does value the voice of women. I would like to share some of the most impactful parts of my visit.
“Sounds of Death” 2008
This first room was lined with a number of speakers on the wall. I was first instructed to walk around the room and listen to the sounds playing on these speakers, I recall hearing, the sound of a car engine, the dragging of a bag, and muffled sounds. I was uncertain and cautious as I went to read the explanation for what I had just heard. “Each of these was an audio recording of the place in which the body of a murdered woman was found, according to Mexican police investigations.”[v] The uncertainty of listening to these recordings heightened my senses, I stood there and could not even imagine how these women must have felt.
“Labyrinth of Impunity”
The place, the Labyrinth of Impunity, was a hallway lined with red ropes that hung down from the ceiling. At the end of the hall there was a mirror. I walked through slowly, while I felt rope after rope touch me, and all while I walked through this short hall, there was a voice that repeated cat calls. In a way the ropes represented the harassment that a woman faces as she walks through the streets. These words while they can be ignored, like the ropes they are felt, and they are meant to denigrate women.
Empty Rooms, “Missing: Being Estranged from your home”
The Empty Rooms display was a walk through dark room with four projected images on the walls. Each of these was an image of a room that once belonged to a girl kidnapped or murdered. Their stories played over a speaker as I walked around. They had been normal girls who woke up one day, left their homes, were picked up from the street one day to never return to their empty rooms.
Mayra Martell, this exhibit designer, said she kept track of personal objects left behind by disappeared women in Juarez. She said when she would visit the homes of these missing women she would think of how these “reminded herself of her” some years ago. She talks about how the mothers of these women would “look at her and talk to her about their daughters like if she was an old friend.” Martell said that she felt every object is a piece of the girl it belonged to, and wanted to tell those mothers in this part of the exhibit how “deeply sorry” she is for their loss.[vi]
Awareness and Empowerment
The last part of the display was a large room dedicated to empowerment and awareness. There were statistics and charts that outlined cycles of abuse. I stood in the middle of a circle that outlined how a woman would go through this cycle of violence escalation against women. from start to finish. There were walls with posters and movements of empowering women who decided to stand up to and speak out against this form of violence.
The number of women that disappear in Mexico is astounding. Violence against women is from the lack of physical security that women face in this country. The following is a WomanStats map that shows the scale of physical security of women around the world for the year 2014. From the map you can note how Mexico is colored dark red.
More information to collaborate the issue of Femicides in Mexico can be found in various Womanstats variables that involve the physical security of women, that include assault and murder of women; LRW-Practice-1, Murder Law-1, Murder-Data-3.[vii] These will reveal data on the prevalence of femicide and the need for more governments to resolve many of these cases. As stated in the exposition, individuals, families, and civil society organizations continue to advocate and call for an end to impunity for attackers of women.
Awareness and engagement can help dissolve this impunity. I believe that we must work as a society to make this world a place where women have more physical security. This type of display is especially important because it brings the extent and gravity of femicide out in the open. I believe that expositions and awareness campaigns are a beacon of change and hope for the future. I this way we can all join this call for “No More!” (“Ya no mas!”) violence against women.
Martell, Ehibit. Femicide Temporary Exposition. Museum of Memory and Tolerance, 2017.
Physical Security of Women Map: Scaled 2014. WomanStats Project
Teresa Margolles. Femicide Temporary Exposition. Museum of Memory and Tolerance, 2017.
Zaga, Linda Atach. Director of the Department of Temporary Expositions, Museum of Memory and Tolerance.
[i] Teresa Margolles. Femicide Temporary Exposition. Museum of Memory and Tolerance, 2017.
[ii] Teresa Margolles. Femicide Temporary Exposition. Museum of Memory and Tolerance, 2017.
[iii] Teresa Margolles. Femicide Temorary Exposition. Museum of Memory and Tolerance, 2017.
[iv] Zaga, Linda Atach. Director of the Department of Temporary Expositions, Museum of Memory and Tolerance.
[v] Teresa Margolles. Femicide Temporary Exposition. Museum of Memory and Tolerance, 2017.
[vi] Martell, Ehibit. Femicide Temporary Exposition. Museum of Memory and Tolerance, 2017.
[vii] Physical Security of Women Map: Scaled 2014. WomanStats Project.