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May 8, 2007

Conference to focus on murders, disappearances of women in Mexico, Guatemala, Canada

By Cynthia Haven

The murder of women has reached epidemic proportions in some parts of the world. In Juárez, the border town across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, 400 women have been murdered over the last 14 years and a thousand others are missing. From 2001 to 2005, hundreds of women have been violently murdered with impunity throughout Central America: 1,780 in Guatemala, 462 in Honduras, 117 in Costa Rica, five per month in El Salvador. In Canada, over 100 indigenous women have been murdered in recent years.

Chicana and Chicano Studies of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity is sponsoring an international conference, "Feminicide = Sanctioned Murder: Gender, Race and Violence in Global Context," May 16-19 that will bring together international experts, including mothers of murdered and missing women, activists, academics, writers and journalists, human rights lawyers, artists and filmmakers.

"The aim and purpose of the conference is to stop the violence and bring about justice," said Professor Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano, chair of Chicana and Chicano Studies and a coordinator of the conference.

In addition to panel discussions in Tresidder Union, the conference includes a film screening of Killer's Paradise, a new Canadian documentary about the murders in Guatemala, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, in Building 260, Room 113; an art exhibit, ReDressing Injustice, on the second floor of Tresidder Union; and a candlelight vigil at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 17, in White Plaza.

The panelists and speakers include:

  • Award-winning journalist and novelist Elena Poniatowska of Mexico, an advocate for women and the poor.
  • Lydia Cacho, who recently received the 2007 Ginetta Sagan Award for Women and Children's Rights from Amnesty International for exposing a net of pederasts linked to Mexican politicians and big business and for creating a shelter for the child victims of trafficking and abuse in Cancún, Mexico.
  • Anthropology Professor Rita Laura Segato of the University of Brasília, a leading expert on feminicide who argues that it should be considered a special category of crimes against humanity.
  • Leading Latin American feminist and activist Marcela Lagarde, who coined the term feminicide. As a former member of Mexico's House of Representatives, she presided over the Mexican Chamber of Deputies Feminicide Commission, which pressed for investigations of the Juárez murders.
  • Carlos Castresana Fernández, an expert in international legal cooperation on issues involving drugs, crimes, human rights and justice in Europe and Latin America.
  • The Stanford conference will culminate in a closed-door Saturday morning session where the panelists will develop a statement and form a plan of action to "trace out the path to justice," Yarbro-Bejarano said.

    The reasons behind the feminicide are complex and follow the economic and social displacement created by free trade and denationalization, she said.

    "Especially poor people have less and less access to human rights"—rights such as shelter, food and justice, she added.

    In the atmosphere of denationalization, groups trafficking drugs, weapons and human beings on a global level, sometimes with the complicity of corrupt governments, have moved to fill the vacuum. These factors have created a "culture of globalized violence," according to Yarbro-Bejarano.

    What some scholars have termed "the organization of uncivil societies," including organized crime, has fostered "a climate of terror that hamstrings any resistance, allowing these women to be disposable."

    "It's brave of the women to come to this conference, and brave to form these grass-roots organizations," she said. "It gives us hope."

    With the exception of the Saturday morning closed session, all events are free and open to the public. Simultaneous translation will be provided. A complete conference schedule is available online at



    Cynthia Haven, News Service: (650) 724-6184,


    Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano, professor of Spanish: (650) 723-8449,

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