The danger is real. Every 15 seconds, a woman in Brazil is assaulted by her husband or partner. And every day, 15 Brazilian women are killed according to figures cited by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff
Panmela Castro, a celebrated artist in Brazil, uses her craft to address domestic violence. She started exploring with graffiti as a way of expression and power.
“I think people want us to be obedient and sometimes we need not be,” says Castro.
Castro is one of many brave female activist featured in A Woman’s Place, the documentary series produced by Refinery29 in partnership with We Are the XX.
“I started making graffiti as a desire to be a man,” says Castro. “But not to be man [in the literal sense], but to have the power that they have. I started a group with graffiti artists who were all men, at the time there were no graffiti women artists. I was super masculine. I had to speak like them and dress like them to be accepted.”
Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, AMLO, has faced serious criticism from around the world for his handling of the Coronavirus pandemic. His government has been accused of fumbling its response and not having a real, concrete plan to help the country of nearly 130 million people weather the storm.
However, before the pandemic arrived, AMLO was also in hot water for his handling of increased gender-based violence across the country – with femicides reaching record levels. So far, his response has been to brush the issue away as ‘fake news concocted by his opposition.
Now the two issues of femicide and the pandemic have collided as there’s also been an increase in domestic violence, as victims are forced to stay at home. But yet again, AMLO is denying these reports as fake news.
The Mexican President said that Coronavirus lockdowns won’t contribute to violence as much as in other countries because ‘Mexicans are different.’
At one of his daily press conferences meant to address the Coronavirus and a variety of other issues affecting the country, President AMLO made sure to preface his statement with a fairly long disclaimer of sorts. He urged the media not to misquote him or misreport what he said – but it was quite clear:
“I’m going to give you a piece of information that doesn’t mean that violence against women doesn’t exist,” AMLO 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.”
Instead, the president maintained a more romantic view of life under quarantine in Mexico, where he said “there has always been harmonious cohabitation.”
“The Mexican family is different from families in Europe and the United States; Mexicans are used to living together, being together. … In the homes of Mexicans, the children are there, the daughters-in-law, the grandchildren, and there has always been harmonious cohabitation. In other places, where this tradition, this culture, doesn’t exist it might be that isolation causes aggravation, confrontation and violence,” he said.
President AMLO is literally denying several reports that contradict his hopeful narrative.
According to the Spotlight Initiative, a partnership between the United Nations and the European Union that is aiming to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls by 2030, Mexican women made more than 115,000 calls to the 911 emergency number in March to report violence, a 22% increase compared to February. The figure equates to an average of 155 calls per hour during the month.
But according to the president, 90% of these are fake.
After his own Interior Secretary estimated that violence against women had increased 60% during the coronavirus isolation period, the president said it wasn’t necessarily true.
Such violence “cannot be measured using the same parameters as the rest of the world. In Mexico we have a culture of solidarity within the family. The family in Mexico is exceptional, it’s the most fraternal human nucleus…”
For his part, AMLO did say that the Interior Ministry and the National Women’s Institute are taking action against the problem but sought to downplay its severity.
Denying violence against women has been a cornerstone of AMLO’s presidency.
Almost 1,000 women have been murdered in Mexico in the first three months of the year, in comparison to 890 murders last year. Nearly 250 of these murders are attributed to femicide, or the act of killing a woman because of her gender. Across the region, domestic abuse rates have drastically increased since countries began nationwide lockdowns. Nearly 20 million women and girls experience sexual and physical abuse each year in Latin America.
Endless stories on horrific murders – and daily indignities such as harassment, catcalls and being groped on public transit – have prompted a burgeoning women’s movement, whose members have protested online and in the streets and organized a national women’s strike on March 9th.
However, the president has cast himself as the victim of feminist activists and an opposition that is creating the issue solely to undermine his presidency.
Feminists continue denouncing femicides committed during the pandemic and demanding justice. Despite campus closures, students maintained a five-month-long occupation of the School of Philosophy and Letters at Mexico’s top public university, UNAM, and its affiliate high schools over authorities’ inaction in the face of widespread sexual harassment, assault, and even the deaths and disappearances of students.
Despite the López Obrador’s remarks, his supporters are still hopeful that his government can implement a feminist agenda.
As lockdowns continue to occur across Europe, Asia and the Americas, worrying reports of domestic abuse have spiked.
According to news outlets, women and men who are victims of domestic abuse are at risk for greater threats now more than ever. With so much of the world in lockdown, reports have said that many confined to their homes with their domestic abusers could become victims of the pandemic. In a report by CNN, multiple studies proclaimed “that emotionally stressful events can lead to an increase in aggressive behavior at home. Researchers identified such spikes during the 2008 economic crisis, when major natural disasters hit, and also during big football tournaments.”
According to Lucha y Siesta women’s shelter in Rome, the crisis has made abuse all the worse.
According to an interview with Lucha y Siesta and CNN, one young woman had contacted the women’s shelter with reports of a controlling relationship turned violent. The unknown woman told Lucha Y Siesta that ” her partner of four years had always been controlling and abusive but had become much worse during the lockdown.”
With the current public health crisis overwhelming Italy’s resources the country has been forced to turn its direction towards fighting the virus as opposed to helping victims.
“The court procedures are working slower than usual because most people are working from home,” Simona Ammerata a woman who works for Lucha y Siesta and spoke to CNN explained. “The fear is that the legal decrees to protect women won’t be put in place in time.”
Domestic abuse searches have surged in countries across the globe. Not just Italy. Australia and the UK are among some of the countries to report these findings.
Refuge, a domestic violence charity based out of Great Britain has also rung the alarms about similar concerns.
According to CNN, victims of domestic abuse have been using trips to supermarkets and pharmacies to ask for help as strict rules about remaining in quarantine have made it particularly difficult for abused women to escape abusers.
Codeword: “Mask 19.”
Victims of abuse have reportedly been using the codeword “Mask 19” in interactions with pharmacists behind their local counters toa ask for help. According to Elle magazine, local authorities in Spain and the Canary Islands launched an action last week that supports domestic abuse victims in making reports. Those who are incapable of outrightly making complaints to staff about their abuse, are using the code “mask 19.”