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When Gender Violence Outpaces the Coronavirus in Mexico

(REUTERS/Carlos Jasso)

“What similarities we have are dwarfed, however, by an immense difference. At the beginning of April, Ana Paola—at the age of 13—was raped and killed in her home in Nogales, while I write this safely from between the covers.”

At the age of 13, both Ana Paola and I loved to dance. We both took dancing lessons and shared our moments on-stage by posting photos afterwards. We were both close to our mothers, and we had many dreams and expectations for our lives ahead. At a young age, we each lived through different global pandemics. When I was 13 in 2009, it was the H1N1 “swine flu.” For Ana Paula in 2020, it was the COVID-19 “Coronavirus.” What similarities we have are dwarfed, however, by an immense difference. At the beginning of April, Ana Paola—at the age of 13—was raped and killed in her home in Nogales, while I write this safely from between the covers. 

Here in Mexico, as I’ve written on before, women continue to suffer from gender violence, both from strangers and from those they know at staggering rates. And, in the midst of the current international crisis, the Mexican government still declines to view addressing gender violence as a priority. Recently the country was shocked—as it well should be—by the killing of Ana Paola. As was mentioned, she was raped, and then she was beaten to death inside her home by two strangers, while her mother went out for groceries. Yet, it still took a massive display of anger expressed through social media and certain publications for one of Ana Paola’s murderers to be apprehended

Between 2017 and 2020, an estimated 10.5 women were murdered daily in Mexico, while in the United States three women were killed on average each day by a current or former romantic partners. Sadly, during this time of pandemic, it is difficult to know for certain how many girls or women are being raped, abused, or killed every day in Mexico. We only know about the most gruesome cases: those that sneak into the media’s consciousness, the tip of the iceberg. The fact is that in Mexico—at this juncture—a woman is more likely to be killed due to gender violence than by the Coronavirus. To this point, in the first four months of 2020, 166 women were killed by gender violence formally registered as femicides. Meanwhile, as of April 9th, 55 women were declared to have died from the Coronavirus.  

According to data published by several local media outlets, the number of emergency calls in Mexico in relation to gender violence has increased by  100% since quarantine measures took effect on March 30th. This mirrors a similar trend in other countries, including Argentina and even the United States. For some women, the pandemic left them trapped with already-abusive partners or family members inside their homes. Other women would come to discover a once-loving partner growing angry and violent in the midst of this crisis. In either case, however, women in these circumstances were left with fewer places to escape to—on account of the virus. Knowing that cases of abuse and in-home violence would rise during the quarantine, fortunately, the Mexican government set up emergency call lines for people to report gender violence. This was surely a positive step. However, as has been reported by local media in Mexico, there are only seven tribunals in the country that are actually working and are able to respond to claims of gender violence.  

Even if a measure such as establishing these emergency call lines might appear to be a step in the correct direction, the Mexican government continues to systematically downplay the nation’s problem of gender violence. For instance, programs such as the emergency call line only work for women with access to the Internet, mobile telephones, and those who can report their abusers without placing themselves in even more dangerous situations by doing so. Often, it appears that the Mexican federal government cares little about the actual underlying problem and instead simply prefers to say,  “Oh, look! We are doing something for women. Period, end of discussion.” A particularly glaring example of the Mexican government’s relative lack of concern for the issue was its 2019 decision to redirect public funding away from from the National Network of Refuges and other entities that provided shelter (as well as legal and psychological help) to women and girls who had suffered violence. It was re-directed towards other undisclosed projects and social programs, and, from what I can tell, none of these initiatives exist to help vulnerable female citizens. And, then, as I’ve touched on before, when women come forward to report abuse, the legal protocols in Mexico are often so flawed that they never actually receive justice.

Furthermore, there is the issue that most programs the Mexican government touts as solutions to our epidemic of gender violence are useless in communities where violence and machismo are normalized to the extent that they are not considered wildly out of the ordinary. The ingrained culture of machismo in Mexico implies to women that they are guilty and deserving of abuse, while men are seen as fulfilling a role assertiveness and protectiveness. Furthermore, many of these vulnerable or impoverished communities have been forgotten by the government, and the number of gender-related crimes and femicides may remain unknown, especially during the pandemic quarantine. As deaths by Coronavirus continue to grow, so do femicides in Mexico. 

In the end, I believe we should not wait for deaths like Ana Paola’s, Jennifer’s, Arely’s, or Ivana’s to reach the media in order to acknowledge and act upon the fact that women in Mexico are much more vulnerable during this lockdown. As of now, we, women, are more likely to die from the never-ending plague of machismo than from this virus.

Verónica Lira Ortiz is an honors graduate with a B.A. in International Relations from Tecnológico de Monterrey, who is currently focusing on gender studies and developing student programs against gender violence. She can be reached on Twitter @vero_alo

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