The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was established in 1982. Its objective is to watch the situation of women in countries that signed as participants when the UN General Assembly adopted the convention in 1979. Each country presents a periodic report to the convention. Non-governmental organizations and human rights groups may also present relevant reviews. The convention then issues recommendations based on discussions.
In 2012 the countries presenting reports to the convention included the Bahamas, Bulgaria, Guayana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Mexico, New Zealand and Samoa. Mexico presented and discussed its report in July. Various national and international NGOs also submitted evaluations to the convention, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, World Organisation Against Torture, Centro Prodh, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission, Justice for our Daughters and the Centre for Women's Rights in Chiapas.
The papers submitted by human rights organizations are depressing reading material. In general they highlight issues that make life for women in Mexico—especially poor and indigenous women—extremely fraught with danger. In the coming weeks I shall explore the issues in more detail, but this week I want to provide a general overview.
Killing of women: In November 2011 a joint report by Mexico’s government and UN Women concluded that at least 34,000 women had been murdered in Mexico between 1985 and 2009. Murder rates for both sexes have increased dramatically since then, partly as a result of the insecurity and violence created by the crackdown on drug gangs. Estimates show that 2,418 women and 23,285 men were murdered in 2010 (the dramatic number of men killed reflects the continuous increase in drug violence).
Amnesty notes, however, that officials frequently do not document the murders of women and routinely fail to conduct autopsies; and when they do document them, it is in a manner that makes it impossible to determine the rate of arrest and prosecution of women's killers. Amnesty also highlights the brutality in which women are murdered and concludes:
“Women are three times more likely than men to die by the cruelest means, such as hanging, strangulation, drowning, immersion and knives. Women are also three times more likely to be murdered by poisoning or burns with chemicals or fire.”
Abuse of migrant women: Tens of thousands of irregular migrants from Central America cross Mexico annually on their way to the United States. Criminal gangs regularly target them for kidnapping, extortion, trafficking and murder, often with the full complicity of police. Amnesty estimates that six of every 10 migrant women are sexually assaulted during their passage through Mexico.
Imprisonment of women: Approximately five percent of Mexico’s prison population is female. However only 13 out of 455 prisons (2.8 percent) are exclusively female, the rest are mixed. A study of 92 mixed prisons found that 22 women’s dormitories were inside male facilities and inmates used shared facilities.
Women are often badly treated and tortured during their arrest and imprisonment. The case of a group of 47 women arrested for protesting in San Salvador Atenco of Mexico State in 2006 is emblematic. Twenty-six later complained they had been raped and sexually assaulted by the police who transported them to prison. The reports highlight the Mexican State's unwillingness to prosecute those involved.
Sexual and reproductive rights: Human Rights Watch and Amnesty discuss the difficulty women have to obtain legal abortions. They emphasize that constitutional reforms passed in numerous Mexican states, recognizing life from conception, have reinforced barriers to legal abortion. Moreover, they highlight the widespread police practice of arresting women after miscarriage on charges of infanticide.
Maternal mortality among indigenous women: The risk of maternal death among indigenous women is considerably higher than among those non-indigenous. They suffer from using inadequate healthcare facilities or lacking complete access to them, in addition to suffering discrimination and receiving consultations without access to a translator.
The Mexican government’s statement to the convention tried to paint a different picture of women's lives in Mexico by highlighting:
- advances in education among girls, such as attendance increase in primary schools from 94 to 96 percent and secondary schools from 75 to 86 percent;
- constitutional reforms in which Mexico adopts the UN declaration of human rights;
- government reforms to widen healthcare provisions; and
- family planning policies (but it did not address abortion).
The document recognized that "violence against women is one of the biggest challenges faced by the actual administration”, but it asked the convention to consider women's situation within the context of Mexico's social ills.
Cath Andrews is a professor of Mexican history.