In March, Mexico’s emergency call centres received their highest number of domestic violence reports since the national hotline’s inception. The rise in domestic assault allegations aligns with the introduction of Covid-19 quarantine measures in Mexico. As citizens began their isolation, the global economy started to suffer under the pandemic’s pressure, with many experts regarding coronavirus as the ‘perfect storm’ for domestic violence. The Mexican state is especially vulnerable to increases in domestic assault during Covid-19 due to relatively high pre-existing levels of femicide.
However, Mexican president Mr. López Obrador continues to deny the validity of domestic assault reports. In a recent news conference, López Obrador shut down a reporter’s question on the rise of hotline calls by stating, “Ninety percent of those calls that you’re referring to are fake.” The president’s refusal to consider the aggravating nature of Covid-19 on domestic assault is surprising considering the president was the first in Mexican history to appoint gender parity in the executive cabinet, which allowed feminist voices to reach the highest levels of government.
Experts have predicted the adverse effects quarantine can have on familial and domestic relations since the introduction of isolation policies in early 2020. According to data collected by the United Nations, within the past twelve months, “243 million women and girls between the ages of fifteen and forty-nine worldwide were subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner.” These numbers are at high risk of significantly increasing during the months of national lockdowns. In Mexico alone, the national network of women shelters reported a 60% increase in calls for help. The increase in cases is primarily due to the heightened anxiety, fear, and socioeconomic insecurity coronavirus has produced globally. The Council on Foreign Relations noted that “today, rising numbers of sick people, growing unemployment, increased anxiety and financial stress, and a scarcity of community resources have set the stage for an exacerbated domestic violence crisis.”
Research on domestic violence and femicide has proven that increased financial insecurity and isolation from an individuals’ support systems aggravate interpersonal relationships. During Covid-19, many individuals are finding themselves isolated from anyone outside of their familial unit. This new environment is also under the pressure of a destabilizing global economy that has resulted in the widespread increase in unemployment. As a result, anxiety is heightened, which increases the possibility of an individual turning to illicit drugs for self-medication and projecting their frustrations onto their partners or family members. With many scared of contracting or passing Covid-19 onto their loved ones, victims are less likely to venture out to police stations to report such allegations in person, and their options for escape are limited.
President López Obrador is creating an environment of gaslighting and political ignorance instead of presenting hope and support for Mexicans facing domestic assault during the Covid-19 pandemic. By comparing domestic assault allegations to prank calls, such as false “calls the metro gets about sabotage or bombs,” López Obrador is undermining the validity of all assault claims, regardless of evidence. It is within the best interest of women, the LGBTQ community, and the general rights of the Mexican people that all cases of domestic violence be taken with the utmost seriousness until such allegations can be proven false. The president should be promoting the voices of the unheard victims of assault to the national stage, rather than disregarding them altogether.
Considering that the Mexican president shows no signs of changing his stance to accept the widespread presence of domestic assault in the country, it is the role of the international community and internal advocacy groups to compensate for his and the government’s lack of support. Advocacy campaigns educating Mexicans on domestic assault and methods of assault response are crucial. The population must become comfortable talking about assault, and education on the warning signs for domestic violence should be mandatory in public schools and universities to stop future attacks. The international community and human rights groups should begin independent investigations to gather accurate statistics on the salience of assault in Mexico and use their powers on the world stage to name and shame Mexican president López Obrador into changing his rhetoric. It is only through the cooperation of the Mexican government and the international community that the problem of domestic assault in Mexico can begin to be answered.