Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

State-Sanctioned Violence Against Women

Jovita Martínez García, from the village Pensamiento Liberal Mexicano in Oaxaca, Mexico is 20. She is currently in prison charged with negligent homicide in case of the death of her newborn baby last year.

Her case illustrates how the state aids and abets violence against woman. Jovita’s partner, Salvador Julián López, was abusive and violent prior to the birth. He took the child from her arms and murdered her as mother and baby were leaving hospital. Jovita is charged with not doing anything to prevent this. No allowance is being made for the fact that she was postpartum from a Caesarian section and thus unable to walk properly let alone fend off a man who had a history of violence towards her.

Jovita has been in prison since June 2013. There is a petition calling for her immediate release on Avaaz. I urge all you to sign.

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Violence Against Women, ,

Soldiers Accused of Raping Two Indigenous Women Finally Arrested After Twelve Years

For context read this blog post post from October 2010.

The soldiers accused of raping Valentina Rosendo Cantú and Inés Fernández Ortega in Guerrero, Mexico, have finally been arrested and charged, three years after the Inter American Court of Human Rights ordered that the Mexican State prosecute the military soldiers responsible for the rape and torture of these two indigenous women and twelve years after the crimes were committed. It remains to be seen if they will be condemned or even tried, as the Mexican military is openly hostile to the prosecution of military men in civilian courts and until now, the Supreme Court has supported this military fuero ( see here for details).

For more information (in Spanish) see this report.

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Politics, Violence Against Women, , ,

How Mexican Police Obtain Confessions. The Torture and Imprisonment of Rosa López

Recently the case of the French national, Florence Cassez, imprisoned in Mexico on the charge of being an accomplice to a gang of kidnappers, has been in the headlines. A few weeks ago, Mexico’s Supreme Court ordered Cassez’s release after considering evidence which showed that the police had not followed proper procedure when arresting her. Sadly, there are a hundred stories like that of Cassez’s in Mexico. It is well known that the police rarely follow legal procedure when making arrests and that the courts convict defendants in the full-knowledge of the fact that the evidence they are presented with has been obtained illegally. Cassez’s release was mainly due to the diplomatic pressure the French government applied in Mexico. Ordinary Mexicans have no such extra legal recourse, and, as a result, their cases rarely make the Supreme Court.

The story of Rosa López is particularly horrifying. Her misfortunes began in 2005 when her husband left her to emigrate illegally to the United States with his lover. Rosa, an indigeneous Tsotsil women from the town of San Cristóbal de la Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, had five children to support, so she set about selling small goods on a street corner. A year later, she started a new relationship with a fellow market-seller, Alfredo. This did not please her husband’s family, who reproached her constantly, calling her a prostitute and insisting she ought to wait faithfully for her husband to return.

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​In May 2007, while Rosa was pregnant with her sixth child, she was unexpectedly arrested by the local police, accused along with Alfredo of kidnapping a girl called Claudia Estefanía, the daughter of her husband’s uncle. During Rosa’s detention, police officers tortured her in an effort to make her confess to being involved in the kidnapping. She was blindfolded and tied up, threatened with rape, asphyxiated with a plastic bag and beaten repeatedly in her stomach until she agreed to make a statement incriminating herself in the kidnapping of Claudia.

​In the trial that followed, Rosa, who did not speak Spanish, was not given the services of a translator who could explain the process in her native language. She also could not afford the services of a competent lawyer. As a result, her confession meant she was found guilty and sentenced to 27 years, 6 months and 17 days in prison.

​A few months later, her sixth child was born. The baby had various health problems, including cerebral palsy and a broken spinal column, probably as a result of the violence Rosa suffered during her arrest. As Rosa was still in prison, she gave her son, Nataneal, to her mother to care for along with her five other children. Sadly, he died in 2011.

​Rosa is still in prison. Due to the numerous irregularities presented in her arrest and the flagrant violation of her human rights during her trial, activists in Chiapas and Spain have organised a campaign to call for her release. Journalist and human-rights campaigner, Patricia Chandomí, has published an open letter to Manuel Velasco Coello, State Governor of Chiapas, on her blog Mujeres en Chiapas (Women in Chiapas). The letter calls the governor’s attention to the fact that the police who captured Rosa did not have an arrest warrant and highlights the violence to which she was subjected at hands of the authorities. It also points out that in the case of grave human rights violations during a criminal process, Chiapas’s Criminal Code allows for the governor to order the immediate release (on a suspended sentence) of any convicted prisoner.

