Imagine working a 12-15 hour work shift, sitting on
a small stool, hunched over all day sewing pieces of fabric together until
your eyes become blurred, and only having a ten minute break for lunch,
if even that much time.
Imagine getting out of work at one or two in the morning, catching a
bus for a 30-minute ride to the next town where you have to walk 20 minutes
to catch a second bus for another 30-minute ride and then walking another
hour to your home.
Sounds all right for maybe one day, yes?
Now imagine working 12-15 hours a day, six sometimes even seven days
a week, finishing work late at night, catching one bus ride, and then walking
through a red-light district filled with drug-addicts, drunks and gangs,
in order to catch a second bus and walking another hour in the dark, through
the desert with absolutely no light to guide your way home.
This is reality for many young Mexican women, mostly teenagers, who
work in the foreign-owned “maquiladora” factories that occupy much of the
land in Cuidad Juárez, Chihuahua, México. Maquiladoras
have sprung-up in Mexican towns situated along the United States-México
border since 1993, but even more so since the initiation of NAFTA (North
Atlantic Free Trade Agreement) in 1994. Along with the emergence
of maquiladora factories has come the brutal rapes and violent deaths of
260 Mexican women since 1993, the most recent occurring in November
How? Why? The answer is clear. These women are forced to
work in the maquiladoras due to the fact that they provide jobs for the
thousands of unemployed people in Mexico. However, maquiladoras also provide
few amenities to the cities where they are established, such as Ciudad
Juárez. The maquiladoras coerce these young women to travel
hours both to and from work with no compensation or safety during their
commute. Arriving to work has thus far posed no problems, considering
that it is still daylight. However, once these women leave the maquiladoras
at night, they automatically become prey to rapists and murderers that
hide in the desert ready to attack their next victim as she walks home
alone with only her memory to guide her. Most of the dead bodies
have been found in the desert near cotton fields and in nearby ditches
with their heads crushed and some even run over by a car.
Vicky Caraveo, leader of an advocacy group called Women for Juárez
gave a synopsis of the murders when interviewed on ABC’s 20/20, “I think
we’ve got more bodies hidden in the desert. They rape them, they
kill them, they throw them away, like this bucket, like this paper.
We try to imagine the horror. They can scream at the top of their
lungs, and no one – no one – is going to hear them.”
Despite the fact that dozens of arrests have been made, the killings
continue to remain largely unexplained. Numerous suspects have been
detained and sent to prison, though the killings have never ceased.
Among those detained have been bus drivers, who initially confessed to
murdering women and then later claimed that Mexican authorities used torture
to force them to make false confessions. In addition, Mexican authorities
continue to state that the rapists and murderers are now behind bars for
good. If this is so, why do dead bodies continue to appear in the
desert? The fact that these brutal and violent deaths persist demonstrates
the deeply flawed justice system in México as well as the underlyinging
cultural issue of misogyny.
A growing number of activists and organizations critical of the authorities’
handling of the crimes have grown since 1993 but nothing major has been
done to protect the women of maquiladoras from rape and murder. As
the number of dead bodies in the desert increases, so too do the cries
and heartaches from the victims’ families who were lured to the border
towns in hopes of finding jobs and better wages for their families.
One can only ask if the time and effort is worth working in these factories
and if so, is the risk of being murdered worth it as well?
For most of these young maquiladora workers and their families, they
have no other options.