Does Militarization Increase Gender-Based Violence?

Metropolitan Group
4 min readJan 25, 2023

In Mexico, nonbinary people, cisgender and transgender women, adolescents, and girls do not feel — or are not — safe in public places.

By Valeria Berumen Ornelas

Photo courtesy of Valeria Berumen Ornelas

This article was originally published for Opinión 51 in Spanish and transcreated into English.

In Mexico, nonbinary people, cisgender and transgender women, adolescents, and girls do not feel — or are not — safe in public places. Therefore, it has been normalized to ask ourselves what we should wear to keep ourselves safe in accordance with the type of transportation we will use that day. It is widely accepted that places in the community that should be safe for us, such as our homes, schools, workplaces, and recreational centers, are not safe at all. Sadly, we often assume that we are not even safe next to our partners, family members, people with authority, or even those who are entrusted to protect us.

Every time this is mentioned, some voices will forcefully and collectively reassure us that inequity no longer exists and the glass ceiling has been removed. However, a review of virtually any measure — mortality, illiteracy, violence, poverty, etc. — is enough to demonstrate that women are at a disadvantage and more vulnerable to hardship than their male counterparts.

According to the latest National Survey on Relationship Dynamics at Home (Encuesta Nacional sobre Dinámica de las Relaciones en los Hogares, ENDIREH) conducted by INEGI in 2021, over 70% of Mexican women who are 15 or older have reported experiencing some form of violence. Women are also more vulnerable to abuse when they are experiencing discrimination such as racism, ageism, or classism — or the intersection of all three — and people who identify as transgender, Indigenous, low income, or of African descent are likely to suffer on a greater scale.

When trying to understand if militarization in Mexico has resulted in increased violation of human rights, we can look at the way acts of war often use female bodies as collateral. So, the answer to this question is yes: Militarization has a higher impact on the amount and type of violence women suffer. Women are seen as more expendable than men and are targeted violently — often with little or no consequences — more frequently.

The available data helps illustrate the story of violence in our country. The ENDIREH 2021 reveals that 238,221 women had suffered violations during their lifetime at the hands of navy members or military personnel, sexual violence being the most frequent, with 68.6% of women experiencing some form of rape or nonconsensual touch from men in the military. Psychological abuse is the second most reported type of violence, with 27% of women experiencing some form of verbal or emotional abuse from men. And last but not least, physical violence is the third most frequent type, with 4.4% of women experiencing acts of aggression committed against them such as kicking or punching.

Data reviewed in 2020–2021 showed that more than 86,000 women reported having suffered aggression by the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA) and the Mexican Secretary of the Navy (SEMAR) staff. Sexual violence was the most frequent form reported, with 53.9% (46,488), followed by psychological abuse at 41% (35,396), and physical violence at 5.1% (4,371).

When the data is compared and analyzed, the conclusion is stark: The total number of female victims and accounts of sexual violence has increased by 38.9% and 33.7%, respectively, since 2016. The limited ability of victims to seek justice through the court system adds complexity to these numbers, not to mention the issue of military jurisdiction and potential impunity. This means that people who are taking legal action for violent crimes committed against them often find themselves in a legal maze that is difficult to navigate in terms of receiving justice.

In response to this data and the lived experience of nonbinary people, women, and girls living in Mexico, and in pursuit of public spaces where people can be themselves and feel safe, civil society organizations have come together to create the #SinMiedoaSer campaign. This initiative was created in partnership with Impacto Social Metropolitan Group.

Fundación del Centro Histórico de la Ciudad de México (Historical Center Foundation of Mexico City) was founded in 2019, with the participation of female visual artists and several civil society organizations. From July to November 2021, the group mounted an art exhibition called Miradora en el Atrio de San Francisco, which had more than 200,000 visitors. Several activities and events were organized to increase introspection and highlight the different types of violence that Mexicans experience. Militarization was one of the topics specifically addressed to introduce people to peaceful concepts intended to build safe pathways for nonviolent conflict resolution.

#SinMiedoaSer emphasizes that we can challenge discrimination and violence by being an ally and understanding the widespread nature of this issue. The exhibition encourages people to use their power of voice to speak out, and to continue to persuade and advocate for a Mexico in which women — and others — can live without the threat of violence, so that everyone can be authentically who they are and who they are meant to be.

Valeria Berumen is a journalist and broadcaster with more than 20 years of experience in several Mexican government institutions, press, and international agencies. Currently, she is a senior director at Impacto Social Metropolitan Group, a strategic communication agency based in Mexico City. Throughout her career, she has specialized in human rights and public interest affairs, such as fighting discrimination and racism, promoting refugee inclusion, and advocating for the rights of children and youth.

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