In addition to bordering El Paso and the United States, Ciudad Juarez unfortunately has been the site of the murder of hundreds of women since 1993.
Estimates vary about exactly how many women have been killed. Some government reports place the number at about 400, while locals have said the total is closer to 5,000 people.
The victims of these crimes have preponderantly been young women, between 12 and 22 years of age. Many were students, and most were maquiladora workers. A number were relative newcomers to Ciudad Juarez who had migrated from other areas of Mexico. The victims were generally reported missing by their families, with their bodies found days or months later abandoned in vacant lots, outlying areas or in the desert. In most of these cases there were signs of sexual violence, torment, torture or in some cases disfigurement.
The women and their brutal treatment have been the subject of songs, books, articles and protests.
In 2006 family friend, poet and human rights activist Marjorie Agosin published a collection of poems called, Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juarez.
Friend and prolific author Kari Lydersen has covered the issue, too, beginning a story about the women with a description of the crosses that mark some of the women’s deaths:
The desert sand ripples around the bases of the eight pink wooden crosses, adorned with plastic roses, on the hill above the colonia of Anapra in Ciudad Juarez.
They stand like sentinels, across from a fence made of mattress springs, looking out over the sprawling collection of shacks constructed from tar paper, old wooden pallets and plastic crates discarded from the maquilas where most of the Anapra residents work.
The main traffic on the pitted, dusty dirt road curving by the crosses are the rattling, colorful buses — discarded school buses from the U.S. – that come each day around 5 a.m. and again around 2 p.m. to take residents to their maquila shifts. There’s a joke circulating in the area that if you want to find Ciudad Juarez, you just follow the crosses.
And there are a lot of them.
These eight pink crosses commemorate some of the women whose bodies were found over the past few years in shallow graves in the dusty hilltop soil. Their bodies were found raped, mutilated and mangled. And they are far from the only ones.
Spanish blogger Judith Torrea continues to follow the issue and the general difficulties of living on the border in her blog.
Beyond these women who have documented the abuse and murder visited on far too many women, Cipriana Jurado Herrera is a Mexican woman who has been fighting against the violence.
A long-time human rights defender in Ciudad Juarez, where she first came to work in one of the maquilas, she has taken on a wide range of causes.
According to language for a presentation she gave in June, she has worked
“for labor rights for women and economic and environmental justice, founding the Center for Information and Solidarity for Working Women. She has traveled to several countries representing CISO in meetings for human rights, climate change, gender issues, femicide, labor rights, and sustainable development programs for small farmers and environmental justice.”
Thanks to fellow Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma participant and friend Cecelia Quinn, I spoke briefly with Cipriana yesterday.
She did not have much time to talk, and the conversation was long enough to determine that her time away from her country has in no way dimmed her passion for justice.
We wish Cipriana and the other brave women working on this issue well.