Oaxaca City, Mexico – Rain spattered against the taxi’s window during the uphill drive to the Colonia Jardín neighbourhood on the outskirts of Oaxaca City, the capital of one of the country’s poorest states.
“Storms turn the mud up here into chewing gum,” Mare Advertencia Lirika, a local rapper, told Al Jazeera.
Mare, 28, an indigenous Zapotec, has made a name for herself on the Latin American hip-hop scene. Her rap stands out in part because of her indigenous roots, the poverty she’s endured, as well as her politicised upbringing.
Most of the homes in the neighbourhood are single-storeyed and cobbled together with cement breeze blocks. Despite its close proximity to the city, Colonia Jardín has a rural feel: turkeys, strays dogs, and cornfields dot the geography.
Millions of Mexicans live in unplanned, sprawling communities on the edge of major cities, but Colonia Jardín stands out because the walls bear the marks of a strong local commitment to revolutionary politics. “Land of the resistance”, one reads.
This is the backdrop that sparked Mare’s rap career 12 years ago, inspiring her to intertwine indigenous identity and progressive politics into her lyrics.
“Graffiti is why I got into hip-hop,” she said. “My older friends got me into socially conscious rappers, like Los Caballeros del Plan G, and I began to create an identity through words.”
Recalling a police attack on a teachers’ protest in southern Oaxaca state back in 2006, she said: “We sprayed the walls to communicate with the world because the media said nothing about the violence.”
Mare said rappers have a responsibility to inform their audiences of real-life struggles. “You can’t just go up to the mic and say whatever.”
Both live and in her recorded tracks, Mare has a staccato, percussive and dense delivery. “The only place women are in first place,” she sings on one track, “is in the stats on violence.”
Her confrontational lyrics are complemented by a hybrid of traditional Mexican music and bass-heavy samples more common to classic hip-hop. Her tracks resemble fight songs in Mexico’s battle for women’s rights.
According to Mexico’s National Registry of Missing or Disappeared Persons, 7,185 women have gone missing since 2006, when former President Felipe Calderon started ordering raids on organised crime groups across the country.
But women have not become any safer: Fifty-two percent of these disappearances have taken place after current President Enrique Pena Nieto took office in 2012.
In January, during a nationwide wave of femicides – hate-driven murders directed at women because of their gender – six women were killed every day, according to the National Observatory on Femicides.
Despite the staggering numbers of women killed, only 24 percent of such crimes are investigated, with only 1.6 percent resulting in a conviction.
The dangers are even worse for those women who fight the tide of violence, said Atziri Avila, a researcher and coordinator at the National Network of Human Rights Defenders in Mexico (RNDDH).
According to RNDDH’s figures, women’s rights workers are enduring a steady uptick in violence. In 2014, the group documented 308 attacks, compared with 118 in 2012 and 189 in 2013.
An additional 34 women’s rights activists have been killed nationwide since 2010, mostly in states with the most turbulent security situations: Mexico state, Michoacan and Guerrero.
“We expect our end-of-year figures for 2015 to be higher,” Avila said, citing the killing of activist Nadia Vera in July.
“[Vera] was harassed long before her murder,” Avila explained, “but authorities saw her protection as an obstacle to their ‘real work’. This is typical.”
“Another activist had a panic button installed by police. When she used it, the security guard didn’t answer. ‘I’m only human,’ he told her when she complained, ‘I can’t get to every call.'”
But aggression against Mexican women is not just about outright violence.
“Mexico is a femicidal country, but that violence trickles down in subtle ways,” Avila said. “It’s in the way men look at us and harass us in the street. Even to say ‘I’m a feminist’ or go to marches is to break [with] gender roles and risk being told that we’re ‘bad wives’.”
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In Mare’s home state of Oaxaca, more than 40 percent of women describe having suffered violence at some point in their lives, according to Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI). It is some 10 percent higher than the world average.
Like many other places in Mexico, the crisis in Oaxaca is deepening: The RNDDH recorded 283 femicides between 2004 and 2010. But throughout the last four-and-a-half years, at least 405 femicides have been documented.
Walking through her neighbourhood, Mare recalled how her father was killed in the crossfire during a dispute over local tribal lands. She was just five-years-old at the time.
“I never grew up with a fixed idea of a woman’s place in life. While my family is indigenous Zapotec – a tradition which restricts certain roles for women – we had to fill the gap left [behind] by my father.”
For researcher Atziri Avila, Mare’s impact far exceeds her musical popularity.
“Women in Mexico are not considered as a political entity,” she said, adding that too little money is spent on education around women’s rights.
“Policymakers see women as nothing more than potential victims. So for Mare to stand up and see the violence and tell us to be strong – this gives me hope.”