Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Never a Better Time to be a Woman?

In the words of US historian Lesley Byrd Simpson, there are many Mexicos. Which Mexico you live in depends –as it does elsewhere– on the circumstances in which you were (un)lucky enough to be born.

According to the most recent government census (INEGHI 2011) Mexico has a population of just over 113 million inhabitants, making it the second biggest country in North America after the United States. Over 19 million people live in its capital, Mexico City and its environs, making it the largest urban agglomeration in the Western Hemisphere after São Paolo. Although Mexico was predominately rural society until the second half of the twentieth-century, now more than 50% of its population now lives in large towns and it is estimated that more than 70% live in an urban setting. As is the case in many countries, urbanization has followed industrialization, and in Mexico, both phenomena are more pronounced in the centre and north of the country.

What is now Mexico was colonised by the Spanish in the sixteenth-century. Colonisation meant the arrival of both Europeans and Africans, and as a result, the majority of modern Mexicans have mixed racial characteristics. Nearly a third of the population is indigenous and a scant 1% is entirely White European in origin. As a general rule, indigenous populations are concentred in the centre and south of the country in predominantly rural areas.

Looked at from a national level, there has never been a better time to be a woman in Mexico. Rising urbanisation, better access to education and health services mean that female life expectancy is growing. Women make up 52% of the population. The average woman has only two children, compared to the six or seven she would have had in the 1970s. Women have also entered the workforce in considerable numbers in the last decades: according to government statistics 17% of women worked outside the home in 1970; by 2004 this had doubled to 38% and in 2012 the percentage of working women was estimated to be around 45%. In last few presidential elections, there have been women candidates –most recently, Patricia Mercado in 2006 and Josefina Vázquez Mota this year– although, in general there is only 20-25% female representation in state and national legislatures.

However, despite these advances it is clear that women still face huge problems in their daily lives, especially if they have the misfortune to be poor, rural and/or indigenous. In rural areas with large indigenous communities, health services are often hours away, meaning, among other things, that maternal mortality continues to be very high. The south-western state of Guerrero, for example, has a maternal mortality rate of 74.21 deaths per 10 000 births (as part of the Millennium Goals the UN target for maternal mortality is 22 per 10, 000). Women who do access health services during pregnancy routinely suffer discrimination or ill-treatment: it is common, for example, to hear complaints from post-partum women that they have been fitted with the contraceptive coil –without their consent and sometimes without their knowledge. In some cases this action, which is dangerous as it can interfere with the recovery of the post-partum uterus, has directly contributed to the death of the mother.
Moreover, in Mexico abortion is strictly regulated not readily accessible; thus, women who miscarry or have problems with pregnancy are often scared to visit the hospital as there is always the risk that medical staff will decide they have provoked an abortion and denounce them to the authorities. As recent publicity has shown, this charge can lead to prison sentences of twenty years. Equally, it is also common to hear that women and girls who have the legal right to an abortion (usually after a sexual assault) have been denied the procedure. This leads to heartbreaking cases, such as the one reported here from 2010, in which a 10 year old girl from a rural community in Yucatán was forced to give birth after being raped by her step-father.

Finally, despite all the advances women have made in the public sphere over the last thirty years, Mexico remains an extremely sexist society. A survey in 2010 suggested that six out of ten women needed to ask their husband’s permission in order to work. A further four out of ten also required this permission to use contraception or choose their child’s school. In general, women earn between 15 and 30% less than their male counterparts and do the overwhelming majority of housework and childcare. On average a women will work 49 hours a week in the home, while an average man does 9. If Mexico is to become a more women friendly place, these attitudes have to change.

This article was originally published at http://e-feminist.com/home/2012/5/27/the-challenges-of-being-a-woman-in-mexico.html

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

Women and the Drug Traffickers

Women’s participation in drug trafficking has recently made the headlines thanks to Miss Bala (Gerardo Naranjo, 2011) a Mexican film about a beauty pageant wannabe who is kidnapped and forced to become a drug runner for a gang of traffickers in Tijuana, received critical acclaim at Cannes last year. The screen play is loosely based on a real life incident in 2008 in which beauty queen Laura Zuñiga was arrested aboard a lorry full of explosives along with drug traffickers in Guadalajara, Jalisco. Similarly, La Reina del Sur (The Queen of the South), was one of this year’s most popular soap operas produced by television network Telemundo (USA) in conjunction with the Antena 3 network (Spain) and RTI Producciones (Colombia). The script was based on a novel by Spanish author Arturo Pérez Reverte and depicts the rise of Teresa Mendoza, a young woman from Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico, who becomes the most powerful drug trafficker in southern Spain. It seems likely that Mendoza is based on the example of Sandra Ávila Beltrón, alias the Queen of the Pacific, ex member of the Sinaloa cartel, who is currently in a Mexican prison waiting extradition to the US.

While undoubtedly showing how some women have become involved in drug gangs, neither screenplay could be said to accurately portray the complex realities of women’s experience in drug trafficking. Unsurprisingly, women’s participation in trafficking imitates their roles in other, more licit activities and clearly reflects Mexico’s dominant cultural attitudes towards them.

