While the marginalization of women has existed for millennia, during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a surge in the regularity of reports of violence against women, both domestic and otherwise. Provisions to support women otherwise present before the pandemic have been highly restricted in the current environment. For this reason, health crisis hotlines have seen use in record numbers, but available solutions in the form of treatment and safety prevention measures are simultaneously low. This sort of ‘shadow pandemic’, as labelled by the United Nations— a crisis insidiously operating under the public’s eye— has taken away the livelihoods and, in many cases, the lives of many women. During this time of crisis, activist groups working to combat this surge have struggled to do so effectively, while activist organizations tied to legislative bodies and general governmental actions have been more fruitful in achieving increased provision of support for women.
Gendered violence has been most markedly noticeable in Mexico, where femicide is substantially more prevalent than in other parts of the world. Despite a spike of violence against women during the pandemic, Mexico’s president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has adamantly denied the gravity of the situation, claiming that 90% of emergency calls surrounding such situations are false. Moreover, prosecution rates within Mexico have been historically low. Only 1.6% of cases of violence against women were prosecuted in 2012-2013. While the quarantine measures this pandemic has necessitated must be followed, its execution has become a tool for abusive men to expand their control over female partners.
Furthermore, financial problems created as a side effect of the pandemic have fostered an environment of increased stress and worry. For many male breadwinners, the minimization of this role may lead them to turn towards negative coping mechanisms in the form of anger and violence, often escalating an already vulnerable situation. The exacerbation of abusive tendencies of men as a result of financial frustrations is thus another possible adverse effect on the safety of women during this global crisis.
A very diverse set of activist groups have fought for gender equality in Mexico. Distinct groups have approached women’s rights issues in a variety of different ways, showing the potential for Mexican society to address its many issues through these groups.
Norma Andrade has earned herself a weighty title for her work combatting femicide. She co-founded the organization Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (“May Our Daughters Return Home”), after her own daughter was victim to femicide in 2001. This organization deals with burial services for families who have endured the loss of a loved one. They work to return the bodies of lost loved ones to their families, offering options for proper burial services and ways to seek justice. Although this particular organization works on the back end of the conflict, providing recovery resources rather than preventative tools, its presence has helped numerous families cope with losses faced at the hands of gender violence.
Another commendable figure in this domain is Gloria Careaga Pérez. Pérez is the co-founder of two organizations, Fundación Arcoiris and El Closet de Sor Juana. Her work primarily operates within LGBTQ+ communities, but she has fostered conversations relating to sexual and gender diversity into Mexican academia, a feat that will be immensely beneficial for growing generations of young men and women seeking to promote gender equality. By infusing these conversations into primary and secondary schooling, one hopes that mindful generations will emerge down the line who can continue to work to combat the remnants of gender-based inequality.
As seen with the organizations mentioned, women’s rights activists have tackled this far reaching problem by identifying distinct angles from which to come at the issue. Their collective effort has become more potent as a result of the different methods employed to combat and understand gendered violence.
However, when a global crisis hits such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many of these organizations are rendered powerless, and the weight of responsibility for endangered civilians falls on the government. The situation in Mexico, despite the presence of these organizations, has been most heavily impacted by the President’s decision to return the National Guard to the streets of Mexico. This action has increased human rights violations as a result of the use of armed forces in dealing with matters of domestic security. With the government addressing the crisis this way, women become subject to abuse by troops, violations that often go without consequence. Moreover, this leads women to distrust the authorities, often inhibiting them from seeking help at all.
On the other hand, the Mexican government has also increased virtual access to emergency services and governmental agencies during the course of the ongoing pandemic, allowing for increased access to immediate help as well as long term solutions in justice. Thus, while activist organizations are beneficial both in everyday life and in helping make strides towards more effective long term crisis response and alleviation, governmental aid and action becomes much more integral in times of crisis.
Futures Without Violence is a nonprofit American organization based in San Francisco that strives to build communities and families that are free from gender violence. They do this with an approach that combines activist sentiment and collaboration with judges and judicial officers. By working with judicial actors, Futures Without Violence makes progress towards achieving many of the organization’s goals. Focus on policy development and public action campaigns work to transform societal norms. Meanwhile, the group also works to educate on prevention and advocacy through establishing Centres for Leadership and Action, “to foster ongoing dialogue about gender-based violence and child abuse”, training professionals on crisis response and educating the wider community on the “importance of respect and healthy relationships.” Futures Without Violence is currently calling upon the United States to address the surge of domestic violence during the pandemic. By pressuring powerful states, this organization is working to be functional, even in times of crisis, by engaging directly with judicial institutions.
Activism in the realm of women’s rights and more specifically in prevention and treatment of violence towards women is an arena that must be tackled from multiple angles. Gendered violence is an age-old problem that cannot be solved in one fell swoop. Rather, one must recognize the severity and depth of the issue in order to properly act. While groups in Mexico have combated gendered violence using a variety of methods, as growing inequalities resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic force us to look for more effective forms of gender rights activism, we should also pay attention to ways in which some organizations, such as Futures Without Violence, have helped turn activism into concrete changes via collaboration with government actors.
Edited by Kai Scott
Misbah Lalani is a first year at McGill University, pursuing a bachelor’s in honours international development studies and industrial labor relations, with a minor in social entrepreneurship. She is serving as a staff writer for Catalyst and is particularly interested in economic development and market conditions in Middle East.