Fighting Feminine Genocide

Cintia Martínez Velasco
After relocating from Mexico City to Eugene in 2022, Cintia Martínez Velasco spent time exploring the Oregon coast with her sister. She came to the University of Oregon as an assistant professor of philosophy to continue her research into the fury over femigenocidio, the gender-based violence against women in Latin America.

February 28, 2024

Fighting Feminine Genocide

With violence against women on the rise in many Latin American countries, a UO philosophy professor is working to make feminine genocide a recognized crime throughout Mexico.

As gender-based violence against women spreads across Mexico, Latin American activists and scholars are leading a growing effort aimed at categorizing these crimes as “femigenocidio.”

Cintia Martínez Velasco, assistant professor of philosophy for the University of Oregon’s College of Arts and Sciences, recently urged Mexican consulates around the world to help eliminate violence against women and girls by recognizing and enforcing femigenocidio as a federal crime.

“Mexico is a vanguard of feminist foreign policy. The first embassy of international feminist issues started in Mexico,” says Martínez Velasco, whose research focuses on feminicidio—systematic violence against women—and the ontology of sex and gender.

Invited by the Mexican Foreign Ministry to deliver the inaugural keynote for an information week for Mexican women abroad, Martínez Velasco shared information about her research; the importance of recognizing and integrating transfeminicidio, or crimes against trans persons, in the penal code; and the homologation, or official  recognition, of feminicidio as a crime across all Mexican states.

When describing violence against women across Latin America, femigenocide is the shortened version of “feminine genocide” and a universally understood term, but feminicidio and femigenocidio are commonly used in Spanish. Martínez Velasco uses all these terms in her research, but she prefers the Spanish versions.

In Mexico, Martínez Velasco estimates that an average of 16 women per day are reportedly killed for gender reasons. She based this calculation on information released in November 2023 by the National Citizen Observatory of Feminicide, which reported 17,500 deaths from feminicidio in three years.

Her presentation for the Foreign Ministry was broadcast in 30 Mexican consulates to ambassadors, academia, nonprofit organizations and experts in the field of foreign affairs.

“My biggest dream is that the concerns I shared [with the Foreign Ministry] will be heard, that we can push for as many countries as possible to realize the importance of typifying the crime,” she says. “I hope the ministry can see the relevance of femigenocidio and transfeminicidio and integrate its specificity in the penal code.”

Martínez Velasco, whose research explores the fury over feminicidio, femigenocidio and the philosophical problems appearing around both legal terms, is working to make feminicidio something that is discussed everywhere.

“Femigenocidio is a term I take from Rita Laura Sagato, an Argentinian activist and anthropologist,” Martínez Velasco says. “My work is in the philosophical challenges of talking about women as a social group and how to integrate them into the concept of genocide.”

Originally from Mexico City, Martínez Velasco came to UO in 2022 in search of a progressive environment in which to pursue her research and continue to have influence. She was amazed by the program, the students, the research, and how warm and friendly people are in the Pacific Northwest.

“I like this university specifically because I find it very progressive,” she says. “And the honey. I like the honey.”

She enjoys teaching Latin American philosophy and reading the work of famous philosophers Karl Marx, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Hannah Arendt and Herbert Marcuse. In a recent violence and gender course with a group of graduate students who were mostly international students, she found the discussions especially interesting because the students didn’t all share a Western point of view. If her students take away one thing from her classes, she hopes they learn how to disagree in an informed and committed way.

“I do love this term from Michel Foucault—parrhesia—which is a Greek term meaning candid speech. It's related with changing the world on those things that we believe in. But that requires not only intelligence, but philosophical awareness,” she says.

“Where do you come from? And what is your own idea of what is fair or what world you want? I love when my students don't think that their ideal world is my dreamed world. I like that brave agency needed in the disagreement.”

—Jenny Brooks is a communications coordinator for the College of Arts and Sciences.

Understanding the Rise in Feminicidio

In Mexico, there is a phenomenon known as the “Juarization of Mexico,” which is the spread of violence against women by men across Mexico and other Latin American countries.

The term stems from Ciudad Juarez, a city on the border between Mexico and the US, known as a place where women are murdered at a high frequency.

While many different factors have contributed to the rise of feminicidio, its rate drastically increased after the North American Free Trade Agreement was established in 1994. When the trade agreement opened the borders between the US and Mexico, many American companies moved their manufacturing operations to Mexico, including in Juarez. Mexican women were hired to work in the factories, which provided them with new freedoms and independence, but also contributed to a shift in Mexican culture.

“We are witnessing the increase in numbers per day as the Juarization of Mexico continues, which means that during the last decades, the phenomenon that started in Juarez has spread throughout the country,” says Cintia Martínez Velasco, assistant professor of philosophy.

As war evolves in South America, where new organized crime groups are fighting for power, a growing cruelty against women has become encoded in warfare as a symbolic message, she adds.

“Feminicidio recognizes misogyny or hate against women, and that is very valuable; nevertheless, the penal code is still not integrating how feminicidio takes place among these new types of warfare,” she says. “That is why the discussion on femigenocidio is relevant.”