By Deborah Van Hoewyk
While this issue covers several high-achieving Mexican women, that might create a somewhat misleading portrait about how all women in Mexico are doing. But is the picture of Mexican women that includes femicide, rampant domestic violence, and lives of crushing poverty any more accurate?
Where IS the world on women’s rights?
Women’s rights are human rights – or so say most organizations working on gender equality. Mao ZeDong famously said that women “hold up half the sky,” as he maneuvered his political agenda to maximize their potential in modernizing China. On average, women in Mexico, the United States, and Canada hold up 51% of the sky, but North American women certainly have not achieved anything like an equal share of life’s benefits. We have a long way to go before North American women are working for human, rather than women’s, rights.
The Right to Vote. Without political power, women will still have to petition for rights as if they were privileges to be granted by men. Perhaps the most fundamental political right is the right to vote. Although the Mexican Constitution of 1917, created about two-thirds of the way through the Mexican Revolution, recognized the equality of men and women, women were not granted “full citizenship” until 1937, and the right to vote was not granted until 1953. Canada, due to its relationship with the British Commonwealth, did not have its own constitution until 1982, but most women over 21 who were citizens (i.e., not aboriginal women or women of color) received the right to vote in 1919; most Québécois women achieved the right to vote in 1940, and aboriginal women got the vote in 1960. In 1920, the U.S. granted women the right to vote with the 19th Amendment to its Constitution.
The Right to Hold Office. Perhaps the most important place to achieve equal representation is in a country’s legislature – the place where laws are repealed or enacted. In 2014, after several failed attempts to increase the representation of women, Mexico amended its Constitution to require equal representation in both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, making it fourth in the world for women’s legislative power – women hold 51% of the seats in the Senate and 49% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies (numbers 1 – 3 are Rwanda, Cuba, and Bolivia). Without such laws, Canada ranks 61st in the world with women holding about 47% of its Senate seats and about 27% of the seats in the House of Commons. The United States has no quotas either, and is in a three-way tie for 76th place, with women elected to 25% of the Senate seats and about 24% of the seats in the House of Representatives.
Since its founding in 1945, the United Nations has stood for “equal rights for men and women,” but official language was not enough. In 1981, after thirty years of work on the status of women around the world, the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) took effect. Mexico and Canada signed the Convention immediately (July 17, 1980); the United States, however, joined Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Palau, and Tonga, plus the non-state entity of the Vatican, in NOT signing the Convention. (The United States has also failed to amend its Constitution to acknowledge equal rights for women, despite nearly a hundred years of trying.)
CEDAW explicitly identifies a wide range of women’s rights, from bodily integrity to property rights. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international body that tracks how the world is doing on issues of international concern, has identified the three issues most critical to achieving gender equity. The first two involve a woman’s ability to create a sustainable life: inequality of education and employment, and of wages and salaries once she has entered the labor market. The third issue is violence against women.
Education, Employment, and Pay
Perhaps the most telling indicator of gender equality is paid employment in a good quality job that offers the possibility of increasing income and responsibility. Conversely, when a country’s economy depends on low wages, iffy jobs, and unpaid labor in the home to prop itself up, women – and their children – are usually trapped in dead-end, often abusive, situations with little or no hope of escape. The OECD ranks Mexico as having the lowest productivity level in the world, in large part because of the low skill levels of its people (the high school graduation rate is 67%; in Canada, it’s 77%; in the U.S. it’s 85%).
In Mexico, women lag behind men in paid employment – over 80% of Mexican men have paid work, while less than half of women do. The U.S. is about average in terms of women’s paid work, while Canada is above average.
Women’s pay lags 17% behind men’s in Mexico, higher than the international average; both the U.S. and Canada lag further behind (women make 20% less than men).
Unfortunately, over half of the Mexican women who work for pay are working in the informal economy – i.e., off the books, self-employed, or in jobs that probably come and go, so no secure source of income. Although more than half of Mexican men and women work in the informal economy, the negative aspects of insecure employment – unreliable income, hours too short or too long, no social benefits – affect women more than men.
The future does not look rosy for young women – the great majority of whom are single teen mothers; 35% of women aged 15 to 24 are “NEET” (Neither Employed nor participating in any
Education or Training that could lead to paid work). This is nearly double the international average. The chances of lowering the NEET rate for young women is limited by Mexico’s teen pregnancy rate, which is the highest in the world.
Violence Against Women
Violence against Women includes all forms of violence and abuse – physical, psychological, sexual, economic, harassment, trafficking, child marriage, genital mutilation – directed at women because they are women. Obviously, such violence severely constrains a woman’s opportunities for a decent life for herself and her children.
Unfortunately, collecting data on gender-based violence has not yet been standardized, especially in Canada, so we can’t make all comparisons and all numbers are estimates. According to MacLean’s online magazine, Canadian women suffer from domestic violence and femicide, and the rate is going up, but because Canada does not have specific criminal laws separating crimes against women, statistics on violence against women are not collected systematically. Moreover, domestic violence, up to and including rape, is seriously underreported, most sharply so in Canada – data from domestic violence hotlines indicate that only 1 in 5 victims made any kind of police report.
