Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer


I thought I’d do something different in my blog this week. I have generally opted for a journalistic approach to this space; with the aim of bringing Mexican women´s issues to an English-speaking audience. Not that I flatter myself that my audience is huge, obviously; but I am of the opinion that even a little publicity is better than none at all. My proudest moment so far is being credited on the “Women’s Views on News” website last week when it reported the Inter American Court of Human Rights ruling on the case of the two indigenous women raped by soldiers [1]. As I am sure is more than evident, little of the material I present is my own; rather it is all gathered from the press and women’s activist sites here in Mexico.

This week I thought I’d try a reflection instead. Not there is shortage of material, but because as I was thinking about what to write today, I couldn’t get a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that I read this week out of my head: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent [2].” Why? Because it reminded me of many conversations I have had over the years, when people have put it to me that advocating women’s equality (usually in the context of the workplace or education) is all very well, but that given the fact that there is much legislation in place in Mexico with the aim of promoting this laudable aim, the fact that women are generally underrepresented in the workforce, or don’t continue with education or work once they have children, is due to the fact that they don’t want to.

This quote also echoed in my head as I read follow-up stories on the  two women from Guerrero I mentioned last week. Both of them are exceptionally brave and determined women. Neither has consented to accept second class treatment from the police and judicial authorities in Mexico, nor have they allowed themselves to be intimidated by the threats made against them by the same authorities. In the case of Valentina Rosendo, it appears that she even had to fight against the social stigma of being a rape victim in her own village, a traditional community which, she says, discriminated against her and ultimately expelled her for being “a raped woman, a women who is no longer worth anything” (“me discriminaron por mujer violada,
como mujer que ya no vale“) [3].

Finally, it also made me remember other news stories I have read recently: for example, about hate crimes against women (feminicidio) in the state of Guanajuato [4]. This report quotes Ángeles López García, the director of the Centro de Derechos Humanos Victoria Diez (Human Right Centre Victoria Diez) who alleges that it is common for the investigating authorities to deny that a women’s murder counts as a feminicidio, but rather to claim that their deaths resulted from a consequence of the victim’s personal circumstances: they had an abusive partner or their jobs were high risk, or that they were in involved with drug gangs. What she objects to is the fact that the majority of the 31 female deaths registered in the state so far this year have not been properly investigated because many of the victims, due to such personal circumstances, were not deemed sufficiently important to warrant the vigorous pursuit of the assailant.

My reflection on all this being? Not consenting to discrimination; or, refusing to accept the inferior position Mexican society accords to women is not as easy as simply quoting Eleanor Roosevelt. It involves confronting and rejecting stereotypes and prejudices, from the small yet insidious idea that women don’t make up half the workforce because they don’t want to work; to the more preposterous and insulting idea that some victims are not important enough to warrant that the crimes against them go punished. This is not to say Roosevelt is not right; but rather that standing up for women’s rights and equality can be a hard and thankless task. Those women who do, especially in circumstances as difficult as those faced by Valentina Rosendo, are special people whose struggle deserves to be recognised far beyond the borders of Mexico.

[1] http://www.womensviewsonnews.org/wvon/2010/10/two-mexican-women-finally-find-justice-after-being-raped-eight-years-ago/

[2] http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/a/qu_e_roosevelt.htm

[3] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/columnas/86450.html

[4] http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/711565.html?awesm=fbshare.me_ATqfU

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


Let me start with the good news. On Tuesday, the six women in prison in Guanajuato for interrupting their pregnancies were freed [1]. They did not have their sentences quashed, however. Rather, as I commented last week, they were released thanks to a change in Guanajuato’s penal code which reduced the penalty imposed on them for the alleged crime of “homicidio por razón de parentesco” (murder by a relative). This measure was presented to the state Congress by the governor, José Manuel Ramírez Oliva, and passed by the deputies, with the expectation that the national (and international) spotlight would move away from their state once the women were freed. I sincerely hope that this will not be the case. The laws that criminalise abortion are still in force in Guanajuato as well as in all other Mexican states [2]. As has been proven in the case of three of the women from Guanajuato, these laws often result in witch-hunts organised against those unfortunate enough to suffer miscarriages and not to possess the means by which to defend themselves. In fact, the political commentator and long time critic of Mexico’s right-wing, Jaime Avilés, affirms today in his daily column in the left-wing newspaper, La Jornada, that the municipal authorities of San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato are currently hunting for a young women accused of “homicidio por razón de parentesco” or abortion [3].