​You can add your name (and location) to this letter in the comments section. I have already done so. I urge you to do the same.

Update 19:48 : You can also sign the petition at Avaaz.org

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Violence Against Women, , , ,

Remembering Karla: Why I support 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

Karla Pontigo Lucciotto was 22 when she died. According to her mother’s testimony, she was studying for two professional qualifications: one in computer skills and one in nutrition. She also held down two jobs to help support herself: on weekdays she worked as an assistant in a spa, and at weekends as a hostess in a night-club. Her mother was unhappy about the second job, but thought Karla was hard-working enough to cope with both her employments and her studies [1].

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Karla probably was. What she couldn’t cope with was the harassment to which she was subjected by the owner of the night-club, Jorge Vasilakos. Among other things, she complained to her mother that Vasilakos refused to pay her at weekends, but insisted on visiting her at the spa on the pretext of paying her there. He would also book a massage at the same time, demanding that Karla be the one to administer it [2].

On the night of 28 October 2012, Karla’s brother came to pick her up as usual from the night-club. When she didn’t come out, he became worried and tried to call her on her mobile phone. There was no answer. He tried to go into the club to look for her. The bouncers wouldn’t let him in at first. When they finally did, they warned him that Karla had suffered “an accident”. Her brother found her lying in an office in a pool of blood.

When Karla was finally taken to hospital, doctors discovered that she had suffered severe trauma to the groin area, as well as bruising on her body and face. Surgeons tried to save her by amputating her leg, but it turned out that she had suffered such terrible internal injuries that this action was not enough [3].

According to the night-club, Karla had been injured after falling on a glass door. Police and investigators passively accepted this and failed to carry out routine forensic examinations of her clothes. They argued that the autopsy showed no sign of sexual assault, but didn’t explain how an “accident” could have caused such terrible internal and external injuries. When her family and friends began to make their inconformity with this verdict known via social networks and protests, the local authorities in San Luis Potosí claimed that Karla’s body had shown evidence of high alcohol and drug consumption (something her family considers unlikely) [4]] Meanwhile, the owner of the night-club –who Karla’s family and friends accused of murdering her– was left at liberty, first to contest via the courts the legality of the investigation into his club’s safety record [5] and then to leave San Luis entirely [6]

Karla’s case illustrates how violence against women is tolerated and permitted by Mexico’s police and judicial authorities. The police were not prepared to investigate the case until pressure from her family and friends obliged them to. When criticised, they tried to blame the victim for her injuries by issuing statements about her alcohol and drug consumption. Now fresh investigations have concluded that Karla’s death could not have been an accident [7], they have yet to submit the clothes she was wearing on the night of her death to forensic examinations of the night-club and have allowed the chief suspect to leave their jurisdiction.

I have repeatedly written about this problem [8]. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of stories like Karla’s. Another famous case was that of Rubí Marisol Frayre Escobedo who was murdered by her partner in Ciudad Juárez in 2008. Rubí’s mother –Marisela Escobedo Ortiz- campaigned ceaselessly for her daughter’s murderer to be captured and charged. Her reward? She was herself murdered in December 2010 while protesting Rubí’s case on the steps of Chihuahua State’s Government Offices. No one has been charged with this crime [9].

Karla, Rubí and Marisela are doubly victims of violence: first at the hands of their aggressors and then, a second time, at the hands of the police and judicial authorities. Their suffering should not go unrecorded or unremembered. Silence makes us complicit and can only breed impunity. This is why I support UN Women’s campaign for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence [10].

This article is written to support My Elegant Gathering of White Snow’s blog hop as part of the 16 Days of Activism campaign

An edited version of this article was published on e-feminist on 27 November 2012.

Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Violence Against Women, , , ,

Three Years in Prison Without Trial

Virginia, a young indigenous women from Guerrero, suffered a miscarriage in 2009. Since then she has been in prison in Huamuxtitlan, Guanajuato, charged with murder. There has never been an autopsy to determine the cause of fetal death. All judicial proceedings against Virginia have been carried in out in Spanish and she was not offered a translator who could explain proceeding in her native Nahuatl. Neither did she have access to a defense lawyer who could speak her language.

