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COVID-19 Conversations: Mexico’s government is failing women

A series of photos of women staring into the camera

The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing and exacerbating gender inequalities around the world. Equality Now is sharing insights from our team experts about how women’s and girls’ lives are being affected by the pandemic and what can be done to address the challenges.

This week we hear from Equality Now’s Americas Regional Coordinator Bárbara Jiménez-Santiago about how Mexico’s government is failing to protect women from gender-based violence during the pandemic.

Countries globally have experienced sharp increases in violence against women since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. What is the situation in Mexico? 

Despite incidents of gender-based violence spiraling in Mexico since the introduction of lockdowns measures, the Mexican government has announced it is slashing funding to women’s services as part of an emergency decree redirecting money to programs it deems a greater priority. This is on top of prior cuts to funding over the past few years, with the government now using COVID-19 as a justification to extend its austerity program.  

In a country where almost nine out of 10 women do not report gender violence, the scale of harm against women is alarming. Mexico was already one of the most dangerous places for women in the region and the situation has worsened during the pandemic. In April 2020, an average of 11 women were murdered every 24 hours, while in May, Mexico’s National Shelter Network reported an 80% increase in calls for help.

Deeply disturbing are recent comments made by Mexico’s President Obrador to the press. When asked about the surge in domestic violence calls, Obrador retorted, “Ninety percent of those calls that you’re referring to are fake,” and in response to a question about the high number of women being murdered, he claimed this has “been manipulated a lot in the media.” Meanwhile, his government launched a misjudged public education campaign urging abusive men to “not lose patience” and “breathe and count to 10.” 

How are Indigenous and Afro-Mexican women being impacted? 

Indigenous and Afro-Mexican women are particularly vulnerable as they face multiple layers of discrimination and disadvantage. Language and cultural barriers can make it difficult to file complaints about rights violations, and those who do speak out may receive minimal support.

Indigenous and Afro-Mexican Women Shelters (CAMIs) are located in poor, remote areas and provide local women with vital specialist support including sexual, reproductive and maternal healthcare; assistance in cases of physical and sexual violence; and translation services. 

Mexico’s 2020 federal budget to address gender violence has been reduced by around one third, and eight states with the highest rates of femicide and disappearances of women have been left entirely without funding. Many CAMIs are at risk of closure and numerous shelters have already been forced to halt services. This is putting vulnerable women in life-threatening situations. 

What is Equality Now doing?

Equality Now and our partners in Mexico are concerned that the Mexican government is using the pandemic as an excuse to cut funding to women’s services and we have requested that the Inter-American Commission and the UN Working Group on the Discrimination Against Women and Girls investigate the defunding of the CAMIs as a breach of international human rights law. We are also calling on the Mexican state to increase funding for women’s services and prioritize gender-based violence in its measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

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