In recent years there has been a growing social awareness about gender-based violence in Mexico. Among other factors, this is due to the consistent increase in the levels of family violence and sexual violence throughout the country, as well as the increasing prevalence of the crime of femicide – that is, the murder of a woman for reasons of gender. The 2023 International Women’s Day March in Mexico City attracted 90,000 women demanding action on the high levels of gender-based violence in the country. Across the country, national survey data has revealed that 70.1 percent of women have experienced some form of violence in their lifetimes, with 39.9 percent of that violence coming from a partner.
In the newly released edition of the Mexico Peace Index (MPI), we show that, while peacefulness improved overall in Mexico in the past few years, the country continues to face rising levels of gender-based violence.
The MPI’s violent crime indicator consists of four components – robbery, assault, family violence and sexual assault. Over the past eight years, the rates of the two components not associated with gender-based violence – robbery and assault – have risen and fallen within a relatively normal range, never moving more than 35 percent above or below their 2015 levels. In contrast, the rates of the two components associated with gender-based violence – family violence and sexual assault – have consistently increased each year. As a result, both rates have more than doubled since 2015, as shown in the figure below.
In 2022, 27 of Mexico’s 32 states experienced increases in their sexual assault rates and 23 experienced increases in their family violence rates. Campeche had the largest percentage increases of any state in both sexual assault and family violence. In contrast, Chiapas had the largest percentage decrease in sexual assault and Yucatán had the largest percentage decrease in family violence. Yucatán had the lowest sexual assault rate and second lowest family violence rate in the country.
In 2022, Colima had the worst rate of family violence in the country for the fifth consecutive year, with 1,775 cases per 100,000 people, almost triple the national rate. Similarly, Morelos had the highest rate of sexual assault in the country for the eighth consecutive year, with 724 cases per 100,000 people, also almost triple the national rate.
According to national survey data, sexual assault makes up about two-thirds of the violence that women experience in public spaces, and about two-thirds of those acts are committed by strangers. In 2022, the country hit a new record in the number of emergency calls reporting incidents of sexual assault, with 6,977 calls. This equates to a 13.1 percent increase from 2021 and is nearly twice the number received in 2017.
Femicide is defined as the criminal deprivation of the life of a female victim for reasons of gender. The murder of a woman or girl is considered gender based and included in femicide statistics when one of seven criteria is met, including evidence of sexual violence prior to the victim’s death; a sentimental, affective or trusting relationship with the perpetrator; or the victim’s body being displayed in public. The issue of femicides in Mexico has been a growing concern in recent years, with alarming increases in the number of reported cases. In 2022, there were 968 reported cases of femicides, a 127 percent increase from 2015. At present, about one in four female killings in Mexico are classified as femicides.
The figure below shows the types of weapons used in different forms of murder in 2022. While male homicides and non-femicide female homicides show almost identical patterns, with seven in 10 deaths resulting from a gun, femicides were mostly carried out without firearms. About a quarter of femicide victims were killed with knives, while the largest share – more than two-fifths – were killed by “other means”. These latter cases likely include beatings and strangulations, though official records do not provide additional detail, highlighting the need for more granular data to understand the unique dynamics driving violence against men and women across the country.
Femicide is often discussed in the context of the rise in Mexico’s overall rates of homicides and generalized violence over the past decade, which have been especially driven by increased rates of both firearms crime and organized crime. Considering the relative infrequency of registered femicides being carried out with a firearm, it is therefore noteworthy that there has been a growing relationship between the prevalence of firearms crime and the prevalence of femicides across states.
The shifting relationships between femicides and firearms crime highlight the reciprocal dynamics of violence within a society. They demonstrate the ways in which a rising climate of violence and associated increases in levels of impunity can have flow-on effects within a population, including in seemingly unrelated forms of violence, such as gender-based violence.
As with many places around the world, gender roles in Mexico have been changing over the past several decades, challenging longstanding practices and expectations, and this can have divergent impacts on gender-based violence. While survey data reveals that three forms of household-based violence – physical, sexual and psychological – have increased for women in the past decade, there is one form – economic violence – that has actually decreased. Between 2011 and 2021, the prevalence of women experiencing economic violence fell from 35.3 to 27.4 percent, which may reflect an increased level of financial independence among Mexican women.
States in the southwest region of the country appear to view gender roles differently than states in the north and the center of the country. According to national survey data, less than 70 percent of women living in southwestern states such as Chiapas, Michoacán, Guerrero and Oaxaca believed that both men and women should provide household income.
In recent years, the Mexican government has made efforts to address the issue of gender-based violence with government programs such as the Comprehensive Program for Preventing, Addressing, Punishing and Eradicating Violence Against Women as well as specialized prosecution offices for crimes of violence against women. However, tackling the challenge of gender-based violence cannot rely on institutional mechanisms alone. The problem is often grounded beliefs around the roles of men and women in society and associated notions about dominance and aggression. Attitudes based in machismo can help justify abusive behaviors towards women.
As such, the country should emphasize efforts aimed at building Positive Peace, defined as the attitudes, institutions and structures that sustain peace in the long term. In particular, it will be important to bolster Acceptance of the Rights of Others, one of the Pillars of Positive Peace. In recent years, Mexico has made progress in relation to the political representation of women at the federal level and in reducing the gender gap in higher education. With the continued implementation of social networks for women and victims as well as educational campaigns that shift attitudes away from machismo, Mexico can support the creation of a safer society for women.