Things That Matter

Amid Rising Domestic Violence, Mexico’s AMLO Says That 90% Of Women’s Calls For Help Are Fake

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.

Credit: Hector Vivas / Getty

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.

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