In January this year, thanks to the work of the NGO Las Libres and the volunteer law students from the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica (CIDE) in Mexico City, a federal judge ruled that her human rights had not been respected. In the light of the fact that there was no evidence to support the charge against her, the judge also ordered that she should be released. However, this has not happened. Instead, the local judge re-issued a warrant for her arrest on the same charges.

Verónica Cruz, director of Las Libres, told news agencies that this new warrant was a “reprisal” against Virginia for exposing the abuses committed by the judicial authorities in Huamuxtitlan. She also observed that her plight was the result of the “triple discrimination” Virginia has been subjected to in the judicial process as a poor, indigenous woman.

As I reported last week, this “triple discrimination” is sadly the norm for the Mexican justice system. However, in the case of Virginia, there is also a further difficulty. Guanajuato is one of the most conservative states in Mexico. It was one of the first states to reform its constitution in 2010 in to declare that the right to life began at conception. As I reported recently, its governor has openly opposed federal directives which oblige health service providers to grant abortions to women who have suffered sexual assault.

Guanajuato has a long track record of imprisoning women for miscarriages and still-births. As is the case with Virginia, the strategy of the judicial authorities is to charge them with murder –which can be punished with sentences as long as 25 years– rather than for procuring an abortion, which has a five-year tariff. Two years ago, Las Libres and students from the CIDE law school successfully championed the cases of six women who had been in prison for as long as eight years. Like Virginia they were convicted of murder after losing their pregnancies. None of the women jailed had actually procured an abortion; rather each one had suffered a miscarriage, which due to family circumstances, poverty and/or ignorance they had tried to conceal. Once they had been forced to seek medical attention, one of the people who attended them (doctor/social worker) had then made the accusation with the relevant authorities. All of the women were from the poorest areas of the state and lived in conditions of poverty and social marginalization. They were unable to neither defend themselves personally against such charges nor pay someone competent to do it for them.

Cruz is certain that Virginia can be absolved if only the judicial process could be concluded. The fact that she is merely charged and not formally sentenced means that there is a limit to what her defense lawyers are able to do. It is evident that the local authorities in Huamuxtitlan know this and are purposely dragging their feet to stall the case being sentenced. As a result, Virigina has now been in prison for three years.

As I wrote last week, life is extremely difficult inside prison for women such as Virginia who don’t speak Spanish and are far away from home and access to support networks. It is testament to the deep misogyny of Mexican society that its most vulnerable women are treated in this way.

An edited version of this article was published on e-feminist

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Maternal Health, Violence Against Women, Women's Right to Choose, , , , , ,

Mexico Before CEDAW: A Catalogue of Woes

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination and Violence Against Women (or CEDAW) was established in 1982 and is composed of 23 experts on women’s issues. The objective of the committee is to watch over the situation of women in those countries that signed the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Each country periodically presents a report to the committee which is then discussed by the committee. NGOs and human rights groups can also present a review of the situation to the committee. The committee then draws up recommendations based on this discussion.

This year the countries presenting reports to the CEDAW include the Bahamas, Bulgaria, Guayana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Mexico, New Zealand and Samoa. Mexico’s report was presented and discussed this week. Various national and international NGOs also submitted evaluations to CEDAW, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, World Organization Against Torture, Mexico’s Commission for Human Rights, Justice for Our Daughters and Centre for Women’s Rights in Chiapas.

The papers submitted by human rights organizations make for depressing reading. In general they highlight a series of issues which make life for women in Mexico –especially poor and/or indigenous women– extremely fraught with danger. In the coming weeks I shall look into the issues in more detail. However, this week I want to provide a general overview.

Killing of women: In November 2011 a joint report by Mexico’s government and UNIFEM concluded that at least 34, 000 women had been murdered in Mexico between 1985-2009. It also demonstrated that there had been a marked fall in the murder rate amongst men after 2007, but that the equivalent rate for women had stayed the same. Murder rates for both sexes have increased dramatically since then, partly as a result of the insecurity and violence created by the crackdown on drug gangs. In 2010 it is estimated that there were 2, 418 murders of women and 23, 285 murders of men.

Amnesty notes that murders of women however are frequently undocumented and that there is a routine failure to conduct autopsies. It also points to the fact that the manner in which murders of women are documented make it impossible to determine the rate with which women murderers are arrested and prosecuted.

