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International Women's Day: Remembering the Murdered Women Writers of Mexico

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You probably haven't heard of Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz. She was the mother of two daughters and a crime reporter for Notiver, a daily newspaper in the Mexican state of Veracruz. On 24 July 2011, she was abducted by gunmen from in front of her home. Two days later she was found dead; her head had been hacked off.

It's also unlikely that you've heard of María Elizabeth Macías Castro. She was the mother of two teenagers, a keen blogger and the editor of the daily newspaper Primera Hora. She was found dead on 24 September 2011, in Tamaulipas state. A note had been placed next to her body accusing her of 'denouncing' Mexico's drug-violence. Like Ordaz de la Cruz, she too had been decapitated.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a writer or a journalist. Since 2006, forty-five print journalists, writers and bloggers have been killed or 'disappeared' in the course of their work. Most of the victims have been men, but in the last two years a new trend has emerged, with women increasingly being targeted.

In 2011, five of the nine writers killed in Mexico were women.

These include Ana María Marcela Yarce Viveros, reporter for the political magazine Contralinea, and Rocio González Trápaga, freelance journalist and former Televisa reporter. Both women were found dead on 1 September 2011, lying side-by-side in a park in Mexico City. They had been abducted the previous night, tied up, and choked to death.

Also on the list of victims is Susana Chávez Castillo, a 37-year-old poet and social activist. She was found dead in Ciudad Juarez on 6 January 2011. She had been strangled; her killers had also cut off her left hand. In the bloodiest of ironies, Chávez had been leading protests against the murder of women in Ciudad Juarez.

It is widely believed that organised crime groups are responsible for most of the killings of journalists in Mexico. But there is also evidence to suggest that members of the police and army - some of whom are in the pay of the drug cartels - are implicated in a number of these murders.

We can speculate as to why there has been an increase in attacks on women journalists, but perhaps the most persuasive (and mundane) explanation is hinted at by veteran reporter Charles Bowden in his book, El Sicario (The Hitman).

During an interview in the book, a former cartel assassin suggests that the rise in attacks on women is due merely to the changing role of women in Mexican society. Some years ago, he says, women and children were considered virtually off-limits to a professional hitman, but now that greater numbers of impoverished women have been pulled into taking more active, stereotypically 'male' roles in the drug trade, they are judged to be fair game.

Similarly, there are many more women working as journalists nowadays: more women are investigating the influence of organised crime in Mexico, more women are incurring the wrath of the cartels.

As with all the cases of murdered reporters in Mexico, the investigations into the killings of women writers have been slow and careless, with few arrests and fewer prosecutions. Details are taken, information is entered into databases, press statements are issued, and then the cases are let drift.

Why is this?

Partly it's the corruption that is endemic in Mexico. Bribery and - when bribery fails - violence are the oil that lubricates the Mexican machine, especially at the state level. The drug cartels that are suspected of carrying out the majority of these attacks can pay-off or threaten politicians, judges and the police, thereby ensuring that justice doesn't get done.

Partly it's also because Mexico's legal system is not up to the task: killings and disappearances are usually dealt with at state level, where the system is at its most corruptible. Currently, there are moves to change the law so that attacks on journalists, writers and bloggers are made federal crimes. This offers only a small glimmer of hope.

In January, PEN International, the global writers' and free expression organisation sent a delegation to Mexico to raise international awareness of the violence suffered there by writers and journalists. The delegation met with, among others, the Mayor of Mexico City, the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression and the President of the Senate. The delegation came away daunted by the scale of the task facing those who are willing to tackle the problem, reform the system, and bring justice to those who attack and kill writers.

On International Women's Day, 8 March 2012, spare a thought for the murdered women writers of Mexico. We should remember them - the system seems inclined to forget.