Today, it is quite common to hear right-wing conservatives discredit progressive governments of being “populist” and using certain topics to attract votes and increase popularity rates. This has certainly been the criticism towards Mexico City’s government, which has taken a stance on certain topics, such as abortion, euthanasia, and others, as a political standpoint against the Federal Government’s conservative right-wing.
Whatever the political force behind some of the programmes being promoted by the city’s government, feminist and gender equality organizations have taken advantage of the political juncture and have pushed through critical legislation to their agendas.
Probably the most ground-breaking, and controversial legislation was passed by the Mexico City legislature in April 2007, essentially legalising abortion. Technically, abortion is still illegal; the law passed simply included several causes that allow for an abortion to be performed legally during the first trimester. Considering that at least 68,000 women die each year in Latin America due to botched abortions, it becomes clear that it is a question of public health. Since the law passed, a total of 5,845 women have decided to legally interrupt an unwanted pregnancy in Mexico City.
Ironically, in May 2007 the National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) presented a brief before the Supreme Court to initiate lawsuit to declare the law unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of Justice will soon decide upon the matter, but hopefully will see this issue as one of public health and human rights of women, and not as a moral or political one.
Additionally, Mexico City’s congress has put forth a bill that will legislate sex change operations and open the possibility for a person to change his/her gender, promoting the human rights of the citizens of one of the largest cities in the world. The proposal was put together with the support of doctors, sexologists, psychologists as well as organizations specialized on transexuality issues. The bill includes the possibility to modify the birth certificate, as well as all legal standing for any legal purpose. Additionally, it proposes a change to the Health Law in order to enable public hospitals to perform sex change operations.
Other important measures include the granting of paternity leave, which not only is a policy which promotes gender equality, but also aids in raising awareness of the need for men to participate in reproductive labour. Incorporating masculinities (an absent topic) in public policies in Mexico is critical. The guidelines are still pending, which means that it is up to each institution to decide the terms on which this benefit will be granted. However, one man who works for Mexico City’s Human Rights Commission has already taken his paternity leave (10 working days with pay).
Additionally, Mexico City has implemented a policy aimed at reducing sexual harassment of women in public transport by placing women-only buses on the street. Even though this might not be the panacea, the women-only buses available have made the lives of women much easier. Approximately 22 million passengers use the bus and subway system daily, and although estimations of the numbers of sexual harrassment against women are hard to acquire, given the many disincentives to report these incidences, it is a major and visible form of violence against women. The policy has many flaws, including the fact that only four of city’s bus routes have these buses, a very small coverage for such a large and chaotic city. However, it is an effort of Mexico City’s government to create safe places for women, and the government plans to expand the number of routes to 15 in the months ahead. Additionally, the city is planning to pass a law that will make it easier to prosecute those found harassing women in public spaces, one of the many deterrents for women to actually report sexual harassment. Needless to say, this is a problem that resides in gender constructions, and as such, must be accompanied (as any public policy) with a strong campaign to raise awareness on the very troubling issue of violence against women.
Personally, I disagree with politicians who take advantage of the needs of the people to push through their personal electoral agenda. However, I am all for women’s organizations taking advantage of a political opening to promote legislations that can pave the way towards a more equal society, where the rights of both women and men are guaranteed and safeguarded. Kudos!