In 2017, almost half (47%) of ALL Mexican women suffered some sort of domestic violence from an intimate partner or family member. Another 39% of ALL Mexican women suffer violence at the hands of strangers. In the United States, over a third of ALL women (36%) experienced domestic violence. OECD estimates that non-indigenous Canadian Police reporting for Canada indicates that indigenous women suffer domestic violence at three times the rate of non-indigenous women. Given the problems in tracking violence against women, the takeaway here is that violence against women is far more prevalent in Mexico than in the countries to the north.
Femicide. The most extreme form of violence against women – femicide, or “mysogynistic murder” – occurs when women are killed because they are women. Various explanations have been offered for femicide in Mexico – the drug cartels don’t want women to resist their inroads, NAFTA changed the relationships between men and women when more women were hired in the maquiladores (factories) built on the Mexican side of the border, men’s attitudes towards women in Mexico make murder all too easy.
In all countries, determining whether the murder of a woman is “femicide” – she was killed because she was a woman – is problematic. Of the 3,142 women murdered in Mexico in 2019, only 795 are being investigated as femicides – activists believe this is way too low. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in its study on gender-related homicides (2019) classified 75% of the murders as femicide.
Starting in 2007, Mexico has had a system of alerts about gender-specific violence; since 2015, alerts have been issued for 18 of Mexico’s 32 states (an area equal to 56% of Mexico). However, there seems to be no common reason for the violence, which makes it seem as if the explanation for femicide is complex and deeply rooted in Mexican culture. Unfortunately, issuing such an alert has not reduced violence against women in general or femicide in particular in the states of Veracruz, Morelos, Mexico, Puebla, Guerrero, or Colima.
By Carole Reedy
Two Latinas, one Native American, one Black American, one Ghanaian American, and one White American. These remarkable women make up the list of some of the most anticipated 2020 novels written by women.
In 2019, we saw the first black woman and first black British author, Bernadine Evaristo, win the coveted Booker Prize for her novel Girl, Woman, Other. Previously, just four black women had been shortlisted for the award.
In an unprecedented action, the Booker committee decided to flout the one-winner rule. The prize was shared with author Margaret Atwood for The Testaments, sequel to her best-selling novel A Handmaid’s Tale.
The books listed here will surely be among those considered for this year’s top prizes. Let this column serve as an early alert so you can get on those library waiting lists!
Two important novels to be published this year are not on this list because we reviewed them in the February 2020 issue of The Eye: The Mirror and the Light by Hillary Mantel (in March) and The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (in June). See theeyehuatulco.com to read about these marvelous new novels.
On to the next 2020 selections, with publication dates in parentheses…
Zora Neale Hurston
Hitting A Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick (January 2020)
Surely the most recognizable name on this list, the late Hurston’s works continue to rise from the ashes. Upon her death of heart disease in 1960, Hurston’s papers were tossed into a burn barrel, but then were miraculously saved by a friend passing the house where Hurston had lived, the valuable manuscripts continuing to be published to this day. It’s also thanks to writer Alice Walker, who in 1975 published “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston,” in Ms. Magazine, that attention has focused on the author.
It’s impossible to begin discussing Hurston’s intense struggles and experience. Just reading a brief biography of her life is exhausting. But we’re fortunate to live in a world filled with publishers who continue to remind us who she was and what she means to history and society.
Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick contains 21 stories of love and race, eight of them from the lost Harlem Renaissance collection of the 1920s and 30s. The Guardian calls her tales “wickedly funny…unnerving at times, but always a thrill.” We are so fortunate to benefit from the discovery of her stories.
The Night Watchman (March 3, 2020)
This novel is based on Erdrich’s grandfather’s story, both as a night watchman in a North Dakota factory and as a member of the Chippewa Council, where he was active in arguing for the Native American during a time (1953) when the US government was presenting a new bill that threatened their rights.
Memorable characters from the reservation and others make up the world of Erdrich’s book, one the publisher describes as “a majestic work of fiction from this revered cultural treasure.”
Erdrich has won a plethora of awards, including the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction. A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, she owns a bookstore, Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, with a focus on Native American literature.
Transcendent Kingdom (September 15, 2020)
This tops my eager-to-read list because I and most of my reading friends were deeply impressed with Homegoing, Gyasi’s 2016 debut historical fiction novel, which follows the family of many generations of Ghanaians. Among other awards, the book received the 2017 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.
Gyasi’s new novel also examines the life of a Ghanaian family, this time in Alabama. Those who are fortunate enough to have received advance copies give this book five stars, praising it as the book that “will make her a legend.”
A Long Petal of the Sea (January 21, 2020)
Those of you who want to read in Spanish to improve your second language skills will find Allende a good place to start. She’s accessible and a master storyteller and historian. Allende’s style is often magical realism, and the most popular of her many novels is The House of the Spirits.