Amnesty also highlights the brutality in which women are murdered and concludes that violence against them is very frequently of a misogynistic nature:

“Women are three times more likely than men to die by the cruelest means, such as hanging, strangulation, drowning, immersion and knives. Women are also three times more likely to be murdered by poisoning or burns with chemicals or fire.”

Abuse of migrant women: Tens of thousands of irregular migrants from Central America cross Mexico each year on their way to the US. They are regularly targeted by criminal gangs for kidnapping, extortion, trafficking and murder often with the full complicity of the police. In 2011, the Mexican National Commission for Human Rights found that some 11, 000 migrants had been kidnapped. Amnesty estimated that at least six of every ten migrant women are sexually assaulted during their passage through Mexico.

Imprisonment of women: Approximately 5% of Mexico’s prison population is female. However only 13 out of 455 prisons, 2.8%, are exclusively female, the rest are mixed. In a study of 92 mixed prisons it was found that in 22 women’s dormitories were inside male facilities and the inmates used shared facilities.

Women form a disproportionate number of remand prisoners. The great majority of them are between 18 and 37, usually mothers and often single parents. More than 85% are first time offenders and 65% are accused of crimes related to drugs, usually relating to the possession of small amounts of prohibited sustances.

Women are often badly treated and tortured during their arrest and imprisonment. The World Organization Against Torture highlights the case of a group of 47 women arrested for protesting in town of San Salvador Atenco in Mexico State in 2006. 26 later made formal complaints after they were raped and sexually assaulted by the police who transported them to prison. The report highlights the Mexican “state’s lack of will” to prosecute those involved.

Sexual and Reproductive Rights: Human Rights Watch and Amnesty point to the difficulty women have to obtain contraception and legal abortion. They emphasize how constitutional reforms passed in numerous Mexican states which guarantee life from conception have had the “chilling effect” of reinforcing barriers to legal abortion. Moreover, they highlight the wide-spread practice of arresting women after miscarriage and still birth on charges of foeticide or infanticide.

Maternal Mortality Amongst Indigenous Women: The risk of maternal death amongst indigenous women is considerably higher than amongst no-indigenous women. This is the result of inadequate or inaccessible health care facilities, discriminatory practices towards indigenous women by health care professionals and a lack of translators.

As might be expected, the Mexican government’s statement to CEDAW tried to paint a rather different picture of life for women in Mexico. It highlighted the advances in education amongst girls, for example raising primary school attendance from 94% to 96% and secondary school attendance from 75% to 86%. It also made much of recent constitutional reforms by which Mexico adopted the UN’s declaration of human rights. It also talked of government reforms to widen health-care provision; it mentioned family planning policies in passing but did not address the issue of abortion. Finally, it recognized the “violence against women is one of the biggest challenges faced by the actual administration”. However, it asked the Committee to take into account the context of violence in which Mexico currently lives in assessing this situation.

An edited version of this article is available on e-feminist.

Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas, Maternal Health, Violence Against Women, Women's Right to Choose, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Indigenous Rights Activist Receives New Death Threats

I have written before of how dangerous it is to be a woman in Mexico. It is estimated that 34, 000 women were murdered between 1985 and 2009. On Wednesday, Amnesty International (AI) presented a report to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in which the Mexican government was criticised for failing to adequately address the situation. The report’s author, Rupert Knox, said:

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In the last few years, Mexico has enacted a number of laws and created institutions designed to protect women from violence. However, a large part of the problem lies in the weakness of its institutions and the non-application of these laws.” As a result, he urged the Mexican government that it show “a stronger commitment” to protecting women’s rights.

The report also stated that during 2009, there were nearly 15, 000 reports of rape in Mexico; although, given the reticence of women to report this crime, AI estimates that the true figure could be as high as 74, 000.

According to AI, women activists are particularly vulnerable to attack, especially if they work against gender violence or human rights abuses. Sadly, they often fail to receive adequate protection from the state.

Examples of this are numerous. Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, who campaigned tirelessly for the prosecution of her daughter’s murderer was killed on the steps of the State Government Place in Chihuahua City, Chihuahua in December 2010. Norma Esther Andrade founder of the Organization Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (Our Daughters Returned Home), has received death threats since 2002. In 2008 the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights ordered the Mexican government to protect her and three other female members of her organization. Even so, Andrade was shot on 2 December 2011 outside her home in Juárez City, Chihuahua. She was forcibly discharged from hospital a few days later, despite still requiring continual medical attention, due to the fact those treating her in the hospital had also received numerous threads. She moved to Mexico City, but could not escape her persecutors. In February this year she was attacked with a knife in her home. Thankfully her injuries were not serious, but she has had to leave Mexico for her own protection.

