Picks of the Quarter

The conflicts that gain the most attention and media coverage tend to be those that are most sensational and violent. But there are many other conflicts we do not hear about, and those living through them must struggle to make their voices heard. This column seeks to bring attention to serious events, issues, and conflicts that receive little coverage but deserve our attention, our acknowledgement, and our best efforts in resolving them.


The Mexican government’s efforts to combat the influence the cartels hold over the country, known as the “War on Drugs”, has received a great deal of attention, especially in recent years. There are numerous stories about the toll the violence has taken on politicians, communities, and Mexico as a whole. However, the complicated story of the disappeared women from Ciudad Juarez, which began in the 1990s, has received only sporadic attention in the media. While the mainstream media has covered this story more thoroughly in recent years, much of the coverage paints a simplified picture, blaming the disappearances solely on the “War on Drugs.” While it is true that drug-related violence has increased in Northern Mexico, police brutality and corruption, collusion with the cartels, extreme poverty, and horrible working conditions all contribute to the disappearances; as well as, many would argue, a culture of machismo that undervalues women. Thus, these disappearances often have little or nothing to do with the “War on Drugs.” One reason for this erroneous analysis is that gathering information and finding out what is really going on is very difficult, and many journalists attempting to cover the story have been murdered. Few of the cases have been solved because there seem to be many different causes for the deaths and not one single responsible party. The political will in Mexico is not strong enough to encourage real investigative and preventative action because the police, politicians, drug traffickers, and gangs are all connected in a web of corruption and collusion. These women are innocent victims of the turmoil in Mexico, and they and their families deserve justice.


Most civil wars gain international attention when the number of victims reaches a certain point. But others are forgotten, as the duration is simply too long to capture and sustain the interest of the international community. Over the past fifty years, the press has intermittently covered the violent internal conflict in Colombia. While some progress towards peace has been made in the past decade, the country continues to be a dangerous place for human rights campaigners, politicians, and women. Women lack a great deal of resources, as their access to opportunities such as education have suffered due to the lack of infrastructure present in the country, a result of the internal conflict. During these decades of conflict, many women in Colombia have been and continue to be victims of sexual violence. A comparatively small percentage of sexual violence against women can be classified as domestic violence or crime; most is committed by the military, paramilitary, and other armed groups. Indigenous women, women who have been displaced from their homes as a result of the conflict, and women living in extreme poverty are at particularly high risk of becoming victims of sexual violence. These women are also typically those with the least access to recourse or social and legal services. In Colombia, as elsewhere in the world, a large number of rapes go unreported. This is also because the women who have been raped and their families receive threats if they even consider reporting the crime. In 2010 more than 20,000 cases of sexual violence were investigated in the country but less than 200 of these were classified as a result of armed violence, thus continuing the invisibility of sexual violence against women as a war-related crime. Colombia has not adequately protected the safety of women, who are becoming the victims of internal violence. More international attention and support is needed to protect and aid the innocent, forgotten victims of this armed conflict.

United States

In April 2011, a movement started in Toronto to protest a police officer’s comment that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. The movement, known as “SlutWalk”, has spread to many cities within the United States, with one scheduled for early October in New York. This proposed walk will take place on the heels of a comment by a Brooklyn police officer who, similar to the officer in Toronto, suggested women should dress more conservatively to avoid being attacked. For many women, the movement signifies their reclamation of the word “slut”, as well as a challenge to our culture’s tolerance for violence against women. Though it is similar to another movement known as “Take Back the Night”, the protests and methods through which the participants of “SlutWalk” attempt to convey their messages are much bolder. During these walks, women dress provocatively and self-identify as sluts. The issues these walks address have gained a great deal of support and interest among women in the United States. However, there are other women who feel marginalized by the movement because they believe it will not succeed in transforming the negative meaning of the word “slut”. A significant number of African American women have publicly denounced the movement. They do not believe that walking through the streets, self-identifying as sluts, would make women in their communities safer. Their argument is that ‘black’ women are already more sexualized than white women. So, the question really is: what exactly is this movement trying to accomplish? It raises awareness of the issues in our communities surrounding violence against women, yet is also extremely controversial because through women dressing in provocative ways their sexuality is further objectified. In the end, it all comes down to how one views and interprets the movement. What is not clear is how this movement would help make women safer in their own communities, the very issue which sparked the initial protest in Toronto.

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