Mexican Everyday Heroes

(a graphic novel)

An average of 6 women are violently killed in Mexico every day. The cities of Chihuahua and Juarez consistently rank among the top 20 most dangerous cities in the world for women — they are just over 200 miles apart from one another on the United States border.

Despite the shocking numbers, Mexican police and military authorities rarely carry out full and transparent investigations into women’s deaths.

In 2009, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that Mexico failed to investigate the murders of eight young women whose bodies were found dumped in a cotton field. Last year, Reuters reported that “so many teenage girls turned up dead in a vacant field on the outskirts of Mexico City that people nicknamed it the ‘women’s dumping ground.’” In March 2015, the body of a Mexican woman running for mayor was found dead in northern Guerrero less than two weeks after launching her campaign. A sheet with a narco-trafficking group’s logo was laid over her body.

Women’s deaths too often go unaccounted for, and families are denied justice for their wives and daughters when police refuse to persecute armed groups, narcotraffickers, and criminal organizations who rape, assault, and murder women.

When civil society organizations and human rights defenders step in to investigate cases that authorities ignore, they risk arrest, disappearance, and murder. Marisela, the woman pictured in the graphics here, was shot and killed while protesting the government’s refusal to investigate the death of her daughter.

In Mexico, uncovering and reporting grave human rights violations is enough to get you killed. According to the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders, 25 women were killed because of their human rights work between 2010 and 2012. In 2014, human rights defenders in Mexico faced death threats, intimidation, detention, violent attacks, judicial harassment and murder. Women investigating human rights abuses endure threats of sexual assault and crude, hyper-sexualized defamation campaigns.

Lucha Castro is one of the Mexican heroes (she is also a lawyer, human rights defender, mother, and wife) who persists despite the threats to her life. Lucha has spent the last 18 years investigating and litigating cases of torture, trafficking, femicide, enforced disappearances, and sexual and domestic violence.

She is also the main character of a new graphic novel from Front Line Defenders, La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico. The chapters in La Lucha tell the stories of women and their families who are threatened, detained, hunted down, and killed for their insistence on justice in Mexico.

As the first copies of La Lucha were shipped around the world in January 2015, Al Jazeera reported the following story from Atizapan de Zaragoza, Mexico:

José Diego Suárez Padilla has converted his home into a shrine to his daughter, Rosa Diana. Windows fashioned after her blue eyes stare out on the street. A painting of the girl in a white party dress covers a living room wall, overlooking an altar with offerings of chicken and chewing gum. The food has lain there so long that the red chili sauce has congealed.
Suárez Padilla explains to a visitor that he normally puts out fresh food but lately hasn’t had time. That’s because he’s busy all day consulting with lawyers and politicians to seek justice for her death.
Four years ago on New Year’s Eve, a jealous ex-boyfriend stabbed to death the 22-year-old secretarial student and bashed her face into a purple pulp. Suárez Padilla spent 10 months hunting down the youth when he went on the lam — authorities would not make the effort. Even though the young man confessed, he has not been sentenced.
They said it wasn’t a crime. What are public servants for if they don’t serve justice? They could have prevented her death,” says the anguished father, showing a file of documents a foot high that he has assembled to press his case.

The murder of Mexican women is not a story from the past. La Lucha is not a history book. It is a horror story , and a story of incredible courage. Some have called femicide in Mexico a worsening “epidemic,” and like an outbreak of an infectious disease, the people stepping up to fight it are the ones most at risk.

To learn more about Lucha and the women who continue to struggle for justice in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, check out the new graphic novel from Front Line Defenders here.