Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

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, , ,

Margarita has been released!

I have just been informed that Margarita López Gómez, the indigenous women from Chiapas unjustly imprisoned for the murder of her husband (who I wrote about here, here and here), has been finally released from the terms of her suspended sentence thanks to the effort and hardwork of her lawyer Rosa López Santis, from the Women’s Human Right Centre in Chiapas and the social media campaign led by Patricia Chandomí which included a petition at change.org I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who signed this petition.

Margarita suffered for many years at the hands of the judicial authorities in Chiapas, who imprisoned her after forcing a confession form her during an interrogation conducted in Spanish, a language she did not speak nor understand. She was kept in solitary confinement and raped during her prison stay. It can only be hoped that now she has been completely freed, she will be able to make a new life for herself and her family.

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

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