Margarita Guadalupe Martínez Martínez, an activist for indigenous rights from Comitán, Chiapas, has been under threat since 2009. In this year Margarita complained about an illegal search that had been carried out on her house by elements of the local police. From this point on, she has received numerous death threats via telephone and letter; presumably originating from members of the police. On 30 June, as she was preparing to leave to attend a CEDAW conference in New York as part of a contingent of Mexican human rights activists, she received a written threat pasted to her door in which the authors styling themselves “The Power” stated:

“In this matter you have two options. First, you leave the country. Second, you publish this letter and you are a dead woman.” It warned her that, were she to take the second option, “neither the State Prosecutor’s Office, nor the police, nor the national and international human rights organisations will be able to help you.”

Situations like this make it quite clear that campaigning for human rights is a high risk occupation. The women who do it risk their lives on a daily basis. Furthermore, it is also clear that the Mexican authorities are incapable of protecting them and, in some cases, actually engaging in threatening behaviour themselves. How many more women (and men) need to die until Mexico’s politicians realise that they cannot fix the situation merely by passing more and more legislation? Written legislation can never work until the ability to break laws with impunity comes to an end.

There is a petition currently circulating to ask the Mexican government to provide adequate protection for Margarita. You can sign here.

An edited version of this appears on e-feminist.

Filed under: Human Rights in Mexico, Violence Against Women, , , , ,

Mexico Continues to Illegally Deny Sexual Assault Victims Access to Abortions

In comparison to some Latin American countries (like for example, Nicaragua), Mexico does not prohibit abortions in all circumstances. Legislation on abortion is a matter for each state to decide and all allow for the interruption of pregnancy in the case of sexual assault or if the mother’s life is in danger. Only the national capital, Mexico City permits elective abortion until 12 weeks of pregnancy.

20120714-123013.jpg Unfortunately, having a right to abortion enshrined in law does not guarantee that local health authorities will provide them if requested. Paulina Ramírez Jacinta was 14 when she was raped in the State of Baja California in 1999. Her parents reported the crime and obtained legal permission for their daughter to have an abortion. However, they could not find a doctor or hospital ready to perform the procedure. They made a complaint to the International Court of Human Rights and as a result of the court’s ruling, the Mexican Health Service was obliged to issue a directive (NOM 046) which obliges health workers to provide an abortion to those who are legally entitled to one.

Despite this, it is still extremely difficult for a sexual assault victim to be given a abortion. This year, the NGO Human Rights Watch has prepared a report for the Committee for the Eradication of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) in which it describes how women and girls in this situation face “excessively complicated procedures, illegal hold-ups, lack of information or misinformation and even intimidation from health care professionals”. HRW also notes that rape victims are very rarely informed of their right to an abortion when they report the crime. As a result, it is not uncommon for even the youngest and at-risk victims to be forced to continue with a pregnancy after an assault. In 2010, an 11 year-old indigenous (Mayan) girl became the Republic’s youngest reported mother in the state of Quintana Roo (in South-Eastern Mexico), after being denied abortion despite the fact she had been raped.

HRW also mentions how recent constitutional reforms in Mexico have made the access to abortion even more difficult. The reforms in question are a reaction to the legalization of elective abortion in Mexico City. This was introduced in 2007 and has proved very controversial. Shortly after it became law, the President’s Office, the PGR and most depressingly of all, the National Commission for Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos), initiated proceedings in the Supreme Court of Justice (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, or SCJN) with the hope of having it declared unconstitutional on the grounds that (amongst other things) it was a violation of the unborn foetus’s life. In 2010, the SCJN presented its verdict, rejecting all the petitions. It affirmed that life was not defined as starting at conception in the Federal Constitution and upheld the constitutional right of the DF government to legislate on such matters as abortion.

In the light of this, conservative groups in the rest of Mexico’s states have pushed for the reform of their individual constitutions to ensure that the articles which refer to the inhabitants right to life and/or the duty of the state to ensure that this right is protected, explicitly define life as beginning at conception.. So far, 18 of Mexico’s federal entities (comprising of 31 states and DF) have passed this legislation.

