Femicides on the rise in Mexico as AMLO cuts budgets of women’s shelters

Women take part in a demonstration to demand justice for victims of gender violence and femicides, outside the National Palace in Mexico City. Photograph: Edgard Garrido/Reuters

New figures reflect surge in violence against women during pandemic while government implements austerity measures.

Violence against women has surged in Mexico since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but the country’s president has downplayed the problem and slashed the budgets of agencies charged with addressing women’s issues.

Figures released this week show that crimes such as femicides climbed 7.7% in the first half of 2020 when compared with the same period last year, and shelters have reported a sharp rise in the number of women attempting to flee domestic violence.

The figures come after funding cuts to women’s shelters by the government of the president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has launched a swingeing austerity programme as part of his response to the pandemic.

Last week the government approved a 75% budget cut for the federal women’s institute, and the president has also proposed to withdraw state funding for women’s shelters operated by NGOs, suggesting that women fleeing violence could instead be given a cash payment.

Amlo, as the president is known, has struck an insensitive tone on women’s issues since the start of his government. He has claimed that 90% of calls to the emergency services over domestic violence were “false” and this month, he told reporters: “Mexican women have never been as protected as now.”

But statistics paint another story: calls to 911 emergency services reached record levels in March – when the pandemic lockdowns were first imposed – and have remained high. Calls by women to another helpline operated by the Mexico City government also surged, according to the news site Animal Politico.

The National Network of Shelters, meanwhile, says it has received 80% more calls since the pandemic started, while the number of women and children admitted to its 69 shelters has increased 50%.

“[Amlo’s] declarations reflect a perpetuation of the impunity that exists in Mexico,” said network director Wendy Figueroa. “What’s also serious is that he’s doubting the word of women in situations of violence.”

In the early days of the pandemic, Amlo’s government was ridiculed for public service adverts which encouraged families to “count to 10” as a solution for rising tensions under lockdown. Activists pointed out that domestic violence was far more serious issue than family members getting on each other’s nerves.

“It’s an affront,” said Ana Pecova, director of Equis Justicia, an organisation advocating women’s rights. “The only thing this campaign is trying to accomplish is providing cover for the president’s declarations.”

When millions joined the country’s first national women’s strike against gender-based violence in March, Amlo suggested the organizers were part of a rightwing plot against him.

Despite the historic protest, the bloodshed continued unabated: more women were murdered in Mexico in April than any month on record, according to government statistics.

Diana Raygoza Montes, a 21-year-old law student, was found murdered in her home in late May, according to police, having been stabbed 39 times. In early July, five women – including four girls – were murdered in their home near Mexico City.

Although Amlo appointed a gender-balanced cabinet, analysts say women’s issues simply do not occupy a place on his agenda.Mexico: activists voice anger at Amlo’s failure to tackle ‘femicide emergency’Read more

For his part, the president has attributed violence – including the violence suffered by women – to a loss of “values”. He speaks often of morality, cites scripture in his morning press conferences and lauds Mexican family life as harmonious – with women playing caretaking roles.

Analysts say the president has put family at the centre of his Covid-19 response – preferring to use it as a social safety net as he promotes fiscal austerity.

“Turning to the family on each and every issue is a way to compensate for the failures of the state to provide services,” Pecova said. “Everything is passed on to families: care, school, health, everything.”

Source: The Guardian