On the 8th of April Debanhi Escobar, 18, did what any girl her age would do: she went out for a drink with her friends. Mexican authorities would discover her body near where she was last seen two weeks later.

Escobar’s case is by no means unique; according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 4,091 women were killed in 2020 alone.

Latin America is facing a plague of femicides in which women are being killed simply for being women, the inevitable product of a society permeated with machismo culture where governments do not deliver justice to the victims. In recent years, the number of femicides has increased exponentially, with most perpetrators going unpunished. This is how feminist movements in Latin America describe the problem, laying blame on governments and their policies in particular.

Just in Mexico alone, an average of 10 women are killed a day with a 145% increase since 2015. In Argentina, more than 200 cases have been registered in 2022. Given these numbers, thousands of women around Latin America have gone to the street to ask for justice and change.

So, what does the public expect the government to do? What policies are being implemented in order to protect women and change the culture surrounding these atrocious acts?

Feminist emergency

Since 2018, feminist resistance has been strengthened as a result of movements such as the #MeToo movement raising awareness about the oppression of women. The high rates of femicides recorded in Latin America have sparked public outrage resulting in intense pressure on governments to act.

According to the Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection (SSPC), femicides in Mexico increased by 7.1% in 2021. In recent months, more than 742 municipalities have opened investigations. Many of these cases registered are women in their 20 and 30 with the criminals being a similar age.

Femicides are reported at 4.7 per 100,000 in Honduras, the highest rate in the world, with the Dominican Republic placing second and El Salvador in third with rates of 2.4 and 2.1 per 100,000 according to the ECLAC year report.

Given the new cases presented every day, the numbers are expected to rise exponentially by 2022, drawing more attention to what the government can do to stop this increase.

Machismo Culture

From prehistoric to contemporary history, machismo has surrounded Latinx society. In most cases, it is the intimate partner who is the perpetrator, as the relationship has a pattern of violence that the family and close friends of the victim have recalled in their interviews with the police. It is what nowadays we call a "toxic" relationship. And the problem has been that these terms have become normalised in society. Women that complain about their partner being assaulted get answers like, "You are not respecting your relationship," "You were the one that decided to be with him," and "You provoke him." These comments are what the older generation's response is to the violence a woman might be experiencing. And these come from their family, usually their parents.

The expression "he is my macho" is one that has come down through many generations, and many in Latin America see it as an innocent phrase. But this one has become a key factor in explaining the reason behind the femicides. Machismo is defined as men being strong, but it also refers to masculine pride. Sadly, this pride is correlated with violent behaviour.

Many feminist organisations have suggested that the root of the problem comes from how families are raised and the relationship between the father and his son, including how the father might talk about the mother to his son. How the father treats other women, including his mother and daughters, has a massive impact on the sons. These actions can later be the reasoning behind the violent acts these sons, who will become male adults, can later do.

As for how to resolve it, it might be possible to get inside the educational system to show these children how the acts in the houses are not right. Expand social services to children whose comments about women may result in this type of behaviour at home.

Proposals? Answers?

Demonstrations led by feminist organisations around the world insist that governments change their policies and end the impunity of sexist violence.

Women are determined to denounce governments about their inaction and put an end to this issue. By communicating about the events through social media, activists hold politicians equally accountable, pointing out that the laws enacted in recent years have been rendered ineffective due to government corruption.

The following actions are demanded: genuine enforcement of the law, an increase in fines the length of prison sentences for those responsible, and an affirmation that all forms of violence against women are unacceptable and punishable.

At the end of 2020, ECLAC expressed its concern about the increase in femicide and violence against women, publishing a suggested strategy for governments. Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC's executive secretary, commented in the proposal that: “our message is strong: violence against women, no matter where it occurs, is unacceptable. The multiple manifestations of violence suffered by women, and femicide as its maximum expression, are preventable.”

ECLAC emphasised the importance of promoting funding, prevention, and policy responses to violence against women. Governments must take up and strengthen the institutions and sectors that protect women while struggling against the culture that fuels sexist violence.