On the night of October 2nd, a 20-year-old Mexican law student was shot and killed during an alleged robbery in the central Mexican state of Puebla. Mariana Fuentes Soto was walking to her friend's house when she was intercepted by two men who robbed and then killed her.

This comes two weeks after a 19-year-old girl was found dead near a motel also in Puebla. The Puebla authorities believe she was sexually assaulted and strangled by a driver from the car-hailing app Cabify.

Mara Fernanda Castilla went missing after she used the app on September 8 but never made it to her destination. Her death caused outrage and prompted calls throughout Mexico for government action against femicide, which is the intentional murder of women because of their gender.

"The next day [after Mara's body was found], all the feminists from our community were really angry and sad," said Andrea Rauda, a Mexican student at The Western Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, "so people began protesting in all the major cities all over the country."

Gender-based murder crimes in Mexico have witnessed a steep increase since 2015. In fact, according to a recent report by several international organizations, seven out of 10 countries with the highest female murder rate are in Latin America, making it the region with the world's highest rate of femicides.

By Raina Singh
By Raina Singh

However, according to Rauda, not everyone is concerned about femicide problems in Mexico.

"I think it's about the system here in Mexico. In [our] culture, we don't have the perspective that women are equal to men. [People] believe if you're wearing short skirts when you experience sexual assault, you were asking for it."

Rauda said women who report rape or sexual assault are first asked what they were wearing at the time of the incident, which makes them think twice before reporting the assault. The 2016 National Victimization and Perception about Public Safety survey found that 93.6 percent of crimes in Mexico go unreported, sometimes because of distrust in law enforcement authorities.

Celesthe Yethzirá Garcia Padrón, a student at the Western Institute of Technology and Higher Education criticized the Mexican justice system for victim-blaming and said it isn't doing enough to help sexual assault victims.

"I felt this crime was so close to us. It could have happened to any of us so easily," she said, "[Mara's case] is a strong reminder that we are not free here in Mexico," she said.

Catherine Bedoya, the Co-Assistant Director of USC Latino/a Student Assembly, focuses her research on femicide issues in Latin America, and said these two murders are more than individual circumstances: they are after-effects of a rooted Mexican culture. Bedoya believes there are cultural and religious reasons behind how men treat women in Mexican society.

"Mexican people are 80% Catholic," she said, "The marianismo and machismo in the belief system are big factors that lead to an ownership type of relationship between male and female. If women don't live up to their ascribed roles, men have the right to dictate."

Other social factors that contribute to the femicide phenomenon in Latin American countries include the general violence level, domestic abuse, and organized crime in society. Additionally, Bedoya believes the huge disparity between rich and poor in Latin American countries contributes a great deal to their violence rates.

Additionally, impunity of femicides is widespread and it accounts for part of the increase in these crimes. Bedoya said they have the laws in place, but the problem becomes perpetuating and enforcing them.

"Both individual and systematic reasons lie behind the femicide problems," said Bedoya, "It's very complicated to pinpoint the exact cause of it, but [this phenomenon] is not OK and bigger changes need to happen."

In an attempt to reduce these numbers, the UN has been taking action on gender-based violence since 1994. A Special Rapporteur was appointed to investigate, monitor and recommend solutions on violence against women.

In 2014, UN Women and the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights furthered the effort to decrease femicide by launching the Latin American Model Protocol for the investigation of gender-related murder of women. UN Women is now supporting the countries that have adopted the Protocol that develops specialized legislations on femicide and creates tools that properly investigate and punish all forms of violence against women. As of now, 16 countries in Latin America have special legislation specifically targeting gender-based violence.

In February 2017, the Chamber of Deputies in Mexico approved a reform to make femicide a serious crime meriting preventive prison. The Mexican government also introduced special women-only carriages on trains to decrease sexual harassment on public transportation.

"In a certain way, I'm satisfied [with the government's actions], because they are trying to bring changes, and we are not in the same place as ten years ago, also partly due to the feminism movement," said Rauda. "But instead of trying to put everything into the law, why not change the way people think about [women and gender-related crimes]."

Rauda believes that for the UN and the Mexican government to more effectively deter femicide, education should be improved first.

"If we have more gender education at school, not only about sexual education, but also about ethics, morality, historical and social development, it will eventually change the perspective people have on women," she said.