According to the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative (Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos)1, when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the region, women, particularly defenders, were already facing critical conditions of inequality, exclusion, violence, and extermination. However, measures implemented by governments to prevent the spread of the virus have generated differential impacts and exacerbated some structural problems related mainly to the precariousness of the health system and the inefficiency of the administration of justice, which aggravates a climate of impunity for human rights violations, according to Yésica Sánchez Maya2, the director of Consorcio Oaxaca, an organization accompanied by PBI Mexico.

The landscape described by women's organizations in Mexico can be demonstrated through the statistical records that these and the federal government produce to assess the situation of women in different fields. The Secretariat of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana)3 shows that suspected femicides and suspected victims of femicide increased by more than 9% in the first half of 2020 compared with the same period of the previous year. In addition, in some months of the first half of 2020 there was a number of alleged intentional killings of women higher than any month’s count in 2019, and in April the highest number of women were victims of this alleged crime since the start of record-keeping in 2015. Finally, the quantity of emergency calls to 911 related to "incidents of violence against women" made in February, March, April, and June 2020 is higher than any count per month since January 2016.

Hence, women are not only suffering work exclusion and the sustained increasing of their working hours, but also the upsurge in several forms of violence and extermination, which are not being fully addressed by the Mexican authorities and society. In this direction, human rights organizations have expressed concern about “doubts on the seriousness of violence against women cast by the President” 4, who said in May during a press conference that “90% of the calls registering violence against women are false” 5. On 23 April, the President passed the Decree establishing some austerity measures including, inter alia, the reduction of the salaries of senior officials and the non-execution of 75% of the budget available for general service items and materials and supplies, to be carried out by units and entities of the Federal Public Administration6. Accordingly, Amnesty International Mexico reported that on July 15, a day after the president assured that “there is no budget reduction [and that] women in Mexico had never been protected as much as now” 7, the decision to cut MXN 151 million from the budget for the National Institute of Women (Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres-Inmujeres) was announced, ignoring the Federal Law on Budget and Responsibility, and the powers of the Chamber of Deputies.8 The director of the Inmujeres, Nadine Gasman, said the cut “is not a blow to the budget of the Women, [but] a reduction in the budget of the entire Federal Public Administration, [... and moreover] the response programs to violence against women have not been touched, [because] from the outset they were defined as essential services and have not stopped” 9.

María de la Luz Estrada, from the National Citizen Observatory on Femicide (Observatorio Ciudadano Nacional del Feminicidio), noted that women had been articulating robust processes of mobilization in the streets to demand that the State take urgent action against inequality. However, the records of "femicidal violence", a category used by Estrada to describe the context of serious violations of women's rights, have risen dramatically and the pandemic “paralyzed the authorities” 10, who disrupted their victim care actions and cancelled follow-up meetings to gender alerts. Although the federal government declared the essential nature of the prosecution and administration of justice, Attorneys General’s Offices of some states ceased their activities and some of them established guards with low-skilled personnel to only attend to urgent happenings, so several ongoing cases were suspended and victims and relatives of victims’ access to justice was delayed.

With regard to women defenders, María de la Luz Estrada has pointed out that organizations that converge in the National Network of Human Rights Women Defenders in Mexico (Red Nacional de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos en México) are promoting the adoption of self-care protocols to continue working and not to be paralyzed, but “this does not happen to all networks, [because] unfortunately not all women defenders have conditions and [many] colleagues [...face] a precarious situation” 11 because of the reduction in their income and the illness of some family members. In addition, they still must grapple with the absence of security conditions to keep defending human rights. According to the records of the Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (Mecanismo para la Protección de Personas Defensoras de Derechos Humanos y Periodistas) 12, between January and May 2020 there were 250 assaults against human rights defenders and journalists, of which 52 were directed against women defenders and 34 against women journalists. According to Yésica Sánchez Maya, between January and June 2020, 266 women human rights defenders have been attacked and the main modalities are defamation, criminalization, and murder. The director of Consorcio Oaxaca believes that “we are returning to the initial struggles for human rights, to our civil and political rights, which were battles that we believed we had already achieved, but this setback of states also repositions us in the challenges of our thematic agendas, of our agendas to the international community, but also in this linkage of regional patterns, which have been registered” 13.

PBI Mexico recognizes the adverse conditions, exacerbated by the pandemic, faced and denounced by women and women's rights organizations in Mexico, and calls on local, state and federal authorities and the international community to activate the necessary mechanisms to respond to the plight of women in the country, guaranteeing their lives, their well-being and the continuity of the work of human rights women defenders.

1 LA CRISIS YA ESTABA AQUÍ. Defensoras mesoamericanas ante COVID-19.

2 Webinar Derecho A Defender: Mujeres defensoras en México y Centroamérica, 14 July 2020.

3 Información sobre violencia contra las mujeres. Incidencia delictiva y llamadas de emergencia 9-1-1. Centro Nacional de Información. Información con corte al 30 de junio de 2020.

4 LA CRISIS YA ESTABA AQUÍ. Defensoras mesoamericanas ante COVID-19.

5 Animal Político. AMLO dice que el 90% de las llamadas sobre violencia contra las mujeres son falsas.

6 DECRETO por el que se establecen las medidas de austeridad que deberán observar las dependencias y entidades de la Administración Pública Federal bajo los criterios que en el mismo se indican. 23 April 2020.

7 El Financiero. Nunca se había protegido tanto a las mujeres en México como ahora: López Obrador.

8 Amnistía Internacional México. ¡No a la reducción de presupuestos para las mujeres!

9 El País. “El recorte no es un golpe al Inmujeres, es una reducción del presupuesto de todo el Gobierno”.

10 Webinar Derecho A Defender: Mujeres defensoras en México y Centroamérica, 14 July 2020., 30:45.

12 Observaciones sobre Violaciones a Derechos Humanos cometidas durante la Contingencia Sanitaria por COVID-19, Segunda entrega, abril-mayo 2020.

13 Webinar Derecho A Defender: Mujeres defensoras en México y Centroamérica, 14 July 2020., 01:09:30.