Many women are drawn into gangs via their partners. They have usually taken the role of administrators, although some exceptional women, like the fictitious Queen of the South and the real life, Queen of the Pacific, have been able to advance to active organizational and leadership roles. Often this leadership is founded on their authority as maternal figures, especially in those gangs who hierarchy is in the hands of one or more family. One example would be Enedina Arellano Félix, the alleged head of the Tijuana cartel, who is the sister of former gang leaders and mother to the supposed operational leader, Fernando Sánchez Arellano.

As partners and mothers, the biggest danger for female members of trafficking gangs is domestic, just as it is for women as a whole in Mexican society. A recent study by the Guerrero State Women’s Institute (an official body charged with the protection of women’s rights with branches in all Mexico’s states) claims for example, that women “executed” by the gangs are not murdered in relation to their trafficking activities, but rather in the context of their relationships with male drug gang members (CNN Mexico, 9 February 2011). In Mexico City, the director of the city government’s women’s shelter, says that the arrival of women fleeing from relationships with abusive traffickers is putting the refuge at risk, since the gangs do not limit themselves to threatening the individual women, but will threaten the shelter as a whole (El Universal, 25 November 2011).

As Mexican journalist and activist Lydia Cacho has documented (Sin Embargo, 10 November 2011), traffickers also kidnap, rape and enslave women, especially indigenous girls, for their own use and/or prostitution. She alleges that 45% of women who are rescued from brothels on the border with the United States are of indigenous origin, a great number of them little more than children. Cacho cites the case of the 12 year old daughter of Martina, an indigenous woman from Michoacán, who was stolen from her home by traffickers during an attack on their house in 2010. Martina has not heard from her since. According to one of her sources, this is a common practice among the traffickers of Michoacán, who use the girls as cooks, cleaners and as sexual slaves.

Finally, according to a recent report by the National Human Rights Commission in Mexico, (Diagnóstico de las Condiciones de vulnerabilidad que propician la Trata de Personas en México) the drug gangs also control people-trafficking, the second most profitable illegal trade in Mexico after drugs. Due to its geographical position, Mexico is the ideal route by which to ship people (and drugs) to the United States and Canada and its tourist hotspots in Cancun and other beach resorts, means it has a thriving internal market for trafficked women. In fact, Mexico is second only to Thailand for the number of women it traffics to the US.

The report calculates that 12 million people are victims of trafficking in Mexico, 79% of who are forced into prostitution. For its part, Federal government’s statistics (INEGI, 2009) suggest that women and children are the most vulnerable groups, especially those who are also migrants or of indigenous origin. Most migrants come from Central America, although it appears that a good number of women also come from Eastern Europe (Sin Embargo, 22 November 2011). Lydia Cacho claims that the traffickers also force homeless children in Cancun into prostitution (Cimac Noticias, 9 November 2011), while a report from the Guerrero State Women’s Institute suggests that many children are sold into prostitution by their fathers (Milenio, 22 November 2011).

This article was originally published at http://e-feminist.com/home/2012/4/25/violence-in-mexico-women-and-the-drug-traffickers.html

Filed under: Feminism, Violence Against Women, , , ,

The Continued Harassment of Margarita López Gomez

Margarita López Gómez, an indigenous women from Chiapas, Mexico, was recently released from prison after a sustained campaign by human rights activists. Margarita had been convicted of killing her partner and imprisoned for seven years based on a confession allegedly obtained during her interrogation, which she later repudiated repeatedly. It was also proved later that her partner was killed by someone else. The interrogation was conducted in Spanish, a language she did not speak at the time. For more details you can see my original posts here and here. It emerged this week that the terms of Margarita’s release include the requirement to go to the state capital, San Cristobal de las Casas each month to sign a report in the local prison. She must also send a monthly report of her work activities via registered mail every month. Her suspended prison sentence is due to expire in 2016. This might seem a small price to pay for her freedom, however Margarita lives in a small village many hours away from the state capital. She has a very ill mother and young children to care for and no settled means of income. Paying to go to San Cristobal each month is practically impossible for her, and makes it very likely she will be unable to meet the terms of her sentence. Margarita was wrongly convicted. The State of Chiapas kept her in prison seven years, a number of them in solitary confinement in a male prison, where she was raped and gave birth to her youngest child. The authorities released her in February due to the hard work of her lawyer and human rights activists in Chiapas and Mexico. However, with these terms it appears that the authorities continue to unfairly punish Margarita and her family and aim to return her to prison. This is scandalous and unacceptable.

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Update 14 May 2012

The Centre for Woman’s Rights in Chiapas is organising a petition to send to the magistrate in charge of Margarita’s case, Dr. Juan Gabriel Coutiño Gomez, to ask him to grant her an unconditional release. See here for details. Please sign the petition -with an English language explication- on www.change.org

Source: http://www.cimacnoticias.com.mx/site/12050305-Imponen-a-indigena.49613.0.html

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

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