It goes without saying that the criminalisation of abortion in Mexico is intimately related to the cultural hegemony that the Catholic Church has held over the population since this faith was first brought to these shores by the Spanish conquistadores nearly 500 years ago. Officially, Mexico has been a secular nation for just over 150 years, even so during the last 130 years or so the Church has rarely encountered any challenges to its cultural dominance. This is all changing at the moment: provoking what seems to be a general sense of panic amongst the ecclesiastical hierarchy. On the one hand is the general decline in the number of adherents in the face of fierce competition from evangelistic protestant groups and religions such as that practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons; this is also not helped by the pedophile scandals which have engulfed both the Mexican and the international Church in recent years. Both of these phenomena undermine the legitimacy of the Church and its pretension of being the moral guardian of the Mexican nation. On the other hand is the challenge from the gradual acceptation of the idea of universal human rights amongst the population, especially in those related to gender politics. This goes from the most documented and obvious: such as the widespread use of contraceptives amongst otherwise obedient parishioners; to the less popular introduction of laws in Mexico’s Federal District (D. F.) which sanction abortion during the first 12 weeks of gestation; as well as permitting marriages and adoption for same-sex couples [4]. All three measures have provoked horror and condemnation from the ecclesiastical hierarchy: even so their increasingly histrionic pronouncements suggest that they fear that their words are falling on deaf ears. Certainly the gay movement is vocally campaigning for a law in favor gay marriage to be adopted in other states, including Tamaulipas [5].

A clear example of the Catholic Church hierarchy’s hysterics can be found in the article that Mario Gasperín Gasperín, bishop of Querétaro, has published in the last couple of days on the homepage of his diocese [links 6 and 7], entitled, Crisis o país de zombis (Crisis or a Country of Zombies”). This text attempts to demonstrate that “el mal llamado feminismo” (“the evil known as feminism”) [8]  is the root of all Mexican society’s current ills: including -incredibly enough- organised crime (code words here in Mexico for the drug gangs and their violence). The crux of Gasperín’s argument is that today women are facing a crisis over what is means to be women (“ser mujer“) which, according to this text, has been brought about by the “separation of sexuality from that of reproduction” (“la separación de sexualidad de la reproducción“). Here it is clear that he is referring to the use of anti-contraception and the legalisation of abortion, although he makes no explicit mention of either at this point in the text. In all this, his misogyny shines brightly through: one his complaints, for example, is that this crisis facing women has had the knock on effect of provoking a similar one amongst men as well attacking the institution of marriage. Thus he blithely goes from blaming feminists for all Mexico’s problems to implying that, in fact, womankind in general is responsible. On this first point, his argument is simple: women define themselves in relation to men and vice versa; thus a crisis suffered by one is necessarily a crisis that is shared by the other. On the second, the crisis being suffered by the institution of marriage his arguments are non-existent. All he can think of to say is that the instability caused by the crisis of identity amongst men and women has caused them to search for other substitutes, leading them to perversion (he is, of course, referring here to same-sex relationships). In fact, his comment appears only to exist as an excuse for him to blame women in general, and feminism especially, for the legalisation of homosexual marriages in Mexico D.F. Finally, he manages to blame feminists for Mexico’s current climate of violence by describing it as the product of official sanction of “legalised crime” (ie abortion) and the terrible effects of political correctness which have brainwashed people into ignoring their consciences (“el hijo del crimen legalizado –impunedad- y de la consciencia callada“).

As you probably expect, I find this text highly risible and deeply hypocritical. Unlike the Catholic Church, the feminist movement can hardly be accused of having tried for decades to cover up abuse perpetrated against children by its own members; moreover, it is very difficult to see how Mexico’s current problem with violence can be placed at the door of feminism, which does not generally support the use of violence. In fact, in Mexico, feminist groups are at the forefront of denouncing violence suffered by people of both sexes at the hands o the gangs, the army and the police [9]. What is more, the bishop complains bitterly that the legalization of abortion and gay marriage have been brought about by the manipulation of the majority by an aggressive and intolerant minority; an affirmation which is not just ingenious to the extreme (since support for neither option can be described as being in the majority, even in DF, see link 4) but also demonstrates a complete lack of self-awareness, coming as it does at the end of a diatribe against women and the feminist movement. I can’t help but think that the most measured response to this text is to go no further than quote the Bible: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:5). Undoubtedly feminism has its faults, but I think that trying to argue that it is the root of all evil simply shows that the Mexican Church hierarchy is supremely confused about the origins of Mexico’s social problems.

[1] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/10090712-Liberaran-hoy-a-7-m.44076.0.html I do not propose to name the women out of respect for their privacy.

[2] Even in the Federal District (Mexico D.F.) where abortion is permitted up to the twelfth week of gestation, women who abort in the later weeks of pregnancy are subject to prosecution and can be imprisoned for between three and six months. See art. 145 of the relevant law at http://www.gire.org.mx/publica2/DictamenFinal_Aborto_ALDF240407.pdf

[3] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2010/09/11/index.php?section=opinion&article=006o1pol.

[4] According to a survey carried out for the newspaper Milenio, 50% of D. F.’s residents support gay marriages, while 73% reject the idea of gay couple being allowed to adopt. See http://www.milenio.com/node/360517

[5] http://www.hoytamaulipas.net/notas/15384/Exigen-bodas-gay-en-Tamaulipas.html

[6] http://www.diocesisdequeretaro.org.mx/

[7] http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2010/09/09/index.php?section=estados&article=034n2est&partner=rss

[8] It is also perfectly possible to translate this as “the badly named feminism”. Yet, I think that this is not the case, since at the end of his text he also refers to “el mal llamado crimen organizado“, for which the only translation is “the evil known as organised crime”).

[9] http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/Violacion-ejercida-por-militar.738.0.html

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

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