Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

INDEPENDENCE FOR WOMEN’S BODIES: 27 SEPTEMBER 2010

28 September is the international day set aside by activists to demand the decriminalizing of abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean. To mark this occasion, the Red de los derechos sexuales y reproductivos en México (Sexual and Reproductive Rights Network in Mexico) is organising a symbolic rally in Mexico City, the republic’s capital to call for the legalisation of abortion here. The rally will take place on Monday 27 September –a historically important date here, as Mexico’s Declaration of Independence was signed on this day in 1821- at the memorial to former president Benito Juárez, liberal architect of Mexico’s secular constitution. The focus of the rally is the presentation of the Declaration of Independence for Women’s Bodies, which participants will be invited to sign [1].

Readers of this blog will be aware that women’s sexual health and reproductive rights are a polemic issue here in Mexico, pitting traditional, conservative Catholic values against those who defend women’s right to control her own fertility. But the question is not quite that clear cut: in general, women’s sexual health is also a class and a race issue. The poorest and more marginalised women in rural areas –and most especially indigenous women- are those who most suffer as a result of a lack of access to contraception, sexual and reproductive education and health care during pregnancy.

A couple of recent news stories will suffice to illustrate my point. Last month, in the state of Quintana Roo (in South-Eastern Mexico), an 11 year-old indigenous (Mayan) girl became the Republic’s youngest reported mother. Needless to say, she had been raped. The state of Quintana Roo does permit therapeutic abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, but the girl out of ignorance or shame did not reveal what had happened until she was more than 4 months pregnant [2]. According to a different report, 96 women have died during labour in South-Western state of Guerrero, one of the most marginalised in Mexico (pop. 3.2 million). Shockingly, these women did not die from unavoidable complications, but rather neglect. As the report says, their deaths resulted from the lack of routine medical attention: their local hospital was simply not open; or, their doctor did not provide adequate care and they suffered fatal haemorrhages [3].

In the specific case of abortion, the draconian laws in place and predominance of Catholic opinion on the subject, means that the majority of those who do abort –legally or illegally- do not receive adequate medical attention. According to one activist, hundreds of women die in Mexico every year from botched amateur abortion; moreover, only one in six women who aborted received any kind of medical treatment [4]. Finally, as the case of the women imprisoned in Guanajuato that I have documented here shows, women from lower social classes are those whom the state will prefer to prosecute in the event that they take matters into their own hands or are unfortunate enough to miscarry in circumstances that give rise to the suspicion of them having induced their labour.

I perhaps do not need to add that the sisters and daughters of the politicians who decide state policies do not face these kinds of problems. Despite the Church’s condemnation of contraception they will take measures to control their fertility and, in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, will go abroad or to private institutions in Mexico City to “take care of the situation” discretely. Thus, at the heart of the anti-abortion policy there is a terrible hypocrisy that condemns women three times over: it denies them access to sex education and contraception; it denies them the right to terminate their pregnancies; and, once they are pregnant, it will permit their death in childbirth without so much as a blink of an eye.

Enough is enough. Respect women’s human rights. Let’s put an end to the hypocrisy and save  lives!

[1] http://www.ddeser.info/28sep2010/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=101

[2] http://www.awid.org/Issues-and-Analysis/Library/Mexico-Many-States-Crack-Down-on-Abortion

[3] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10092406-En-lo-que-va-del-an.44365.0.html

[4] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10092405-Cada-ano-el-aborto.44364.0.html

Filed under: Women's Right to Choose, , ,

PUT AN END TO THE WINDOW DRESSING. MEXICAN WOMEN DESERVE MORE THAN FINE WORDS AND EMPTY PROMISES

My motive for starting this blog was to talk about women’s rights and other feminist issues in Mexico. I choose to write in English partly because this is my native language, but mostly because I think that creating interest in Mexican matters outside of Mexico is important. Moreover, there are innumerable Mexican feminists better qualified and better informed than I who do much the same through the medium of Spanish [1]. One of the constant questions that concern defenders of women’s rights here is that of violence against women. Mexico has an unenviable record in that respect, both in terms of the violence perpetrated and the shockingly low prosecution and conviction rates for this type of offence. Perhaps the most famous example is that of the “feminicidios” (word which feminists use to describe women murdered simply for being female: a gender hate crime) that plague the towns on the border with the US, principally Ciudad Juárez in the state of Chihuahua. These are the murders and/or disappearances of mainly working-class young women, employed for the most part in the maquilladoras (factories) that operate on the border. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is not confined to Juárez, or even to the territories that border the United States. As recent studies have shown, between 1999 and 2005, 6, 000 women and girls have been murdered in the states of México, Veracruz, Chiapas, Guerrero, the Federal District, Chihuahua, Oaxaca, Sonora, Baja California and Morelos. This works out at three women
murdered every day in the Republic as a whole [2]. In the state of Mexico (in the centre of the Republic) the figure is one woman murdered every day [3].

On paper it would seem that all levels of government are taking the problem of violence against women seriously. As I mentioned in an earlier post: the current president, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, a member of the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party
–- or PAN, the most conservative in Mexico) has officially budgeted nearly 26 billion pesos too fund projects for vulnerable women. As part of this policy, in 2008 he announced the creation of various new programmes, including the Fondo Nacional para la Alerta de Violencia de Genero (National Foundation for Awareness of Violence against Women). Similarly in 2008 and 2009, 16.6 billion pesos were destined to the Fiscalía Especial para los Delitos de Violencia contra las Mujeres y Trata de Personas (Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Women and People Trafficking or Fevimtra) which forms part of the Procuraduría General de La República (Federal Prosecutor’s Office or PGR). In my home state of Tamaulipas the current governor championed the adoption of the Ley para equidad de género (law in favour of equality between sexes) in 2005 which brought the Instituto de la Mujer Tamaulipeca (Tamaulipas Women’s Institute) into being with the aim of ending discrimination against women and promoting their rights [4]. This same measure has also been adopted in the majority of Mexico’s states.

All this is extremely commendable; yet, as I said a couple of weeks ago, the strength of these institutions is questionable. At federal level, none of the schemes inaugurated in 2008 have made the leap from promise to reality. Instead, the money budgeted for them has been spent on the federal child-poverty reduction programme Oportunidades (Opportunities). At state level, this story is repeated many times over. In the state of Jalisco, for example, the state programme in place to help victims of domestic violence somehow managed not to spend 4 million pesos of the money it was budgeted in 2009. As a result, in 2010, its budget was cut by 88.9% [5]. Equally worrying is the fact that the prosecution of this type of crime is erratic. In the state of Mexico, which as we saw has a female murder rate of one woman a day, only 35% of murders were convicted between 2000 and 2005; in 20% of cases an arrest warrant has been issued, but no one has been arrested; and, in the other 45% of cases the investigation is still ongoing [6].

Furthermore, the effectiveness of these Women’s Institutes in defending women’s rights depends very much on the quality of the people charged to run them, not to mention the political climate in which they operate. In Guanajuato, for example –the state, which as you will remember has chosen to prosecute women who have aborted or miscarried for the crime of murder-, the director of the Women’s Institute, Luz María Ramírez Villapando, has publicly pronounced herself an opponent of abortion, even in the cases of rape or when the mother’s life is at risk [7]. In a recent talk before a town council meeting in Guanajuato she divulged her opinion that the increase in violence against women in her state is down to the loss of “values” amongst the population [8]. By that she means Catholic values, by the way, which as we saw last week, tends to blame women entirely for all social ills currently facing Mexico. It should come as no surprise for you to learn that Ramírez Villalpando exemplified her discourse on this loss of values with a photograph of a young girl with tattoos on her neck and arms [9]. As you can imagine, a Women’s Institute whose leader blames women for the violence they suffer and has no compassion for rape victims is unable to fulfil a more useful function in society than that of helping to uphold the patriarchy and its Catholic architects.

In Tamaulipas, the director of the Women’s Institute, Yoliria Joch González (whose sage pronouncements on domestic violence inspired the title of this blog) candidly recognizes that neither she nor her staff have the capacity to help women who suffer domestic violence. She insists that the Institute is merely an administrative body whose role is to offers workshops and courses to women. Neither does she appear to think that administratively she could look into the causes of domestic violence or even simply maintain a log of these crimes. When questioned in 2009 about the 30 feminicidos that had been reported in that year, she stated that her Institute does not collect information on the subject and merely finds out about them through the press. She went on to justify herself by adding that such crimes cannot be avoided “porque no sabemos cómo; generalmente todos los feminicidios no tienen denuncia” (“because we don’t know how to; generally, all feminicidos are not reported [to the judicial authorities]”) [10]. It is hard not to conclude that Joch González has little real interest in heading an institution designed to defend women and their rights; and, given the fact that Tamaulipas is governed in an extremely authoritarian manner, that the state government requires that Institute be merely window-dressing. Violence against women is something they need to appear to do something about, but not an issue worth promoting with any seriousness.

Finally, as regards to the question of domestic violence and feminicidos, the tendency in Tamaulipas (if not Mexico as a whole) appears to be that these are issues that merely concern women. Joch González affirms (quite rightly) that the state government has done much to legislate measures to ensure that these crimes are punished, but that the main problem at the moment is that either women do not denounce acts of violence perpetrated against them, or when they do the majority (6 out 10) later retract this complaint. She also (rightly) points out that this is mainly due to the fact that in Tamaulipas, especially in rural areas, domestic violence is considered normal. She hopes that once women learn about their rights this problem will end. In other words: it is a woman’s responsibility to end domestic violence. No mention is made of the role the man might play as the perpetrator of these crimes nor is the fact that, for popular culture to change its perspective on the issue it is also necessary for men to realise that such behaviour not normal [11].

For my part, I think that a change in cultural expectations cannot be expected until we realise that violence against women in all its forms is not simply a feminist issue, nor a question that merely concerns women, but rather is a subject that needs to be addressed as a society. Women cannot keep being made responsible for violence committed against them. Contrary to what the bishop of Querétaro may think, women are not the root of all evil and should not be treated as such. We must hold men responsible for the things they do and demand that they also recognise that ill-treatment of women and children is unacceptable. Only then perhaps will prosecution rates improve and “women’s issues” will be considered sufficiently important to be awarded greater status than that of mere window-dressing.

[1] An example being a site I have quoted frequently so far http://www.cimacnoticias.com; in Tamaulipas there is also a site run by local journalists, see http://www.mujerestam.com

[2] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10091302-CONTEXTO-Estado-inc.44116.0.html. A good study of the violence perpetrated against women in Mexico available on-line is Violencia contra la mujer en México, ed. Teresa Fernández de Juan, México, Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, 2004. See: http://www.mujereshoy.com/imagenes/3640_a_MEXICO_Violencia_Mujer%2019%20MARZO.pdf

[3] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10091301-REPORTAJE-Cuanto-ma.44114.0.html

[4] http://www.congresotamaulipas.gob.mx/legisla/leyes/leyes25.pdf; http://www.cimacnoticias.com/noticias/05mar/05030811.html.

[5] http://www.milenio.com/node/448653

[6] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10091301-REPORTAJE-Cuanto-ma.44114.0.html

[7] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2008/11/06/index.php?section=estados&article=042n1est

[8] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/695220.html. Inevitably there is a Facebook group campaigning for the resignation of Ramírez Villalpando; sign up at: http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=137013729653941&ref=ts

[9] You can see the photograph projected onto the wall behind the conference table in the following link http://sdpnoticias.com/sdp/contenido/nacional/2010/07/13/1010/1077459

[10] http://www.metronoticias.com.mx/id.pl?id=30381&relax=INSTITUTO%20DE%20LA%20MUJER&pub=Default

[11] “En una década mujer se defenderá de la violencia,” El Mercurio de Tamaulipas, 18 September 2010, p. 5ª. Perhaps inadvertently, but very revealingly, the caption accompanying a photograph included in this report “illustrating” domestic violence reads “la violencia sigue prevaleciendo por la falta de cultura en el seno materno” (“violence continues due to the lack of culture amongst women”). It says it all really.

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

“FEMINISM IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL.” THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN MEXICO

Let me start with the good news. On Tuesday, the six women in prison in Guanajuato for interrupting their pregnancies were freed [1]. They did not have their sentences quashed, however. Rather, as I commented last week, they were released thanks to a change in Guanajuato’s penal code which reduced the penalty imposed on them for the alleged crime of “homicidio por razón de parentesco” (murder by a relative). This measure was presented to the state Congress by the governor, José Manuel Ramírez Oliva, and passed by the deputies, with the expectation that the national (and international) spotlight would move away from their state once the women were freed. I sincerely hope that this will not be the case. The laws that criminalise abortion are still in force in Guanajuato as well as in all other Mexican states [2]. As has been proven in the case of three of the women from Guanajuato, these laws often result in witch-hunts organised against those unfortunate enough to suffer miscarriages and not to possess the means by which to defend themselves. In fact, the political commentator and long time critic of Mexico’s right-wing, Jaime Avilés, affirms today in his daily column in the left-wing newspaper, La Jornada, that the municipal authorities of San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato are currently hunting for a young women accused of “homicidio por razón de parentesco” or abortion [3].

It goes without saying that the criminalisation of abortion in Mexico is intimately related to the cultural hegemony that the Catholic Church has held over the population since this faith was first brought to these shores by the Spanish conquistadores nearly 500 years ago. Officially, Mexico has been a secular nation for just over 150 years, even so during the last 130 years or so the Church has rarely encountered any challenges to its cultural dominance. This is all changing at the moment: provoking what seems to be a general sense of panic amongst the ecclesiastical hierarchy. On the one hand is the general decline in the number of adherents in the face of fierce competition from evangelistic protestant groups and religions such as that practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons; this is also not helped by the pedophile scandals which have engulfed both the Mexican and the international Church in recent years. Both of these phenomena undermine the legitimacy of the Church and its pretension of being the moral guardian of the Mexican nation. On the other hand is the challenge from the gradual acceptation of the idea of universal human rights amongst the population, especially in those related to gender politics. This goes from the most documented and obvious: such as the widespread use of contraceptives amongst otherwise obedient parishioners; to the less popular introduction of laws in Mexico’s Federal District (D. F.) which sanction abortion during the first 12 weeks of gestation; as well as permitting marriages and adoption for same-sex couples [4]. All three measures have provoked horror and condemnation from the ecclesiastical hierarchy: even so their increasingly histrionic pronouncements suggest that they fear that their words are falling on deaf ears. Certainly the gay movement is vocally campaigning for a law in favor gay marriage to be adopted in other states, including Tamaulipas [5].

A clear example of the Catholic Church hierarchy’s hysterics can be found in the article that Mario Gasperín Gasperín, bishop of Querétaro, has published in the last couple of days on the homepage of his diocese [links 6 and 7], entitled, Crisis o país de zombis (Crisis or a Country of Zombies”). This text attempts to demonstrate that “el mal llamado feminismo” (“the evil known as feminism”) [8]  is the root of all Mexican society’s current ills: including -incredibly enough- organised crime (code words here in Mexico for the drug gangs and their violence). The crux of Gasperín’s argument is that today women are facing a crisis over what is means to be women (“ser mujer“) which, according to this text, has been brought about by the “separation of sexuality from that of reproduction” (“la separación de sexualidad de la reproducción“). Here it is clear that he is referring to the use of anti-contraception and the legalisation of abortion, although he makes no explicit mention of either at this point in the text. In all this, his misogyny shines brightly through: one his complaints, for example, is that this crisis facing women has had the knock on effect of provoking a similar one amongst men as well attacking the institution of marriage. Thus he blithely goes from blaming feminists for all Mexico’s problems to implying that, in fact, womankind in general is responsible. On this first point, his argument is simple: women define themselves in relation to men and vice versa; thus a crisis suffered by one is necessarily a crisis that is shared by the other. On the second, the crisis being suffered by the institution of marriage his arguments are non-existent. All he can think of to say is that the instability caused by the crisis of identity amongst men and women has caused them to search for other substitutes, leading them to perversion (he is, of course, referring here to same-sex relationships). In fact, his comment appears only to exist as an excuse for him to blame women in general, and feminism especially, for the legalisation of homosexual marriages in Mexico D.F. Finally, he manages to blame feminists for Mexico’s current climate of violence by describing it as the product of official sanction of “legalised crime” (ie abortion) and the terrible effects of political correctness which have brainwashed people into ignoring their consciences (“el hijo del crimen legalizado –impunedad- y de la consciencia callada“).

As you probably expect, I find this text highly risible and deeply hypocritical. Unlike the Catholic Church, the feminist movement can hardly be accused of having tried for decades to cover up abuse perpetrated against children by its own members; moreover, it is very difficult to see how Mexico’s current problem with violence can be placed at the door of feminism, which does not generally support the use of violence. In fact, in Mexico, feminist groups are at the forefront of denouncing violence suffered by people of both sexes at the hands o the gangs, the army and the police [9]. What is more, the bishop complains bitterly that the legalization of abortion and gay marriage have been brought about by the manipulation of the majority by an aggressive and intolerant minority; an affirmation which is not just ingenious to the extreme (since support for neither option can be described as being in the majority, even in DF, see link 4) but also demonstrates a complete lack of self-awareness, coming as it does at the end of a diatribe against women and the feminist movement. I can’t help but think that the most measured response to this text is to go no further than quote the Bible: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:5). Undoubtedly feminism has its faults, but I think that trying to argue that it is the root of all evil simply shows that the Mexican Church hierarchy is supremely confused about the origins of Mexico’s social problems.

[1] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10090712-Liberaran-hoy-a-7-m.44076.0.html I do not propose to name the women out of respect for their privacy.

[2] Even in the Federal District (Mexico D.F.) where abortion is permitted up to the twelfth week of gestation, women who abort in the later weeks of pregnancy are subject to prosecution and can be imprisoned for between three and six months. See art. 145 of the relevant law at http://www.gire.org.mx/publica2/DictamenFinal_Aborto_ALDF240407.pdf

[3] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2010/09/11/index.php?section=opinion&article=006o1pol.

[4] According to a survey carried out for the newspaper Milenio, 50% of D. F.’s residents support gay marriages, while 73% reject the idea of gay couple being allowed to adopt. See http://www.milenio.com/node/360517

[5] http://www.hoytamaulipas.net/notas/15384/Exigen-bodas-gay-en-Tamaulipas.html

[6] http://www.diocesisdequeretaro.org.mx/

[7] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2010/09/09/index.php?section=estados&article=034n2est&partner=rss

[8] It is also perfectly possible to translate this as “the badly named feminism”. Yet, I think that this is not the case, since at the end of his text he also refers to “el mal llamado crimen organizado“, for which the only translation is “the evil known as organised crime”).

[9] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/Violacion-ejercida-por-militar.738.0.html

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

WOMEN IMPRISONED FOR MISCARRYING IN MEXICO

Motherhood is a revered status here in Mexico. Mother’s Day (10 May) tends to be officially celebrated as an unofficial national holiday, regardless of what day of the week it falls. Schools generally organise pageants and plays for their students to perform for their mothers. Extravagant and elaborate presents are bought: often paid for in instalments for months in advance. Father’s Day, on the other hand, often passes uncommented upon. Those of us privileged to have employers who subscribe to the national social security system (Instituto Mexicano de Seguridad Social) have access to free nursery places for our children.

While I must admit that I am not adverse to free nursery places and fancy presents on Mother’s Day, for many other reasons the idealisation of motherhood in Mexican culture grates. It is a product of a highly conservative Catholic culture in which, while motherhood is revered, other women and women’s issues are routinely ignored; or, in the best case scenario, official lip-service is paid to the idea of promoting and protecting women’s right, but concrete political actions are few and far between. To give one example: the current president, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, a member of the National Action Party
(Partido Acción Nacional –- or PAN, the most conservative in Mexico) has officially budgeted nearly 26 billion pesos too fund projects for vulnerable women (see link 1). As part of this policy, in 2008 he announced the creation of various new programmes, including the National Foundation for Awareness of Violence against Women (Fondo Nacional para la Alerta de Violencia de Genero). We are now in 2010 and these programmes still only exist on paper. The money budgeted for them has instead been spent on the federal child-poverty reduction programme Opportunities (Oportunidades). Similarly in 2008 and 2009, 16.6 billion pesos were destined to the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Women and People Trafficking (Fiscalía Especial para los Delitps de Violencia contra las Mujeres y Trata de Personas or Fevimtra) which forms part of the Federal Prosecutor’s Office (Procuraduría General de La República or PGR). It appears that the Special Prosecutor only budgeted for half this amount, while the rest was transferred to other destinations within the PGR (see link 1).

In my own state of Tamaulipas, the government formed the Tamaulipas Women’s Institute (El Instituto Tamaulipeca de la Mujer) in 2005 with the express aim of promoting equality and the respect of women’s rights in the state (see link 2). As part of official bureaucracy in a state in which the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) has complete hegemony, and dissention from the official party-line is not tolerated, this has had limited success. Furthermore, the Institute’s President, Yoliria Joch González, has a very limited understanding of what it means to defend women’s rights. A couple of months ago, her sage pronouncements on the subject of the marked increase in domestic violence against women in Tamaulipas boiled down to the observation that it was generally due to the rise in alcohol consumption amongst women, as this made them more argumentative and more likely to annoy their husbands (see link 3). Last year, most memorably of all, she advised women whose husbands or partners abused them to hide under the bed when he arrived home drunk and aggressive (see link 4). I think now you will understand why I have chosen the name “Hiding under the bed is not the answer” to title this blog.

One place in Mexico where some aspects of women’s rights have been taken more seriously is the capital, Mexico City. The Federal District (Distrito Federal or DF), in which most (but not all) of the capital is situated, is governed by left-wing mayor, Marcelo Ebrad. He belongs to the Democratic Revolution Party (Partido de la Revolución Demócratica or PRD). Perhaps the most eye-catching of the measures that he has introduced during his term (2006-2012) has been the legalisation of abortion during the first twelve weeks of gestation (2007). This law has generated much controversy in Mexico City and beyond. Shortly after the measure 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’ life. In the last few weeks the SCJN has 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(see link 5).

This must be reason to celebrate, I hear you ask. But, no; this is unfortunately not the case. The most obvious consequence of the controversy has been the move by conservative groups in the rest of Mexico’s states to push 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. The objective is to ensure that laws such as that of DF impossible are clearly unconstitutional in their states. So far, 32 of Mexico’s federal entities (comprising of 31 states and DF) have approved such reforms. In many others, such as Tamaulipas, such reform is being discussed at the moment (see links 6 and 7).

One of the few positive outcomes of the whole furore of the last couple of years has been the publicity awarded to the cases where women have already been prosecuted and imprisoned for the crime of abortion. To use Tamaulipas as an example again: in December it was discovered that the State Prosecutor (Procuraduría General del Estado) was pursuing 50 enquiries against women accused of having procured an abortion; while eight women were being in prison on such charges. It also became clear that double standards were in operation. State law requires that the woman involved and anyone who aids and abets her in getting an abortion are prosecuted; in the case of at least one condemned woman, no charges were brought against her partner, who had supplied the pills to provoke the abortion (see link 8). Once this information circulated, the state governor, Eugenio Hernández Flores, ordered their release; although, tellingly, they were not exonerated. Instead, the State Congress approved a reform in the state penal code which removed the custodial sentence associated with this “crime” and substituted it with the undefined and worryingly vague “integral medical attention” (atención médica integral) (see link 9). It remains to be seen what king of “attention” these women are to receive.

At the moment, attention is focused on the state of Guanajuato, traditionally one of the most conservative in Mexico. Here, it has been revealed, six women are currently serving prison sentences after having been accused of procuring an abortion. However, they have not been sentenced for this “crime”, but rather for what the penal code determines as “murder by a relative” (homicidio por razón de parentesco) which carries much more severe penalties that that of abortion. They were sentenced to up to of 20 years imprisonment. Another 30 women are facing similar charges. More distressingly still, it also emerged that four of these women had not actually had an abortion, but rather had suffered spontaneous miscarriages, which due to family circumstances, poverty and/or lack of education had tried to conceal (see link 10). Once their condition had forced them to seek medical attention, one of the people treating them (doctor, nurse or social worker) had then made the accusation with the relevant authorities (see link 11 and 12). The women were subsequently unable to defend themselves personally against such charges nor pay someone competent to do it for them. Some of the women involved have been in prison for eight years (see links 12 and 13). All of them come from the most deprived regions of the state.

In relation to this situation, the State Congress of Guanajuato has just passed a measure which reduces the sentence facing these women and should result in their immediate release. However, just as in the case of Tamaulipas, this does not mean that the women have been declared innocent, nor has the law been modified to prevent prosecutions of this nature occurring in the future. And so, I end this post with a request to those who are as horrified as I by the treatment these women have endured. If you go to link 14 at the end of this post you will find a website organised by a group campaigning on behalf of these women, headed by Leticia Cuevas and Carlos Morales. On this site is a letter of protest addressed to the relevant authorities in Guanajuato, this calls for their immediate release as well as their complete exoneration of all charges. Please add your name to the letter in the box provided.

For those of you who don’t understand Spanish, the letter reads as follows:

“By signing this letter, we citizens, both men and women, want to express our most profound indignation about the persecution and criminalisation with which women in the State of Guanajuato are subjected to. The cases of 30 women who have been remanded, and those of the six who have been found guilty, for the interruption of their pregnancy, has brought Guanajuato to the attention not only of those who are amazed by such attacks on these women’s liberties and basic human rights, but also to the international gaze.

We roundly condemn the behaviour of those authorites involved in this injustice. We have been witness to a shameful process which has gone from denying the existence of women imprisoned for interrupting a pregnancy (STJE –State Justice Tribunal Minister- Raquel Barajas Monjarás), to forcing the women actually in prison to sign a document which prevents them from being interviewed by the press (SSP-[Federal] Secretary of Public Security). We find the behaviour of the state prosecutor, Carllos Zamarripa, shocking. He has denied that these women have been imprisoned for having an abortion, and has affirmed that they are condemned for the crime of murder by a relative. Finally, we have read the shameful statement issued by the [state] governor, Juan Manuel Oliva, who claimed that the cases were examples of “infanticide”.

We cannot credit that, in the twenty-first century, such cruel treatment should be imposed on women who live in extreme poverty and social marginalisation and, who miscarried involuntarily.

As a result, we energetically demand that

Mr. Gustavo Rodríguez Junquera [state prosecutor] make the necessary recommendation for the investigation of the violations of human rights inflicted upon these women.

Mrs. Raquel Barajas Monjarás, revise and review the sentences given.

Mr. Juan Manuel Oliva Ramírez, do all that is in his power to order the immediate release of the women.

We demand that these women, who are imprisoned by unjust means, have their innocence recognised and are set free immediately.

To decide is not a crime. To decide is a right.”

1. (http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10090308-ESPECIAL-IV-INFORME.44039.0.html)

2. http://www.cimacnoticias.com/noticias/05mar/05030811.html

3. http://189.205.27.52/elmercurio/nota_simple.asp?ID=3644&seccion=REGIONAL

4. http://www.enlineadirecta.info/nota.php?art_ID=114753&titulo=Llama_Yoliria_a_f_minas_esconderse_bajo_la_cama__.html

5. http://www.scribd.com/doc/36634372/Sentencia-SCJN-Interrupcion-Legal-del-Embarazo-en-el-D-F

6. http://www.scribd.com/doc/36634248/Reformas-Aborto-Constituciones-Locales-Mar29-2010

7. http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10010606-La-penalizacion-del.40706.0.html

8. http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/09121002-En-Tamaulipas-abre.40428.0.html

9. http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/644922.html

10. http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10082404-Libertad-inmediata.43857.0.html

11. http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10090208-Insistiran-en-que-s.43997.0.html

12. http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10082309-A-las-mujeres-presa.43839.0.html

13. http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10082710-Ni-en-la-carcel-ni.43914.0.html

14. http://www.tupuedessalvartuvida.org/liberenlas/

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