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  • Grace Flatow

Evaluating Mexico's General Law for Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence

On the 2nd of February, 2007 the Mexican Congress passed a law titled The General Law for Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence. The law was riddled with hopeful statements of freeing women from the oppressive realities they face in all aspects of Mexican life. It promised protection from their abusers, the implementation of help programs, and more. Yet, in 2022 seven out of ten women reported facing some form of violence. How can this be if the ruling power of the state implemented an extensive law which outlined implementation deadlines and specific language toward certain areas of life? How can it be that the rate of femicides - the intentional killing of women because of their gender - increased by 137% between the years 2015-2021? The depressing truth is that women are not protected in Mexico because they are not prioritized. The Mexican government has failed to translate this federal law into local action. They have failed to provide resources to local communities and they have failed to provide safe spaces for women where they can feel that they will be believed if they come forward to report violence. Despite its legislation, the Mexican government has left women to fend for themselves because they cannot enforce the law adequately.


Outlining the Law


The General Law for Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence offered a new legal framework that ensured the right of women to live a life free of violence. The law emphasized in Article One that “the purpose of the present law is to establish coordination of the federation, the states, and the municipalities to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against women”. Article Four elaborates further that the guiding principles for a woman’s access to a life free of violence are “legal equality of men and women; respect for the human dignity of women; nondiscrimination; and freedom of women”. Article Six outlines the types of violence against women to be defined as: “psychological violence, physical violence, patrimonial violence, economic violence, sexual violence, and any other analogous acts that harm or may harm the dignity, integrity or freedom of women”.


The law outlines treatment, prevention, and penalization models that can be taken to protect victims of family violence. Some of the many measures mentioned include “provid[ing] victims with specialized care, legal advice and psychological treatment free of charge…”. The law then outlines actions which should be taken for various types of cases, such as community violence, teacher violence, labor violence, and violence in specific institutions.


Transitory Provisions


The end of the law includes transitory provisions that provide an outline for the implementation of this legislation. More specifically, the second article outlined that “The Federal Executive shall issue the Regulations of the law within 90 days following the entry into the force of the present Decree”. Despite this set deadline, these regulations were issued on the 11th of March 2008, a whole 305 days after the required cutoff. The time this process took highlights the lethargic attitude the Mexican government has taken towards implementing a law that is supposedly intended to give women basic human rights, foreshadowing the lack of implementation that has followed.


Furthermore, Article 8 states that state legislatures have six months to initiate legislative change to ensure implementation. This was written into the law in hopes of establishing a fast timeline in which federal and state action could be taken. Yet, according to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada’s report on Mexico’s adoption of the law, states such as Jalisco, Querétaro, and more have not followed this deadline. The passive attitude the Mexican government has adopted toward implementing this law, which has the potential to improve and protect the lives of thousands of women directly, represents the dire disconnect between the state's priorities and human rights.


Inadequate resources


In order for the goals of the General Law to be carried out locally, states must allocate a sufficient portion of their budget to establishing shelters, call lines as well as providing funding to educate those dealing with claims of violence against women. According to a report by the UN Refugee Agency in 2016, there are 72 shelters nationwide in Mexico, including governmental, non-governmental, and privately run shelters. This means there is about one shelter per 900,000 women. The General Law’s mandate to provide women with shelters–a necessary resource to escape violence–has not been carried out on the state level, further showing the disconnect between state and federal legislation.


Along with the lack of shelters, the Mexican judicial system places little emphasis on granting victims of femicide and sexual violence the justice they deserve. According to the article Aspirational Laws as Weak Institutions “The Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women's Rights (CLADEM) claims that 92 percent of femicides go unpunished in the region”. To state this explicitly, 92 percent of women who are killed intentionally because of their gender are never given the justice they deserve; the people who committed these crimes all-too frequently go without punishment or conviction. The Mexican government’s inability to uphold the law in the face of crimes such as murder not only shows their disregard for women but also the little power they hold. Additionally, Amnesty International "calculates that of the 74,000 sexual assaults in Mexico, prosecutors receive only about 15,000 complaints, and out of the cases brought to court in 2009 only 2,795 resulted in a conviction". This example once again presents the Mexican government in a negative light regarding women's' rights; not only are killers of women free but so are those who sexually assault others.


Conclusion


The General Law offers aspirational rights which aim to change society. Yet, implementing the law within state legislatures has proven a near-impossible task. Women hardly have the means to escape from violence because of the minimal shelters within Mexico. To think of prosecuting those who have committed these crimes would be a wishful aspiration. The General Law has largely failed the women of Mexico. However, protest against inaction, and determination to demand change have persisted- and will continue to do so until implementation of the General Law moves beyond aspiration.


Image via Wikimedia Commons



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