It would appear that these reforms have two principal objectives. One is to prevent the legalization of elective abortion outside Mexico City. The second appears to be an attempt to circumvent the directive NOM 046 which obliges regional health services to provide abortion to victims of sexual violence. No one has been clearer on this subject than the governor of Jalisco, a traditionally conservative state. In 2009 Emilio González Márquez declared that the directive promoted abortion and affirmed that the national Secretary of Health “could not legislate over the wishes of the Jalisco’s constitution nor oblige it to practice abortions, even in the case of rape.”

This article was first published

Filed under: Feminism, Human Rights in Mexico, Women's Right to Choose, , , , ,

Why Josefina isn’t Different

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Next week Mexico goes to the polls to choose its next president. Both in and outside Mexico, one of the most reported aspects of the race has been the fact that one of the main stream parties -the Partido Acción Nacional or PAN- fielded a women as their candidate. As Yali Noriega noted in a recent article here, much of the media discussion concerned the questioning of a woman’s ability to fulfil adequately the role of president, and took little account of Vázquez Mota’s previous career [1].

Happily as the campaign progressed this type of argument was abandoned. It was widely thought that Vázquez Mota performed well in the television presidential debates and the discussion of her candidacy has been mostly in terms of her political proposals [2].

It is shame, therefore, that the election campaign followed by Vázquez Mota, in contrast, has been almost exclusively based around the fact the she is a women. Her slogans are simple and to the point: “Josefina, different” and “Josefina, a woman speaks”. During her campaign she has made a point of seeking out the female vote; her argument is always the same, I am a woman too, I share your experiences and thus know what you need. In the recent television debate she asked pointedly asked her female audience, who -of the four candidates currently running- would they put in charge of their family and to choose their vote accordingly. She was sure, she said, they would choose her as she was the only one with experience in that area.

However, for Vázquez Mota this use of “identity politics” is merely superficial effort to disguise the fact that she is, in fact, no different to the other male PAN presidential candidates that proceeded her. She is not a feminist, nor does she want to identify as such. “There is more to being a woman than being a feminist,” she said in a recent interview with the BBC. She reassures voters on her ability to govern by saying that she might be a woman but she has male attributes. To quote her: “a woman who wears the trousers.”

Moreover, her policies and pronouncements demonstrate that for her, women are a homogenous mass, whose needs and votes are can be defined by a single theme: motherhood. In the aforementioned television debate, Vázquez Mota, outlined her policies for women thus: “I will support them by introducing more nursery school places, more full-time school places and by introducing a law calling for responsible paternity.”

At the same time, she refused to give her support for elective abortion; declaring herself only for the decriminalisation for those found to have interrupted their pregnancy. The PAN is a conservative Catholic party that opposes abortion in most, if not all cases. It has been instrumental in introducing legislation that declares human life to begin at conception in a number of Mexican states. Thus, this kind of comment was disingenuous in the extreme since she must be aware of that fact that these recent reforms make simple decriminalisation impossible.

Thus Josefina Vázquez Mota trades on the fact she is a woman, yet cannot conceive of women as anything other than mothers. She says she represents the best option for Mexican voters because of her sex, yet argues she acts like a man. It is little wonder then that her campaign has been spectacularly unsuccessful. She is currently in third place according to the most recent opinion polls. Mexican women seem perfectly capable of seeing though her slogans. Mexico would benefit from a female president, but only one who has a better understanding of the complexities of women’s experiences and their needs. Otherwise it’s just more of the same.

[1] See Yali Noriega’s recent article, “Is Josefina right for Mexico?” at http://e-feminist.com .
[2] A good biography (in Spanish) of Vázquez Mota’s career can be found in the following link; although, as usual there is a definite emphasis on her private life and various moments of physical illness and weakness she has suffered during her career: http://www.nexos.com.mx/?P=leerarticulo&Article=2102725

This article first appeared at http://e-feminist.com

Filed under: Feminism, Politics, , , ,

Are Racism, Poverty and Prejudice the Underlying Causes of Maternal Mortality in Mexico?

Mexico has a poor record in tackling the problem of high levels of maternal mortality. Research and associated statistics demonstrate the underlying problems of this issue are racism, poverty and a widespread prejudice against abortion. It seems clear that the government will be unable to successfully reduce the rates of maternal mortality unless these questions are addressed.


