Recent PhD Graduate Paulina Garcia Del Moral to begin new position at the University of Guelph

October 25, 2017 by Sherri Klassen

Recent graduate Paulina García Del Moral will be starting a new position as Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology this January at the University of Guelph. Paulina completed her dissertation, Feminicidio, Transnational Legal Activism and State Responsibility in Mexico, in 2015 under the supervision of Professors Anna Korteweg (co-supervisor), Ron Levi (co-supervisor) and Karen Knop (Faculty of Law).

Paulina’s dissertation focuses on the response of the Mexican state to feminicidio in the context of transnational feminist activism. Femicide refers to the misogynous killing of women. Extending this concept, the term feminicidio (feminicide) emerged in Mexico to emphasize the complicity of the state in this violence by tolerating its impunity and sustaining intersecting structural gender and class inequalities. The dissertation examines how feminicidio, as a Mexican feminist frame and legal innovation, transformed domestic and international conceptualizations of women’s human rights and state responsibility for gender violence. Some of this research has been published in Current Sociology and AJIL Unbound.

The following is the abstract of her dissertation:

This dissertation uses the concept of transnational legal activism (Santos 2008) to analyze the mobilization of international human rights law as a multi-scalar process that produces and is shaped by gendered political and discursive opportunities. I apply this framework to examine how feminist grassroots activists engaged in this process by focusing on the case of González and Others “Cotton Field” v. Mexico, decided in 2009 at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR). This landmark case concerns the abduction and sexual murder of three young women in Ciudad Juárez, an industrial city bordering the United States where hundreds of marginalized women have been killed since the 1990s. These murders epitomize what Mexican feminist scholars and activists identified as feminicidio, the systematic killing of women in a context of institutionalized gender discrimination sanctioned by the state. The Court ruled that Mexico had failed to act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, and punish these feminicidios. It also declared, for the first time, that the state’s institutional failure to respond to such violence constitutes gender discrimination. Against this background, the dissertation investigates how federal and local state actors responded to grassroots activists’ claims and the “Cotton Field” judgment, including the criminalization of feminicidio. The dissertation draws on interviews with 12 Mexican activists and frame analysis of the “Cotton Field” case, related materials, and 284 federal and local parliamentary debates. My analysis illustrates how gender pervades state and supranational institutions, as well as law itself, hindering or facilitating both the adoption of feminist strategies to combat gender violence and the transformation of the meaning of state responsibility at the domestic and supranational levels. Throughout, I highlight the agency of feminist grassroots actors as they engaged in transnational legal activism. I thus challenge assumptions in the literature on human rights and social movements that imply that grassroots actors have a limited access to international law and to avenues to participate in transnational advocacy. Last, I suggest that the actions of Mexican grassroots activists extend a Latin American approach to international human rights law.

As a graduate student, Paulina received a number of honours, including the University of Toronto’s Connaught Scholarship for incoming international doctoral students, the Ontario Graduate Scholarship and the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. She also received the Outstanding Graduating Student Award (University of Toronto) from the Canadian Sociological Association. During her time at the Department, Paulina valued being part of a vibrant intellectual community of scholars. Working closely with her supervisors and mentors contributed to her academic and professional development, as did the support of other faculty and graduate students.

After graduating, Paulina took up a SSHRC-funded post-doctoral fellowship in the Department of Sociology and the Center for Research on Gender & Women at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. There, she worked with Professor Myra Marx Ferree, participated actively in the Department’s brown bags, the Center’s lecture series, and was an invited speaker at events like the Wisconsin International Law Journal symposium on “Regional Human Rights Systems in Crisis,” among others. In addition, Paulina taught a 4th year course on Human Rights in Law & Society for the Center for Law, Society & Justice. Paulina’s post-doctoral work extended her research focus on state responses to gender violence and transnational feminist activism to the murders of Indigenous women and girls in Canada. An article based on this work is forthcoming in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society. Paulina also conducted additional fieldwork in Mexico to carry out a more in-depth analysis of the contested process of the federal and local criminalization of feminicidio.

At the University of Guelph, Paulina will join the faculty of Sociology and Anthropology and teach in their collaborative Crime & Criminal Justice Policy/Criminal Justice & Public Policy programs. Paulina will be teaching a graduate seminar on Diversity & Social Inequality, and undergraduate courses in Law & Society, Gender, and Violence & Society. She will also expand her research agenda to explore the criminalization of the killing of women either as feminicidio or its related concept, femicide (femicidio), in other Latin American countries and the context of the European Union. Paulina is interested in examining both the transnational travel/competition of feminist knowledges, and the relationship between impunity and carceral politics as states implement human rights as a feminist policy instrument to respond to gender violence.

We wish Paulina all the best as she embarks on this next stage of her career.