Photo: AJR_photo/Shutterstock

The Harsh Reality of Being a Woman in Mexico

Mexico Narrative Activism
by Martina Žoldoš Mar 2, 2018

When I first moved to Mexico to live with my Mexican partner, I noticed a few things that bothered me. One was people’s comments, expressing curiosity when I wasn’t in the mood to linger in a bar until 3 AM and preferred going home alone, leaving my partner behind at a party — I was supposed to wait for him. Another was waiters’ astonishment when I picked up the bill in a restaurant or bar instead of letting my partner pay.

But the real shocker happened on my first job interview. I was confident about my competence and the positive outcome of the meeting until the employer, a woman, asked me whether my husband agreed with my decision of having a 9-to-5 office job. To top it off, she also asked me who would take care of my one-year-old daughter while I would be at work — as if babysitting was only my responsibility. I was floored.

I soon realized that, in Mexico, many still believe in the traditional division of gender roles — men bring in the money, women dedicate themselves to housework. According to a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, in Mexico, only 45% of women between the age of 16 and 64 are employed (the OECD average is 60%), yet women perform over 75 percent of unpaid household work and childcare.

Years after the interview incident, I still get subtle messages from my daughter’s teachers that I’m the one who’s responsible for her performance in school — my husband is off the hook.

Discrimination and inequality of Mexican women are day-to-day issues. Many women cannot find work or achieve financial independence because there’s the possibility of them getting pregnant. In some rural communities, women aren’t allowed to vote or have to vote according to the preference of their husband, and there are still girls who aren’t allowed to go to school just because they are female.

Violence is also a significant problem in Mexican women’s lives. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, more than 66% of women over 15 years of age have suffered at least one incident of emotional, sexual, economic, and physical violence. Mexico City’s public transport was named the second most dangerous for women among the 15 biggest cities in the world; 64% of its female users reported having been sexually touched or harassed, compared to 19% in London.

To avoid or minimize the possibility of becoming a victim of sexual harassment in public spaces, I put away my shorts, short skirts, dresses and shirts with cleavage, and became part of 40% of women who prefer wearing clothes that make them less attractive in order to diminish the risk. I learned that it’s not safe for me to take a cab alone, so every time I need to get places in the early morning or late at night, I choose Uber. It gives me the opportunity to send my route to my partner and he can follow my movement step by step until I get to my destination.

The worst of it is that women are held responsible for the crimes they suffer. When Mara Castilla, a 19-year old student, disappeared after ordering a ride with Cabify, misogynistic commentaries flooded the social networks, blaming her for having fun with friends, dancing with strangers, staying late in the bar, presumably getting drunk, and going home alone, which, according to people’s opinions, led to her disappearance and murder.

Despite the poor state of affair for women in Mexico, there have been initiatives and measures aimed at preventing violence and diminishing gender inequality.

Public and private transport providers in CDMX and other large Mexican cities have introduced several solutions to prevent sexual violence, such as women-only subway cars, separated waiting areas in Metrobus stations, and emergency buttons on the busiest routes. There are even pink buses that men can’t board, and Laudrive, a women-only private taxi service. While some consider these segregating measures insufficient and unsustainable, the many women do feel safer using them.

There have also been improvements among certain indigenous communities, particularly for women, who are among the most vulnerable population. Indigenous women have been historically suffering triple discrimination — for being indigenous, poor, and female, with the highest levels of illiteracy, maternal mortality, domestic violence, and extreme poverty. In the past few years, the women have been organizing into groups of embroiderers to create and sell fair-trade art and obtain financial independence. Indigenous women have also recently gained an unprecedented level of political empowerment — more and more of them have been actively participating in local elections as candidates for representatives in city councils. This year, for the first time in Mexican history, an indigenous woman was running for the presidency.

While abortion in Mexico is prohibited and penalized in general, there are organizations that help women terminate unwanted pregnancies, whether by covering their travel costs to Mexico City, the only place where voluntary abortion is allowed, or by providing medicine and accompaniment during the process. GIRE (the Information Group on Reproductive Choice) is one of them. It is a Mexican non-profit, non-governmental organization that promotes and defends women’s reproductive rights. GIRE also helps women during their legal battles in cases of obstetric violence.

Sinactraho is a young syndicate fighting to improve catastrophic working conditions of more than 2 million domestic workers. According to the National Council for the Prevention of Discrimination, domestic workers are among the most structurally discriminated working group: more than 98% of women don’t have access to health services, 8 out of 10 don’t have social security, and 1 out of 5 starts to work between the ages of 10 and 15. A lot of them work for more than 12 hours daily, 6 days a week, for a minimal wage, and they’re regularly humiliated and abused by the employers.

As for governmental representation, the most significant improvement is the increase of women engaged in politics thanks to the implementation of stricter quotas requiring the equal representation of women and men on candidate lists in elections. Today, 42% of the members of the Chamber of Deputies in Mexico are women, compared to an OECD average of 28% for lower houses of national legislatures. Mexico’s rate is the third highest in the OECD.

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