This post has been published as part of blogger Salt and Caramel’s blog hop about the importance of access to maternal health services and contraception. Join here: http://saltandcaramel.com/people-not-numbers/

(You can see her Twitter profile here)

Maternal Mortality Rates in Mexico

International research shows that the overwhelming majority of maternal deaths can have been avoided through prompt medical attention. For this reason, maternal mortality rates are considered to be a indicator of access to health services and their quality. Basic measures requires to reduce maternal mortality include: access to contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy; easy access to emergency obstetric care in case of complications; as well as qualified and respectful care from health care providers.

When Mexico signed up forthe UN’s Millennium Development Goals in 2007, the government promised to work to towards achieving a maternal mortality rate (MMR) of 22.3 deaths for every 100, 000 births. However, it is far from reaching this target, the MMR was 57.2 in 2008, 62.2 in 2009 and 51.5 in 2010 [1]. Maternal morality is the fourth most likely cause of death amongst women in Mexico, only more die in traffic accidents (10%), suicide (8.5%) and murder (7%) [2].

According to IPAS, the MMR rate in Mexico is determined by the following factors:

  1. Ethnicity: indigenous women are at higher risk than any other group (see below).
  2. Level of Education: the less education a women has received the more at risk she from dying of a complication relating to pregnancy.
  3. Access to health services: around one in three women who die during pregnancy have no access to state health services. A further 39.2% only have access to basic state services (called Seguro Popular, or People’s Insurance).
  4. Age: women at both ends of their reproductive lives are more at risk of maternal mortality [3].

Maternal Mortality Amongst Indigenous Women in Mexico

According to the Observatorio de Mortalidad Maternal (Maternal Mortality Watchdog), 14% of Mexican women who died in 2010 as a result of their pregnancy were indigenous women. This global figure is small because that the indigenous population is not evenly distributed throughout the Mexican Republic. States with large indigenous populations like Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca have the highest mortality rates in Mexico; they are home to around 20% of all maternal deaths in Mexico. In Guerrero and Oaxaca around half the maternal deaths occur amongst indigenous women [4].

Indigenous women are most likely to be unable to access full public health services during their pregnancy. In fact, around 20% of indigenous women who died from complications related to pregnancy had no access at all to public health services. It is estimated, furthermore, that indigenous women are the group most unlikely to receive contraceptive education or products. They are also more likely to begin sexual activity at a young age (national average is 18 years old, amongst indigenous women it is 16) and typically become pregnant within in a year of having sexual relations. Indigenous women also have on average more children than other Mexican women (3.23 as opposed to the national average of 2.1) [5]. Finally, they also have more difficulty acquiring reliable contraception. In Guerrero it has been estimated that there is a unmet contraceptive need of up to 25.8%, for example [6].

Teenage pregnancy in Mexico

In Mexico, 83% of all cases of hospitalisation amongst young women between 10 and 19 years old are related to pregnancy. In the case of girls between 10 and 14 years of age, one out of every three cases are a result of pregnancy. By the age of twenty, around half the female population has at least one child [7].

Teenage pregnancy is a particular feature of Mexico’s northern states (San Luis Potosi, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas and Chihuahua especially). IPAS calculates that between 20 and 30% of maternal deaths occur amongst teenagers in these states. One of the reasons for the large numbers of teenage pregnancies in Mexico is due the low use of contraception amongst this age group (40% as opposed to a national average of 70.9%). This is, in itself due to poor sexual education and an inadequate distribution of contraception [8].

Unsafe
Abortion As A Risk Factor

The NGO Maternidad sin riesgo (Risk Free Maternity) estimates that there are approximately 4, 200, 000 pregnancies in Mexico each year, of which only 60% are carried to term. The rest end in abortion, miscarriages or still birth [9]. The Guttmacher Institute reckons that 19% of Mexican women will end a pregnancy at least once during her reproductive life [10]. Abortion is severely restricted in most parts of Mexico, except in certain circumstances such as rape and even then can be difficult to obtain). Only the capital, Mexico City, permits elective abortion up to 12 weeks. As a result, the vast majority of abortions in Mexico are carried out in unsafe conditions by unqualified people.

