Violence puts Mexico among worst G20 countries for women

by Katherine Baldwin | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 13 June 2012 01:01 GMT
Women face dire conditions in many parts of a country that invented the term 'machismo'

LONDON, June 13 (TrustLaw) - Physical and sexual violence, a culture of male chauvinism, drug-related crime and poor access to healthcare in rural areas mean Mexico is among the worst places to be a woman out of the world’s most industrialised nations, a Thomson Reuters Foundation global survey of experts found on Wednesday.

Mexico polled 15th out of 19 countries in the Group of 20 most developed states, excluding the European Union economic grouping. India was ranked the worst place for women to live while Canada was the best, according to the perceptions of 370 gender specialists questioned by TrustLaw, a legal news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The rash of unresolved murders of women in border towns like Ciudad Juarez and sexual attacks on migrant women contributed to Mexico’s poor ranking, despite the country’s economic progress and international prominence, experts said. Mexico will host the annual summit of G20 leaders on June 18-19.

“Mexico invented the term ‘machismo’ and amongst the poorest rural and indigenous populations, a woman’s role is to stay at home,” said Blanca Rico, executive director of Semillas, Sociedad Mexicana Pro Derechos de la Mujer, a Mexican women’s rights group.

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Mexico is a country of huge social and economic divides and national statistics on access to healthcare, education and other indicators often do not reflect the dire conditions women face in parts of the country, Rico added.

“Some communities are worse than the most marginalised societies in Africa and Asia in public health and other inequalities and rates of violence against women are extremely high – domestic, sexual and drug-related violence,” she said.

While Mexico has ratified international treaties protecting women from violence and passed national legislation, a culture of violence remains widespread, activists said.

A 2010 national survey on discrimination showed two in five women still ask their husbands permission to go out alone at night and two-thirds suffer from some kind of domestic violence.

“Violence against women is generally accepted or acceptable, socially speaking,” said Lyric Thompson, an advocate with the Washington-based International Center for Research on Women.

“And then you have the groups who are extra vulnerable” such as women working in the export assembly plants or maquiladoras on the border, she added.

Freedom from violence was one of seven questions that made up the TrustLaw survey, along with quality of health, participation in politics, workplace opportunities, access to resources like education and property rights, freedom from trafficking and slavery as well as the overall best and worst countries to be a woman.

After India, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, South Africa and then Mexico were perceived to be the worst places for women, in that order. Respondents came from 63 countries on five continents.

DRUGS AND TRAFFICKING

Violence against women and trafficking for sex and labour are closely linked in Mexico, experts said.

“Mexican migrant women or other migrants coming from across Latin America are targeted for violence in Mexico,” said Thompson, who is also an advocate for Amnesty USA. “You hear activists talking about women who take birth control before they go through immigration because they’re assuming they’re going to be raped.”

Mexican laws do not adequately protect women and girls from domestic violence and sexual abuse, while female victims generally do not report cases to the authorities, and when they do, they are often met with suspicion, apathy, and disrespect, Human Rights Watch said in its 2012 World Report.

An ingrained culture of violence has been exacerbated by the drugs war. Brutal clashes between drug cartels and Mexican authorities have killed more than 50,000 people since the government launched a crackdown on the cartels in late 2006. While the violence is across the board, women are particularly at risk.

“Mexico, as we recognise, is going through a very turbulent period right now, facing a long-running drug war, economic disparity ... displaced people entering and leaving America,” said journalist and author Jimmie Briggs, founder of the Man Up Campaign that tries to engage youth to stop violence against women and girls.

“I think it’s a transitional period now where the rights of women are being overlooked.”

Three hundred women were killed in the border town of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s most violent city, in 2011 with almost total impunity, according to Amnesty USA.

In the political arena, despite making up 52 percent of the population, women have traditionally been sidelined while the only female candidate in the presidential race, Josefina Vazquez Mota of President Felipe Calderon's conservative National Action Party, or PAN, has failed to win the support of women voters ahead of the July vote, polls show.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Anderson in New York)