Press Freedom in Mexico 
Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. At least 13 journalists in Mexico have been victims of murder as of August, making 2022 the deadliest year yet for media workers. While organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have been investigating these murders, Mexican authorities and law enforcement officials have been slow to cooperate.

Government Opposition and Law Enforcement

Since 2000, Mexico has been an electoral democracy with regular voting periods. However, violence against journalists has restricted citizens from having full democratic freedoms and expression. According to Freedom House, “violence perpetrated by organized criminals, corruption among government officials [and] human rights abuses” contribute to journalist killings and restrictions on free speech.

With opposition from the new Mexican administration and authorities, violence against journalists has surged in recent years. President López Obrador, who took office in December 2018, called critical reporters “mercenaries” and “sellouts,” which the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) identified as a direct attack on Mexican journalists’ safety. Although the Obrador administration promised to “stop illegal surveillance” in 2018, the CPJ has found no new policies that would prevent authorities from spying on journalists.

Authorities in Mexico often leave journalist murders unresolved. According to the CPJ, there have been 28 unsolved cases of killed journalists since 2012. Journalist Fredid Roman died earlier in 2022. However, authorities did not provide much information on his killing or possible motives. Although Mexican authorities have completed more arrests related to journalist murder cases, there is no correlation to a higher conviction rate. According to Human Rights Watch, only six out of 105 journalist killing investigations since 2010 have resulted in homicide convictions.

Why Press Freedom in Mexico Matters

In even the most democratic nations in the world, there has been a growing trend toward pro-government media and biased reporting. For instance, the Indian government has discouraged anti-national speech and harassed critical journalists. Similarly, the threat of violence, murder and harassment against journalists has severely limited press freedom in Mexico. Accurate and honest reporting not only ensures Mexico’s democratic principles but helps to regulate poverty, the economy and government accountability.

Press freedom in Mexico is crucial for amplifying the voices of the poor through interviews, features or investigative stories. According to Panos London, the media can act as an “open forum for coverage and reflection of issues relevant to public audiences,” which fosters an exchange of ideas around poverty reduction. Without this amplification, poverty reduction strategies may have limited input and become less effective in practice.

Studies have also identified press freedom as a crucial tool in reducing the social and economic sources of poverty. The media can serve as a form of education, which encourages national and individual development. It also forces the government to create better policies through public accountability, which promotes higher access to basic needs, nutrition and medical care.

Press freedom in Mexico also has links to economic development. The Heritage Foundation reported a correlation between free economies and free press, with higher-income countries having higher rates of press freedom and vice versa. As the Atlantic Council states, “countries with a free press are more likely to support entrepreneurship, attract foreign investments, and have strong connections in the global market.”

Mobilizing Support for Journalists in Mexico

Journalists in Mexico have died for criticizing authorities, the government and problematic federal policies. For instance, the murder of reporter Antonio de la Cruz resulted from a crime against freedom of expression. Before the murder, state authorities had asked de la Cruz to remove some critical tweets against the state government. Protecting journalists in Mexico also means ensuring government accountability. Just as de la Cruz fostered transparency with his readers, other journalists in Mexico risk their lives to deliver accurate news to the public.

Local, national and international organizations have called upon the Mexican government for further policy action and journalist protection. The CPJ routinely releases articles requesting that Mexican authorities investigate and prosecute those responsible for journalist murders. However, there must be national and local support to make this a reality. As Mexican journalists continue to report reliable and truthful accounts of current events, organizations must mobilize support across the world to create a safer environment for them.

– Anna Lee
Photo: Unsplash

Gender Wage Gap in Mexico
The wages men and women receive vary in most parts of the world. Mexico is a prime example of this; women in Mexico have significantly lower wages than men. Women’s protests have shed light on the inequity of the gender wage gap in Mexico, prompting government officials to work to protect their right to equal pay and employment access.

Tradition and the Economy

Across the globe, women on average are paid on average 20% less than men, even when they are working the same jobs. In Mexico, that gap is roughly 15.6%. Unequal pay creates significant impacts on the number of women who choose to work. Gender pay inequality also contributes to greater oppression of women in the workforce.

The culture of a given community contributes greatly to female labor force participation. Traditional Mexican culture promotes a patriarchal ideology where society expects women to be caretakers. It is because of this that most women take on domestic jobs, such as childcare or cleaning, which are often unpaid. Women also find themselves working in street markets, selling their home-grown produce to provide additional income to support their families.

The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the economic conditions that the lack of female employment caused. The pandemic caused inflation in Mexico to rise to its highest point in 20 years. Having increased by 5% since 2020, Mexican households are having to pay more for necessities such as food and gas.

In Mexico, women compromise less than half of the total labor force. When women are paid 85 pesos per every 100 pesos made by working-class men for the same work, it seems more financially prudent for mothers to stay home rather than pay for childcare. To put this in perspective, in a given job, a man may earn $5.13 per hour, whereas a woman will earn $4.36 despite performing the same labor. This disproportion in wages has made it extremely difficult for women to become financially independent.