Officially, complications due to abortion in Mexico make up between 6 and 7% of all maternal mortality deaths. However, the World Health Organisation calculates that maternal mortality related to abortion accounts for 13% of worldwide deaths and 24% in Latin America. Recent research published in Mexico suggests that deaths related to abortion are generally not reported as such, but rather classified as haemorrhages or infections [11]. This can be explained by the fact that abortion is not generally accepted in Mexico and women who are accused of procuring an abortion can face murder charges and life imprisonment. It would seem likely that health care providers often prefer to turn a blind eye to abortion related deaths in many cases.

Public Health Policies

The Mexican government has undertaken a number of policies in its attempt to reduce maternal mortality in Mexico. For example, it has instigated a programme which aims to provide free healthcare in pregnancy to all women, even those without public health insurance. It has attempted to increase the number of healthcare professionals available and even taken up schemes to train lay midwives.

However, the problem remains grave. The NGO IPAS, for example, considers that the issue is not the lack of public policy, but rather their inadequate realisation by state health authorities. It also complains that money destined for maternal health programmes is not always properly distributed and that investment from the government is falling [12]. Those groups which work with indigenous women insist that healthcare professionals should be trained to offer respectful and dignified care; most importantly, explications, diagnosis and treatment should be offered in indigenous languages. Cultural sensitivities should also be respected during examinations [13].

In conclusion, therefore, it would seem evident that Mexico’s high maternal mortality rate is a result of inadequate care offered to the most vulnerable sectors of society: the poor, who don’t have health insurance; the young, whose access to contraception and sexual education is limited and, above all indigenous women, who usually feature in the first two categories also, and who are unable to access health services in a language they can understand.

Fuentes

[1] Presentation given by IPAS Mexico on 9 May 2012 in a press conference organized by Coalición para la Salud de las Mujeres (Coalition for Women’s Health). Full test is available here: http://www.fundar.org.mx/mexico/pdf/mmrsipas.pdf

[2] “En 18 años, murieron más de 3 mil niñas por causas maternas”, article at CIMAC Noticias, 14 April 2011, http://www.cimacnoticias.com.mx/site/11041406-En-18-anos-muriero.46785.0.html

[3] http://www.fundar.org.mx/mexico/pdf/mmrsipas.pdf

[4] http://www.omm.org.mx/index.php/indicadores.html

[5] Powerpoint presentation given by Lina Rosa Berrío Palomo of the NGO, Kinal Antzetik, Mexico, DF. Available here: http://fundar.org.mx/clases/destacado/post-1

[6] Octavio Mojarro Dávila y Doroteo Mendoza Victoriano, “Tendencias y cambios en las políticas contraceptivas en México y el mundo. ¿Qué hemos logrado y adónde se pretende llegar?” in Salud pública de México, no. 49 (edición especial), pp. 238-240. Available here: http://redalyc.uaemex.mx/pdf/106/10649089.pdf

[7] http://www.fundar.org.mx/mexico/pdf/mmrsipas.pdf

[8] http://redalyc.uaemex.mx/pdf/106/10649089.pdf

[9] R. Lozano, B. Hernández, y A. Langer, “Factores sociales y económicos de la mortalidad materna en México,” en: A. Langer (ed.)Maternidad sin Riesgos en México, México,Comité Promotor de la Iniciativa por una Maternidad sin Riesgos en México/Instituto Mexicano de Estudios Sociales, 1994. pp. 43-52.

[10] “Population Council. Datos sobre el aborto inducido en México,” Mexico, Alan Guttmacher Institute/Colegio de México, 2006. Available here: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/2008/10/01/FIB_IA_Mexico_

[11] Sonia B. Fernández Cantón, Gonzalo Gutiérrez Trujillo, y Ricardo Viguri Uribe, “La mortalidad materna y el aborto en México,” in Boletín de Medicina del Hospital Infantil Mexicano, vol. 69, no. 1, 2012, pp. 77-80. Available here: http://www.medigraphic.com/pdfs/bmhim/hi-2012/hi121k.pdf

[12] http://www.fundar.org.mx/mexico/pdf/mmrsipas.pdf

[13] Powerpoint presentation given by Lina Rosa Berrío Palomo of the NGO, Kinal Antzetik, Mexico, DF. Available here: http://fundar.org.mx/clases/destacado/post-1

Filed under: Feminism, Violence Against Women, Women's Right to Choose, , ,

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