This article was written for LAB by Estela Casados González, and translated by Lizzy Sanders
As part of the actions intended to safeguard Mexicans’ lives against the devastating effects of COVID-19, a domestic confinement for families in the country’s almost 35 million homes was announced by the federal government on March 14, 2020, and will gradually take effect from March 23.
As of that day, la Red Nacional de Refugios (the National Refuge Network) recorded, on average, 155 women per hour calling in for help because after being threatened with violence inside their own homes.
Since then, this NGO, which runs 40 shelters around the country for women exposed to domestic violence, has provided extremely troubling statistics.
In order to understand the magnitude of the situation in Mexico, on top of the health crisis we are currently going through, it is necessary to emphasise that violence against women has its own fatal rhythm, its own trajectory. Domestic violence is part of a phenomenon that is older than COVID-19, but it is due to the pandemic that it has intensified – and at the same time gained greater visibility.
According to the data from the General Directorate of Health Information, in 2019 279 women each day received medical attention for injuries caused by domestic violence in their own home.
According to official data from the Mexican Government (Executive Secretariat of the National System of Public Security and the National Statistics and Geography Institute – INEGI) in 2018 there were 3,752 registered female homicides. This means that in that year, every day, 10 women were murdered in Mexico.
In 2019, the same source shows that 983 women were victims of femicide in Mexico. In the first quarter of 2020, 240 femicides have already been registered. Violence against women in Mexico has had a serious rebound in the last decade with devastating consequences for the everyday lives of those women who have survived and who continue to be subjected to violence.
This trend has been heavily influenced by organised crime (narco-trafficking, arms trafficking, and the trafficking of women for forced sex work), but we must note that the murders, disappearances and attacks on women have long been carried out as a result of the permissive attitudes of society and a corrupt government.
In a report released in 2019 by INEGI, it was noted that 43.9% of Mexican women aged 15 and over have faced assault from their husband or partner. Another figure from the report that we can’t let go unnoticed is the 40% of female homicides that were committed by a partner inside the shared home.
The number of such fatal scenarios has continued to grow over the years: 66% of Mexican women aged 15 and over have experienced at least one act of violence from different aggressors: partner, family member, school or work partner, friend, or stranger.
All of this translates into the fact that 30.7 million women in Mexico have been subjected to acts of violence and discrimination during their lives.
Women most exposed to violence from their partner are between 20 and 39 years of age; 70% of this group faced at least one episode of violence or abuse.
Furthermore, more than 6 million women belong to one of the country’s 68 indigenous communities. Their ethnicity means that they have a specific experience of violence in the domestic and public sphere.
Taking this into account, we have to acknowledge that although in more than half of the country a government mechanism is in force to protect Mexican women from violence, the official figures tell us that this has not been very useful. This mechanism, called the Alert on Gender Violence against Women, came into force in 2015 and has now been activated on more than 19 occasions, but without life-saving results.
One of the areas neglected by the Mexican State is domestic violence, a space where the government and society do not pay attention to physical and sexual assault committed against women and young people. In Mexico, as in many regions of the world, the domestic sphere has become the place where abuse and violence are most likely to take place. Today, with the arrival of coronavirus, women in Mexico face a double pandemic, only that one of these historically hasn’t received any attention, despite it costing more lives than COVID-19.
Olga Sánchez Cordero, Secretary of the Interior, warned that in the first weeks of lockdown calls to 911 for domestic violence had increased by 25%. In turn, the women’s refuges reported that the calls for help that they had received had risen by 80%. Violence against women has been rampant for years, but the health crisis has produced an unprecedented scenario.
The Government cuts funding
Is the Mexican Government unprepared to deal with domestic violence? In 2019, the President of the Republic decreed that public funding of NGOs would cease. It was a tremendous mistake. It directly affected women, since most of the institutions dedicated to the huge problem of violence against Mexican women are feminist civil society associations.
These associations collapsed or were left with minimal resources to operate. Today they have exerted strong political and media pressure to be granted government resources to deal with the pandemic of violence. They have succeeded to an extent, but the money is arriving in fits and starts and is not sufficient for the severity of the crisis.
Throughout all of this, the Red Nacional de Refugios has presented another devastating statistic: 19.3% of the sons and daughters of the women who have applied to be housed in shelters, had been assaulted within their homes and 5% of the infants were victims of sexual abuse during the lockdown.
On the other hand, on April 23rd the President of the Republic issued a decree that establishes austerity measures to reduce federal public spending to deal with the pandemic. This has affected important programmes that are not considered a priority. One of these is la Casa de la Mujer Indígena, (the Indigenous Women’s House), more commonly known as CAMI. This directly hurts the population of 35 indigenous regions of Mexico, since CAMI houses support indigenous women in confronting violence with greater conviction and in many cases support them in reporting them to the authorities.
Almost two months after having been declared the ‘National Period of Social Distancing’, the name of the federal government package of actions to face the pandemic, the coronavirus and femicides are ending women’s lives. We also do not know what will happen to survivors of domestic violence, nor to their daughters and sons who have also been victims of abuse. This is the silent pandemic that does not end.
Estela Casados González is a Professor of Anthropology at the Universidad Veracruzana (UV)