Mexico: Living with coronavirus

Inequality and violence against women are getting worse under COVID-19, writes Alejandra Bahena Iturralde

The World Today Updated 29 March 2021 Published 1 June 2020 2 minute READ

Alejandra Bahena Iturralde

Security Analyst, Madison Intelligence

I was born and raised in Mexico City and although Mexico has given me much joy and many opportunities, I have come to realize the sad realities of my country: not all Mexicans have the same access to the social and economic privileges I’ve had. As a woman, I’ve come to learn that it is not entirely safe to go to certain areas of the city alone, and every minute past sundown increases the risk of becoming a victim of sexual assault or even murder. The COVID-19 outbreak has not only put increased strain on our public health institutions but has also worsened long-standing problems in Mexican society.

By mid-March, social distancing measures were implemented in Mexico to prevent the virus spreading. However, the country is very much still a cash economy, and not all Mexicans can afford to stay at home without working for a couple of days, let alone a couple of months.

Most of the population, and especially those below the poverty line, have the hardest decision to make: whether to risk their lives by going out to work or staying at home and not being able to put food on the table. The middle class will also be deeply affected. It is estimated that by the end of the confinement, around two million jobs will be lost, meaning that the social inequality gap will increase significantly.

In addition to inequality, Mexico is the country with the highest rate in Latin America of gendered violence and impunity when it comes to prosecuting such cases. Just before the government announced nationwide social distancing, Mexican women were protesting on International Women’s Day against femicides – the murder of women because they are women – and other forms of gendered violence and sexual harassment. The following day, millions of women in Mexico took part in a national strike to raise awareness of what a day without women’s labour would be like. I remember taking part in these protests and feeling optimistic about our voices being heard in demanding justice and action.

Some days later, the coronavirus arrived and brought with it a rise in gender-related violence. Some women are now locked down with their abusers, with less opportunity to seek or receive support. According to reports from the National System for Public Security, April saw the highest levels of gender violence since 2015, with 267 femicide cases under investigation. Just a few weeks ago the country was shocked to hear of Diana Raygoza, a 21-year-old law student who was murdered in her own house, displaying signs of sexual violence. It is clear then that Mexican women are not safe on the streets, and sadly, are not safe at home either.

Time has passed and little progress has been made in addressing Mexico’s social ills. More urgently, the COVID-19 crisis seems to be taking us backwards. It presents a complex issue for Mexico, not only because of the health crisis, but also because it has intensified the so far untreated issue of violence against women.