Missing women in Mexico

Country/area: Mexico

Organisation: Animal Politico

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 05/07/2021

Credit: Itxaro Arteta


Journalist for 13 years. With Communication studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and a master’s degree in Journalism at the school of the newspaper El País, in Spain. I have worked as a television writer, podcast writer, reporter for the Reforma newspaper, the CNN México-Expansión website, and Animal Político. I have covered politics, human rights, poverty and vulnerable groups. For two years I have specialized in gender issues and the feminist movement in Mexico.

Project description:

The investigation discovered that there is a different pattern between de disappearance of women and men in Mexico: missing women are mainly teenagers between 12 and 17 years old. In addition, while men are more disappeared in states with drug trafficking problems, for women is worst in places with high rates of gender-based violence, so they have sometimes been victims of femicide but their body has not been found. Although most of the teenagers are found few days after they went missing, experts think that they fled a violent situation or were hooked by human traffickers.

Impact reached:

More than 11,000 people read the story in the website, six radio newscasts in different states ask me for interviews to talk about the investigation, a few columnist tooked up the report in their articles. And in the same week of the publication, the National Search Commission give a press conference in which it recognized that the current government has not been able to stop the disappearance of women.
On the other hand, when I made public the database that I built, other journalists contacted me to tell me that they were using it in their own investigations, including a website specialized in the subject.

Techniques/technologies used:

The first step in this project was to use a gender perspective in the theme of missing people in Mexico; it’s been a big problem for 15 years but the approach was always in general terms.
I took a data base with more than 100,000 registers of disappearance and I did a first revision in Excel, but the definitive tool was Power BI. With it, it was not only easy to filter information to find the patterns, but to graph it to make the problem evident. I created graphs in which any user can explore very detailed information on their own: the specific ages of the missing persons, the data by states, make comparisons between men and women, and if the persons were found alive, dead, or are still missing.
After having the data, I went to a state where there is a government alert for the disappearance of women, I looked for stories of missing girls and with a vision of solutions journalism, I exposed how a cell to search people works.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The first database I worked with was out of date and in the analysis I discovered errors such as reports of people over 150 years old, states with information gaps in some year, many reports that did not have the age or gender of the person. The new government updated the database but did not make it public in open data format, but created a website for specific information inquiries. For more than six months I requested the database through the transparency mechanism that we have in Mexico, but the National Search Commission refused with different arguments that I always challenged (and I continue to fight to get it). So finally I had to do almost 1,000 downloads of separate data tables to build a new database; each time, I had to manually set the search parameters and enter a captcha, which did not allow to automate the process. After publishing the report, we made public the database that I built in open format.

What can others learn from this project?

That a huge pile of data can offer evidence of specific patterns of a problem in different populations such as men and women, adults or childs…
And that beyond the story that as a reporter I chose to tell in a text, interactive graphics are a tool for each user to find the story that interests them the most, such as knowing the situation in their state or among girls their daughter’s age.

Project links: