Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

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, , , , ,

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