A pandemic within the pandemic: Violence against women in Mexico exacerbated by lockdown
By FABIAN TIGGES
In 2020, we are not only witnessing the historic Covid-19 pandemic, but are experiencing a great, widespread, deeply rooted and tolerated human rights violation. While coronavirus cases are hitting new highs every day, another horrible figure has been increasing alarmingly over the course of the pandemic: violence against women and girls in numerous countries across the world. The situation is particularly atrocious in Mexico, where Forbes Magazine reports around a 60% increase in domestic violence during the pandemic and the Executive Secretariat of the National System of Public Security (SESNSP) registered 645 femicides between January and August 2020. As the pandemic evolved and lockdowns were implemented, for many women their home, a place of comfort and safety, turned into a nightmare - women got locked-up with their abuser.
Every year, hundreds of women disappear in Mexico, many to be found dead. According to UN Women, in 2017, 5.2 femicides per 100,000 women occurred, which results in a total of 3,314 women that year. In the official stats of the SESNSP, June 2020 marked the highest number of registered femicide cases in the country’s history, showing 99 victims in that month. What is more, women in Mexico must not only fear their abuser, but are left alone by the authorities, as the country faces an immense impunity problem. The last National Survey on Victimization and Perception of Public Security revealed that only 7% of crimes against women are investigated. In addition, due to fear of their aggressor, and a general lack of trust in the authorities, as well as the fear of being extorted, cases are rarely denounced. This complicates correct data collection and suggests that there is an even higher shadow number of gender violence cases. As millions of crimes go unpunished due to authorities’ incapacity and negligence, families often search for the missing on their own.
Mexico is in desperate need for reforms of its legal system, as well as mechanisms and budget to provide proper help for the abused women. However, the response from the government under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (widely known as AMLO) almost gives the impression of indifference and ignorance towards the issue, since the suggested measures are disconnected from any reality. In a campaign against domestic violence, the federal government suggested to “breathe and count to ten” before things get out of hand. Not only has AMLO demonstrated his lack of capacity to find a way out of this human crisis, he has also made it clear that women rights are not on his agenda. The Guardian quotes him with the following words when being asked about mass protests in Mexico City led by feminist groups: “they opposed the moral regeneration we’re promoting. I respect their views but don’t share them. I believe we have to moralise the country, purify public life and strengthen cultural, moral and spiritual values”. In one of his daily press conferences, AMLO further stated that the increase in emergency calls is false. Rather he suspects a right-wing plot against him behind the women’s protests, while he blames the years of “neoliberal policies” for the high number of femicides in his country. Just as shocking is that the Mexican president cut the budget for women’s shelters by 75% as part of the austerity measures that were implemented as a response to the Covid-induced economic crisis that is unfolding in Mexico.
These appalling conditions mark a grave violation of human rights and have taken on dimensions whose consequences on the individual lives of women we can barely grasp. The roots of the problem are deeply embedded into the patriarchal nature of Mexican society. In a culture, where violence against women appears to have been normalised, women learn to live with constant fear for their life in everyday situations, being harassed on public transport, not being able to walk their dogs or home from school without fearing to be sexually assaulted by men. According to the 2019 National Survey on Urban Public Security by Mexico’s National Statistics and Geography Institute, a shocking 77% of women feel unsafe in Mexico. The constant fear women are forced to live with deprives them of basic human rights and liberties, preventing them from fully participating in society. Every day, in their homes, at work, at school or on the streets, Mexican women are reminded of the fact that they are not given equal rights as compared to the male members of society.
To break these deeply rooted patriarchal lines, a radical process of rethinking must happen in Mexico. At the macro-level, more investments in education, a strengthening of legal institutions, and increased budgets for the support of women are desperately needed. However, while a change in Mexico’s political agenda is long overdue, first and foremost, the rethinking needs to happen inside people’s minds. This begins within family dynamics. Parents have the responsibility to their children to demonstrate equality amongst men and women, instead of falling into outdated, disrespectful gender roles, which they have experienced with their parents.