On Monday, hundreds of thousands of women in Mexico stayed home from work to call attention to a dramatic rise in the rate of female murders over the past several years. Several U.S.-based companies supported the massive nationwide protest by excusing their female employees for the day. That’s a good start, but with women’s rights under fire here in the U.S., business leaders may be called upon to take a stronger stand on gender equality at home as well as abroad.
Women’s rights activists have long raised the alarm over a systematic failure to prosecute cases of violence against women in Mexico, especially violence involving family members. The violence has increased significantly in recent years, with some researchers tracking a 54 percent increase in women stabbed or strangled at home between 2012 and 2016.
The situation came to a head last August, when women in Mexico City took to the streets to draw attention to a high-profile rape. They also raised the alarm over the 1,812 women killed during the seven months leading up to August, a number that made Mexico the "second-deadliest place for women” in Latin America aside from Brazil.
The August street protest may have also reflected disappointment with the policies of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Similar protests ensued over the next several months, including one that occurred on the 2019 International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25. (including a protest in Mexico City, shown in the photo above)
Obrador swept into office last year on the promise of support for women’s rights, but instead his administration has been stepping back. One example cited by critics is the termination of a successful social program that subsidized the costs of professional daycare. It was replaced with a voucher system that encourages female relatives to care for the children of working women.
Last year, the Obrador administration also announced plans to defund women’s shelters and instead provide cash payments to women facing domestic violence. The cash plan was dropped after a furious backlash from advocates, who argued that cash in hand would put women in even more danger from familial violence. However, the administration still cut funding for domestic violence shelters.
The ongoing failure to prioritize violence against women set the stage for Monday’s “A Day Without Women” protest.
In terms of attracting media attention, the action was a success. Reports of empty offices, factories and other places of work flooded the international press.
“Countless thousands of women and girls across Mexico have joined a historic strike to protest against the country’s startling rates of gender-based violence – and the government’s failure to respond to the crisis in which more than ten women are murdered every day,” reported The Guardian, in a representative story.
Coverage of Monday’s protest also reflected well on the businesses that supported their female workers.
NPR was among the news organizations reporting that Sears and Walmart provided a paid day off for women to participate in the protest. The Washington Post additionally reported that Ford and several other major corporations supported the action as well, and Buzzfeed News noted that male employees at a Hilton Hotel wore purple ribbons in support.
In terms of provoking decisive action from the Obrador administration, however, Monday’s action appears to have fallen short.
Reporting from Mexico City, Buzzfeed’s Mexico Bureau Chief Karla Zabludovsky noted that activists are already anticipating a rise in violence against women as reaction to the protest sets in. She also reported that President Obrador appears more inclined to appeasement than definitive action.
“As women’s anger has risen, so have his administration’s missteps,” Zabludovsky wrote, describing the president’s reaction as a mere shrug:
“During a morning press conference last week, a woman reporter asked López Obrador to protect her against a male colleague who had told her he wished she was gunned down.
‘We’d have to hear your colleague's version,’ López Obrador responded. ‘Why not forgive each other?’”
With violence against women in Mexico seemingly poised to escalate, U.S. companies may have to step up their support for women’s rights in order to preserve their reputations when it comes to securing their reputations when it comes to corporate social responsibility.
The problem has also begun hitting closer to home in recent months, as manifested by efforts to prevent women and girls from access to reproductive healthcare.
Last fall, Quartz noted that the Trump administration has decreased funding for sex education except for abstinence-only programs, while enabling organizations to implement faith-based denials of health services.
Quartz also reported that U.S. government websites have also begun replacing science-based language with terms that promote “a view of reproductive health informed by conservative Christian values rather than scientific research or gender inclusiveness.”
The administration’s preference for restricting access to reproductive health care is also reflected in foreign policy.
Last September, for example, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar informed the United Nations General Assembly that the U.S. is opposed to certain language intended to articulate rights for women and girls.
“We do not support references to ambiguous terms and expressions, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights in U.N. documents,” he wrote in a prepared statement, “Because they can undermine the critical role of the family and promote practices, like abortion, in circumstances that do not enjoy international consensus and which can be misinterpreted by U.N. agencies.”
In addition to speaking on behalf of the U.S., Azar’s statement was also co-signed by 18 countries that have a notoriously mixed record on women’s rights: Bahrain, Belarus, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Guatemala, Haiti, Hungary, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
If U.S. business leaders are truly concerned about gender diversity, in the U.S. and elsewhere, it may no longer be sufficient to advocate for women as a matter of internal company policy. As with the other foundational issues of today, including gun safety and the climate crisis, business leaders may be called upon to stand up for women’s rights on the broader stage of public policy.
Image credit: Thayne Tuason/Wiki Commons
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.