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A protest asking the government to recognise the kidnapped and assassinated women

Why have feminists been disappearing in Mexico?

Drug gangs, the government and a patriarchal justice system are threatening the lives of the country’s women

Nadia Vera was a young exuberant woman whose mother called her "sugar girl" and whose friends lauded her as a committed activist. She studied in the capital of the southeastern state of Veracruz, Xalapa and was active in student movements and struggles for the defence of natural resources and land in Veracruz. On a local internet television channel, Rompeviento she questioned, “How many journalists have been assassinated without anything happening? How many students? How many activists? How many human rights defenders have been assassinated or disappeared?”

On July 31 2015, at the age of 32, she was found assassinated in an apartment in a middle class neighborhood in Mexico City, alongside her friend Ruben Espinosa, a photographer who had fled the state of Veracruz – notorious for assassinations of journalists – after he felt threatened. Her flatmates Yesenia Quiroz, Mile Virginia Martín and their housecleaner Alejandra Negrete were also murdered and the bodies of Nadia, Yesenia and Mile all showed signs of torture and rape.

"Their bodies speak," said Karla Micheel Salas, the lawyer for Nadia’s family. “This is a specific type of violence aimed at them just for the simple act of being a woman. This is what allows it to be defined as femicide, which does not detract from the fact that the motive may have been political,” she added on the online television program Luchadoras.

These murders are part of a national insecurity crisis. An estimated 6 women are victims of femicide every day, all assassinations that demonstrate that gender was part of the motive for their murder.

When the news broke about photographer Ruben Espinosa’s murder, the press mentioned the assassination of the four other women as a side note, and failed to name them. When it was revealed that Nadia Vera was among the women, the brutal crime took on another political dimension. Just months previously, Vera had denounced the governor of Veracruz for his complicity in the violence that ravaged the state. "We completely hold Javier Duarte de Ochoa, governor of the state, and his cabinet, as responsible for anything that could happen to those involved and organized in these type of movements,” Vera told Rompeviento. The government has been pursuing a line of investigation based on a burglary, even though the assailants barely stole anything.

The multiple assassination, with it’s very clear political and gendered message, has shaken the nation, especially the activist and journalist communities. “We are realizing that we are at the mercy of whichever force, albeit narco trafficking, organized crime or our government,” Lulu V. Barrera, an activist with the feminist group Luchadoras, told Dazed.

A mere week before the quintuple murder, Barrera arrived at her day job with the organization Equis Justicia para las Mujeres (Justice Equity for Women) to find that their offices and been raided. In what she called a very targeted attack, the robbers took administrative computers and then proceeded to steal from their bank account half of the organisation’s operational budget for the year. Barrera believes it was a clear assault on the work they are doing defending women within what she calls the “patriarchal justice system.”

Twitter and Facebook played a key role in helping draw attention to this office raid, and also in advancing women’s rights. The online campaign #YoTeNombro was launched in response to the complete omission of the names of the four women who were killed alongside Ruben Espinosa, the photojournalist who seemed to be the focal point of the attack.

“Social networks have helped us make visible many issues related to gender discrimination but also on the other end, many female human rights defenders have received death threats, rape threats and also violent images via these networks,” said Atziri Ávila of the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders of Mexico.

Earlier this year, a well known lesbian feminist Twitter user called Luisa Velázquez (@menstruadora) started to receive death and rape threats via the microblog network. Fearing for her own life as trolls released sensitive personal information about her, she shut down her Twitter account and released a statement about the direct violence she was experiencing.

“My opinions are just a turned off shout in a Mexico full of femicides, they are subaltern opinions, uncomfortable in this country where the lives of women is not worth anything, where we normalise the disappearance of buses full of women and no one speaks about this, where no-one is outraged, where have streets full of the faces of women who we hope will appear soon,” she said.

With these attacks threatening female human rights defenders and journalists, women are joining together to create security networks. “We see that the most critical voices are being silenced and that is why we have to become specialists to protect these voices,” said Avila.