Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

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, , , ,

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, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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, , ,

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, , ,

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.

******
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, , , , , ,

Abortion, Women’s Reproductive Rights and Mexico’s Supreme Court

This week Mexico’s Supreme Court debated the question of whether recent reforms to the constitutions of the states of Baja California and San Luis Potosí were constitutional. Both these constitutions, in common with 17 other states, have included a clause that guarantees the “right to life” from the moment of conception. As I have mentioned on this blog, these reforms have been enacted in response to the legalisation of abortion during the first trimester of gestation in Mexico’s Federal District in 2007 (see here, here and here). In 2008, the Supreme Court upheld the right of Mexico’s federal entities (the 32 states and the Federal District) to legislate on the issue of abortion and rejected a motion for this law to be declared unconstitutional, signalling that the Federal Constitution did not grant the right to life to unborn foetus or embryos.

Given this earlier ruling, prochoice groups had been hopeful that the Court would declare the recent reforms in Baja California and San Luis Potosí unconstitutional, thus paving the way for these same reforms to be challenged in the other states where this amendment had been adopted. This was not to be, however; the Court ruled 7-4 in favour of declaring the reforms unconstitutional, but the motion was dismissed because in votes on questions of constitutionality statute requires the minimum of 8 votes to pass.

What does this decision mean? In the first place, it seems to reiterate the 2008 ruling that Mexico’s federal entities have the faculty to decide on the question of abortion. This is the conclusion that most English reports have emphasised (see for example the Washington Post). However, the implications appear to be more wide-ranging than that. Upholding the idea that life can be legally defined as beginning at conception could also have other consequences; namely in the area of anti-contraceptive use and assisted pregnancy. [1] Some anti-contraceptive devices work by preventing a fertilised egg establishing itself in the womb (like the morning after pill or the coil) for example. IVF treatment usually involves the fertilisation of more eggs than are eventually implanted in the womb; the rest of are usually frozen. Will the constitutional amendments also trigger a revision of what is legal in these cases? Leading Mexican legal scholars think so.[2]

Moreover, the precise wording of the Baja Californian amendment which read: “from the moment an individual is conceived, she/he falls under the protection of the law and is considered born for all legal effects” (“desde el momento en que un individuo es concebido, entra bajo la protección de la ley y se le reputa como nacido para todos los efectos legales correspondientes” [3]) suggests further issues; some apparently trivial, some more serious.

For example, does this recognition of the juridical existence of an embryo/foetus mean that it should be named and issued with identification documents? If the mother needs to travel abroad will she need to acquire a passport for the contents of her womb? More worryingly, the reform seems to give constitutional legitimacy to the already widespread practise in Mexico (see my posts here and here) of prosecuting a women for a suspected induced abortion for murder, rather than for illegally terminating their pregnancy. This allows them to be sentenced for custodial sentences of 20 plus years rather than the 4 or 5 stipulated in the penal codes for abortion. Finally, it appears inevitable that the upholding of the reforms will also mean the criminalising of nearly all women whose pregnancies end in unexplained circumstances, since miscarriages and still-births might be liable to be considered suspected terminations unless it can be proved otherwise. This is concerning as a high number of pregnancy ends in miscarriage in the first trimester of gestation. It is estimated for example that up to half of all fertilized eggs die and are aborted spontaneously, usually before the 6th week of pregnancy. After that, the miscarriage rate is calculated at between 15 and 20%. Moreover 80% of miscarriages occur before 12 weeks of pregnancy, many with no obvious cause [4]. Can Mexico’s already over-stretched and inefficient justice system deal with this number of investigations? The criminalisation of miscarriage and still-birth is also likely to prevent many women seeking medical attention, putting their lives at risk and increasing Mexico’s already high maternal mortality rates (see my post here).

Abortion is a contentious subject in Mexico, as is in most Catholic countries there is strong antiabortion feeling amongst the faithful, encouraged by the Church. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, the Archbishop of Mexcali (in Baja California) claimed that the Pope had been in communication with one or more of the Supreme Court judges in attempt to influence their vote. This accusation was denied by the Vatican [5]. The political party currently in control of Mexico’s Presidency, the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional or PAN), is resolutely opposed to abortion; and the party with a majority in Congress –the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido de la Revolución Institucional or PRI) – has sponsored many of the states’ constitutional amendments on the subject of the right to life. Only the minority Democratic Revolution Party (Partido de la Revolución Demcrática or PRD) is prochoice, as evidenced by the legislation in the Federal District, one of the very few entities controlled by this party.

The situation then looks grim in the short-term for prochoice activists in Mexico. However, it must be borne in mind that the Supreme Court did in fact produce a majority in favour of striking down the reforms; it just wasn’t a big enough majority. It can only be hoped that at some future date, the composition of the Court will be more favourable to the protection of women’s rights.

[1] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/editoriales/54864.html

[2] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2011/09/26/politica/007n2pol

[3] http://eljuegodelacorte.nexos.com.mx/?p=1457

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miscarriage

[5] http://www.sinembargo.mx/30-09-2011/48652

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

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