The Guardian writes that “At this point in Allende’s career, it’s easy to forget what a trailblazer she was, a rare female voice in a wave of Latin American literature that was overwhelmingly male.”
A Long Petal of the Sea starts during the Spanish Civil War, continues with the protagonists through France and eventually to Pinochet’s Chile, and finally moves to Venezuela. The poet Pablo Neruda plays a part in the expansive tale of 80 years, as does Allende’s own life. It sounds to me like a complete and satisfying historical tale.
Afterlife (April 7, 2020)
After 15 years, we’re finally looking forward to another Álvarez novel. Many of us remember well In the Time of Butterflies, the story of sisters rebelling during the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, as well as How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, also a family tale whose story takes place in the Dominican Republic and in the US.
Afterlife is a novel of the immigrant experience and of a recent widow dealing with loss and grief. It is described by critics as both moving and funny.
One of our favorite Latin American authors, Luis Alberto Urrea (if you haven’t read his The House of Broken Angels, you have a great delight in store for you!), welcomes Alvarez’s return with this: “The queen is back with the exact novel we need in this fraught era.”
Kate Elizabeth Russell
My Dark Vanessa (March 10, 2020)
Like Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel Gone Girl, this first novel by a young American PhD is being touted as the most-awaited novel of the year by The New York Times, Esquire, and The Guardian, among others.
Esquire says: “A singular achievement – a masterpiece of tension and tone . . . with utmost sensitivity and vivid gut-churning detail. Before you start My Dark Vanessa, clear your schedule for the next few days…this will utterly consume you.”
The story, woven from memory, is one the publisher describes as “exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher.”
The mere availability of these future masterpieces in libraries and bookstores and on Amazon and Kindle fills me with two deeply satisfying emotions: joy and anticipation. Booker-prize winner Evaristo expresses contemporary women’s concerns best in one brief sentence: “We black British women know that if we don’t write ourselves into literature no one else will.”
Stay in the limelight, gals! Keep reading.
Word of the Month: Echar
By Julie Etra
Echar is complicated! It is very idiomatic but fun and versatile. There are lots of ways to use this verb.
Common meanings: Throw, launch, toss, drop, throw out Continue reading Perfect your Spanish!
By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.
Oaxaca is a wonderful place to live in and visit. The broad theme of this magazine is to praise all that is great about vacationing and residing both on the coast, and in the state’s interior. But it’s high time that readers obtain at least a glimpse of the underside, because like all other locales, Oaxaca is not rosy much of the time for many, in particular for full-time residents, whether transplants or native born. Continue reading The Schizophrenia that is Oaxaca
Fifteen is a magical age – in Mexico it is the time of quinceañeras and celebration as girls teeter on the brink of womanhood. It is also the age of high teen pregnancy rates – especially in lower income areas. A United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report, Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy (Maternidad en la niñez) revealed that Mexico is the leading nation in teen pregnancies, with the alarming rate of 64.2 teen pregnancies per thousand births. Generally speaking, teen pregnancies are associated with poorer living conditions and girls receiving lower levels of education. Girls with a higher education level, with a dream for the future and with a hope of success, are much less likely to get pregnant. Continue reading Supporting Girls’ Education
UPDATE June 21: I want to express my full support for the eloquent words of Lila Downs:
“Violence provokes more violence. Why provoke with confrontation and repression? If we have the same preoccupations: better education, respect toward students, respect toward teacher, respect toward life and society. Corruption needs to be eliminated in all areas including senators, union leaders, presidents and politicians that don’t accept an anti-corruption reform and accept to be bribed.” Continue reading Off with Their Heads
After talking for a few minutes with Carl Owens, you’ll feel as if his head is full of ideas that spill out like water in a leaking garrafone! When you meet Arturo Ediberto Garcia Aguilar, it’s evident that he’s no stranger to overcoming obstacles and solving problems. Combine these two men, one a retiree from Georgia, the other a bilingual Mexican, and you end up with the first bridge league in the entire country, which focuses on teaching bridge to young people. It receives support from the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL). Continue reading The Game of Bridging Culture
The Zapotec Experience
By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.
It’s generally accepted that there are 16 indigenous ethno linguistic groups in Oaxaca, and that the Zapotecs constitute the largest in terms of both numbers and geographical distribution throughout the state. However a closer examination reveals that, at least for Zapotecos, the variation in dialect, dress, food, religious observance and a plethora of day-to-day customs is remarkable. Continue reading The Fallacy of Oaxaca’s 16 Ethnolinguistic Groups:
Women’s role in education in Mexico, as elsewhere in the world, has been a slow and difficult process, as students and as educators.
Until the 1930’s, during the Presidency of Porfirio Díaz, education for women was frowned upon and criticized, even by some women of the middle class, who considered that challenging the traditional economic dependency on men was synonymous with ‘feminism’. Continue reading Women and Education in Mexico