Coronavirus

China To Mexico, COVID-19 Exposes Violence Against Women

People are dying, economies are tanking and politics are awry. But that's no excuse to short-shrift the struggle for equality and protections for women.

A protest advocating for victims of femicide in Mexico City
A protest advocating for victims of femicide in Mexico City
Samantha Montiel

-Analysis-

PUEBLA — From politicians to activists to the news media, everyone, it seems, has something to say about the impact of the coronavirus and the subsequent lockdowns — mostly in terms of health care and the economy. But there are also social effects to consider, along with a pending question: What happens to gender policies in a pandemic?

Since the #MeToo movement of 2017, feminist movements worldwide have intensified their contacts as they share similar priorities of assuring justice, equality and security for women regardless of geography. But the quarantine that governments across the globe imposed to curb the pandemic have dramatically downgraded the living conditions of many women, especially in Latin America.

The vulnerability of women is reflected in the daily situations they encounter, both at home and in public spaces, and that are more prone to violence and therefore less safe.

What happens to gender policies in a pandemic?

While staying at home is one of the measures needed to mitigate contagion, most countries have not given due consideration to its consequences, which include increased marital violence and the defenselessness of women against their aggressors. World Health Organization (WHO) figures from May 7, 2020 showed that among WHO members, there was a 60% increase in emergency calls from women reporting violence by partners or by people with whom they were confined.

Experts warn that continued confinement could yield around 31 million incidents of domestic violence. In most cases, this is invisible and does not appear in the official count, which makes it difficult to act to help victims.

China and Mexico are two countries where domestic violence levels have risen with confinement. In China, feminist groups and activists have been working on particular strategies to help victims. One group, Free Chinese Feminists, has launched online campaigns and courses meant for women facing violence at home. With slogans like "Fight the virus, not your family," it seeks to foment a culture of prevention and reporting in China.

A Women's Day protest in Mexico — Photo: El Universal/ZUMA

The Yuanzhong organization has in turn created a manual with steps to take to receive legal assistance for a divorce and phone numbers to call for immediate, cost-free psychological support. The country's oldest feminist group, All China Women's Federation, founded in March 1949 and official in nature, is in turn contemplating creating a database of people with histories of violence or abuse against women.

Beyond government and civil strategies, China's strict confinement measures — with entire cities closed down and a ban on leaving home for millions — had the effect of greatly impeding attention to isolated people and weakening the networks protecting those wanting to report abuses.

Domestic violence has also increased in Mexico, which already had an established and pervasive ocurrence of femicides. In spite of the existing Law for Women's Access to a Life Free of Violence, many victims have regrettably never enjoyed its protection.

In Mexico, domestic violence and murders of women complement a steady rise in criminal attacks and disappearances of women, and a range of systemic complications. Early in 2019 the government suspended payments to aid women's shelters across the country and is now threatening to end federal subsidies for another government initiative, the Gender Violence Alarm, in seven states.

Confinement could yield around 31 million incidents of domestic violence.

The pandemic situation is not only doing harm now; it's is also pushing back various socio-political advances made in favor of gender rights. While the fourth feminist wave and its various movements have made considerable progress in recent years, no country has yet to attain substantial gender equality.

The cases of Mexico and China show that the gender agenda cannot be put aside in a pandemic. Women need to strengthen their ties and protective networks and remain present in the formulation and implementation of public, gender policies, but also act to ensure that governments are following through on the commitments they already made.


*Samantha Montiel is a lecturer in international relations at Mexico's Universidad de Oriente in Puebla and a member of the REDCAEM academic network.

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Geopolitics

Erdogan And Boris Johnson: A New Global Power Duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.

Johnson and Erdogan in NYC on Sept. 20

Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung

-Analysis-

BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.

Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.

Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.

What will Aukus mean for NATO?

Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.

The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting

Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.

"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."

Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum

Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.

But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.

Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA

Erdogan’s EU wish list

It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.

Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.

Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU

Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.

 Turkey's second largest export market

The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.

At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."

After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.

Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.

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