A decade ago, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a landmark judgment in the case of González and Others (“Cotton Field”) v. Mexico, which addressed the abduction and subsequent sexual murder of three young women in the industrial border city of Ciudad Juárez—a place known for systematic gender violence and impunity. For the victims’ next of kin and the feminist and human rights activists involved in the litigation, the murders constituted feminicidios (feminicides). The resulting judgment has been celebrated not only for developing new standards for women's human rights internationally, but also for its domestic impact in the form of innovative feminist laws and policies in Mexico and other Latin American countries. With a focus on Cotton Field’s impact on Mexico, this essay explores the potential rise of the “formally feminist state”—a state that adopts domestic feminist legislation and policies but then resists their implementation—as a new player on the stage of the inter-American human rights system (IAS). Drawing on insights from American sociolegal analyses on judicial deference to the presence of policies and institutional mechanisms as indicators of compliance with antidiscrimination laws, I suggest that this new player may create a different set of challenges for courts in assessing states’ lack of compliance with norms on women's human rights.
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