Reframing ‘femicide’: Making room for the balloon effect of drug war violence in studying female homicides in Mexico and Central America

North America


In the past two decades scholars and journalists have created a sensation around a series of female homicides in Ciudad Juárez, attesting to a ‘femicide’ in which women are murdered for simply being women. In many accounts the North American Free Trade Agreement receives a great deal of attention as the driving force behind a purported devaluation in Mexican women’s social status. I argue that shifting geographies of the global drug trade require greater attention in examining the nature of female homicides in Juarez since 1993, and that the ‘balloon effect’ of drug trafficking flows provides a more convincing rationale for understanding these homicides. I also address recent studies on the Juárez female homicides that challenge the existence a ‘femicide’ through quantitative analyses that call into question the culpability of free trade. Though superficially convincing, these studies neglect the context-specific nature of individual acts of gender violence that numbers can obscure. I conclude by arguing that while the existence of a ‘femicide’ is questionable, it is not the number of bodies that matters, and that the nature of these gendered acts of homicide as they occur through shifting geographies of drug war spaces requires more attention.

External Authors

Heather Agnew
I have argued that a geopolitical framework that examines the balloon effect of drug flow displacement more clearly connects the factors of violence, impunity, and corruption to territorial strategies of drug traffickers, as opposed to the feminist political-economy framework that emphasizes the negative social impacts of free trade and maquiladora labour practices.




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