Coronavirus stay-at-home measures have generated a marked increase in attacks on women, says the head of a federal agency, who called it a “second pandemic.”
In a virtual meeting with federal lawmakers, Nadine Gasman Zylbermann, president of the National Institute of Women (Inmujeres) reported that 400,000 domestic violence calls were made to 911 during April.
Gasman also pointed out that 91% of victims of violence do not file complaints at all. Frustration with the system may be one reason behind their silence.
“When a woman is experiencing such violence, she has very little recourse,” World Justice Project lawyer and researcher Layda Negrete told the website Foreign Policy. “If she calls the police, they might not come, and even if they do, they have no training in how to respond to family violence. To pursue charges and protection from the violence they must go to the prosecutor’s office, who typically fail to do anything about the complaint.”
Numbers from the Spotlight Initiative, a partnership between the United Nations and the European Union working to eradicate violence against women and girls, show that Mexican women made more than 115,000 domestic violence-related calls to 911 in March a 22% increase compared to February.
The majority of calls came from the state of México, Mexico City and Chihuahua, with Chihuahua having the largest number of calls per capita in the country.
Sexual assault reports are also on the rise. In March 395 rape-related calls were made to 911, representing a 20.06% increase over February when 323 calls were received, and 15.83% more than in March 2019 which saw 341 complaints.
On May 15, President López Obrador rejected numbers from his own government showing that violence against women has increased during the coronavirus emergency.
“I’m going to give you a piece of information that doesn’t mean that violence against women doesn’t exist,” López Obrador said. “I don’t want you to misinterpret me because a lot of what I say is taken out of context: 90% of those calls … are false, it’s proven.”
Reports from activists claim that 209 women have been murdered since stay-at-home measures were implemented.
According to the non-profit women’s justice organization Equis, three factors have led to an increase in calls during the pandemic. First, self-isolation means women spend more time with their aggressors, thus increasing their risk of being attacked. The economic crisis also puts added stress on households, and finally, some support networks available to help women deal with violence, although considered an essential service by the government, are operating at limited capacity due to the coronavirus.
During the meeting, Gasman appealed to the the Gender Equality Commission of the lower house of Congress to use the opportunity to develop a “new normal” for women and families in the nation, calling on institutions, government and non-profits to work together to create a unified front in the prevention of domestic violence.
Interior Minister Olga Sánchez told the meeting that most public funds have been directed toward the Covid-19 crisis, putting budgetary pressures on other projects, including the protection of women who are victims of violence.