The protest movement against femicides forces us to reflect on the profound gravity of social patterns that we normalize in Mexico. It is worrisome that among the 36 OECD member countries, Mexico is the second country with the lowest female labor participation, only surpassed by Turkey. This constrains women to depend economically on their parents or their partners, a condition that potentially keeps them tied to situations of abuse. Economically, Mexico is missing the enormous contribution that could come from women. At a time when Mexico’s population growth is slowing down, it is more important than ever to incorporate them into the workforce.
It is naive to think that we can change deeply rooted social patterns and values overnight, or by decree. But culture evolves. In the old American television series we see behaviors that were tolerated 15 or 20 years ago but today are clearly no longer. Let’s put into place public policies that encourage desirable changes. Some examples: let’s change the basic unit for taxing purposes from a household to an individual, in order to avoid raising the marginal tax rate for the families when women work. It is necessary to increase access to nurseries and childcare facilities, improve their quality, subsidizing them, and making them tax deductible. We must legislate to extend paying paternity weeks to men (and penalize if they are not taken), as a way not only to increase men involvement in the care of infants, but to avoid making it more attractive to hire men.
While in Mexico there is reasonable access for women to education until high school, it is important to raise the level of professional aspiration of young women who opt too often for careers in communication or design, and too little for engineering or science. Companies and entrepreneurs also have to generate awareness. Let’s encourage the permanence of women in companies, so that they can build rewarding careers, offering flexibility of schedules and conditions to allow them to work from home. It is extremely important to include women in management positions and boards of directors, as it is to promote equal pay for equal responsibilities, and also set policies to avoid questions in interviews that invite discrimination: Are you married? Do you have children? Do you want to have them?
Our macho culture did not develop on its own, nor it excludes social classes. It is encouraged by men and women. Behind each male there is a mother who makes her daughters tend to their brothers, and who does not distribute the household chores equally; There is a dad who tells his children that crying is for girls, or who encourages the use of physical violence as proof of manhood. I have heard well-educated fathers say to their daughters: “today you ask me for permission, then you will ask your husband”; and I have also heard intelligent, economically self-sufficient women, who bear their husbands telling them: “You are not your own boss”. Machismo exists because we allow and encourage it.
Reversing the brutal marginalization and abuse of women in Mexican society implies an effort by all of us. For that reason, it is a mistake to reject men joining in feminist protests. Solving the problem requires that we all change our behavior. Language matters. Let’s avoid sexist jokes that promote undesirable stereotypes. Before using pejorative language towards any woman, let’s imagine how we would feel if someone used the same language to refer to our daughters or sisters. Let’s rigorously punish sexual harassment in workplaces.
According to Mexico’s statistics agency (INEGI) data, one third of women surveyed in urban areas have been victims of some form of gender violence only in the second half of 2019. It is urgent to make it easy to present complaints, reduce impunity, create structures that provide safety in safety and public transport. And above all, it is essential that we realize the gravity of the situation that women in Mexican society face every day. Enough is enough!
* Jorge Suárez-Vélez is an economic and political analyst He is the author of The Coming Downturn of the World Economy (Random House 2011). A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @jorgesuarezv