Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

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

Indigenous Rights Activist Receives New Death Threats

I have written before of how dangerous it is to be a woman in Mexico. It is estimated that 34, 000 women were murdered between 1985 and 2009. On Wednesday, Amnesty International (AI) presented a report to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in which the Mexican government was criticised for failing to adequately address the situation. The report’s author, Rupert Knox, said:

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In the last few years, Mexico has enacted a number of laws and created institutions designed to protect women from violence. However, a large part of the problem lies in the weakness of its institutions and the non-application of these laws.” As a result, he urged the Mexican government that it show “a stronger commitment” to protecting women’s rights.

The report also stated that during 2009, there were nearly 15, 000 reports of rape in Mexico; although, given the reticence of women to report this crime, AI estimates that the true figure could be as high as 74, 000.

According to AI, women activists are particularly vulnerable to attack, especially if they work against gender violence or human rights abuses. Sadly, they often fail to receive adequate protection from the state.

Examples of this are numerous. Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, who campaigned tirelessly for the prosecution of her daughter’s murderer was killed on the steps of the State Government Place in Chihuahua City, Chihuahua in December 2010. Norma Esther Andrade founder of the Organization Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (Our Daughters Returned Home), has received death threats since 2002. In 2008 the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights ordered the Mexican government to protect her and three other female members of her organization. Even so, Andrade was shot on 2 December 2011 outside her home in Juárez City, Chihuahua. She was forcibly discharged from hospital a few days later, despite still requiring continual medical attention, due to the fact those treating her in the hospital had also received numerous threads. She moved to Mexico City, but could not escape her persecutors. In February this year she was attacked with a knife in her home. Thankfully her injuries were not serious, but she has had to leave Mexico for her own protection.

Margarita Guadalupe Martínez Martínez, an activist for indigenous rights from Comitán, Chiapas, has been under threat since 2009. In this year Margarita complained about an illegal search that had been carried out on her house by elements of the local police. From this point on, she has received numerous death threats via telephone and letter; presumably originating from members of the police. On 30 June, as she was preparing to leave to attend a CEDAW conference in New York as part of a contingent of Mexican human rights activists, she received a written threat pasted to her door in which the authors styling themselves “The Power” stated:

“In this matter you have two options. First, you leave the country. Second, you publish this letter and you are a dead woman.” It warned her that, were she to take the second option, “neither the State Prosecutor’s Office, nor the police, nor the national and international human rights organisations will be able to help you.”

Situations like this make it quite clear that campaigning for human rights is a high risk occupation. The women who do it risk their lives on a daily basis. Furthermore, it is also clear that the Mexican authorities are incapable of protecting them and, in some cases, actually engaging in threatening behaviour themselves. How many more women (and men) need to die until Mexico’s politicians realise that they cannot fix the situation merely by passing more and more legislation? Written legislation can never work until the ability to break laws with impunity comes to an end.

There is a petition currently circulating to ask the Mexican government to provide adequate protection for Margarita. You can sign here.

An edited version of this appears on e-feminist.

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

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, , , , ,

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