Women that do make it into the labor force also find more barriers to advancement than their male counterparts. Women in entry-level positions in industries such as retail do not obtain promotions as often as men do. Recent data that McKinsey and Company collected determined that only 8% of women receive promotions to higher positions within their given field. This inevitable glass ceiling hinders women’s ability for upward mobility.

Bridging the Gender Wage Gap in Mexico

Recent awareness on this topic has led to the development of federal programs that assist women wishing to progress in male-dominated industries. Now, more than ever, working-class women are being more aware of their rights to paid labor as well as the gender wage gap. Moreover, the Mexican Supreme Court is also promoting specific legislation that would protect women employees and ensure equal pay. In 2019, the Mexican government enacted the Social Protection Program. The International Labor Organization (ILO) funded the Social Protection Program which ensures that working-class women receive a minimum wage while also having access to benefits such as health care and pensions. This protection serves as an important stepping stone to ensuring women receive equal treatment in the workplace.

A recent survey that the firm ManpowerGroup conducted found that 64% of Mexican organizations are aiming to increase the number of women in positions that men traditionally held. One example is the Mexican Football Federation which has set strict salary constraints for female athletes. Before, men in the Mexican Football league made nearly 200 times more than women. The updated conditions ensure female athletes a wage equal to that of male players.

The gender wage gap in Mexico has been slowly decreasing over the past two decades. Increasing awareness of the inequality between working men and women is helping to shed light on the disparities in Mexican society. The actions of the government have inspired hope that Mexican legislation will continue to promote gender inclusivity in the workplace and reduce the pay gap.

– Micaela Carrillo
Photo: Flickr

Tourism in Mexico
Although the Mexican tourism industry took a hit during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, in recent months it has seen a revival, with more than 36 million international tourists visiting the country between January and July 2022, according to the Mexican government. The recovery of the industry will be a relief to many because the Mexican economy depends heavily on foreign visitors — a 2017 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states that tourism accounts for around 8.5% of Mexico’s GDP and 5.8% of full-time employment. This makes the sector a prime contributor to the fight against poverty. Investment in tourism in Mexico has the potential to stand as an integral part of the country’s plan to alleviate poverty and grow the economy.

An Overview of Poverty in Mexico

The World Bank has reported that Mexico has struggled to stimulate economic growth and lift its large proportion of disadvantaged citizens out of poverty. In 2014, the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development (CONEVAL) revealed that 46.2% of Mexicans lived in multidimensional poverty and Reuters reported a 44% national poverty rate in 2020.

Income and regional inequality are some of Mexico’s most significant challenges. According to a 2021 study, data from 1989 to 2016 shows that the most impoverished 10% of the population have never had an income share higher than 2%. In addition, poverty affects rural areas the most severely. With tourism raking in approximately $25 billion for the Mexican economy in 2019, according to CNN, the potential of the industry to solve this issue is massive.

3 Ways that Tourism Alleviates Poverty

  1. It stimulates the local economy. According to globalEDGE, tourism provides a large amount of revenue to small businesses, such as restaurants, hotels and shopping malls, because of visitors’ desires to experience local food and products. A 2015 study from South Africa also found that increased investment in the tourism industry serves to diversify the local economies of a country, which can be a positive step for areas with declining “traditional” industries, like manufacturing.
  2. It stimulates the national economy. Tourism can be a significant contributor to the GDP of a country — the global tourism industry accounted for 10.3% of the global GDP in 2019.
  3. It creates jobs for locals. One of the key benefits of the tourism sector is that goods are consumed where they are produced, meaning that businesses can count on visitors to consume local goods and services. Tourism can create both full-time and part-time employment for people living in the area who can capitalize on their local knowledge to offer an authentic cultural experience. The industry also generates job opportunities that do not require extensive training, which can be invaluable to people who have little formal education or who live in disadvantaged circumstances. In countries like Mexico, many people have employment in tourism. TravelPulse reports that 4.49 million Mexicans work in the sector as of 2022.

Investment in Tourism in Mexico

In 2019, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced a new National Tourism Strategy in the hopes of achieving “6% economic growth by 2024” and promoting sustainable tourism practices to benefit a larger proportion of Mexican citizens. The strategy includes infrastructure projects aimed at spreading tourism into the southeast of the country, investments that will increase spending by visitors and efforts to make tourism a more lucrative industry for Mexicans living in disadvantaged areas.

One of the infrastructure projects is the Maya Train, a railway line that will run from popular destinations like Cancún and stop off in areas where tourism has traditionally been low, allowing tourists to visit a more diverse range of places and spread the wealth that the industry produced more evenly across the country. The project was originally estimated to cost around $150 billion Mexican pesos, or $7.8 billion USD.

Although plans for the construction of the railway lines and stations have suffered some setbacks, the Mexican government stated in a press release on October 17, 2022, that the construction of a station in Yucatán had begun. The Yucatán Peninsula is known for several interesting archaeological sites and the rail line will allow tourists to easily visit these cultural landmarks and support local businesses.

On a regional level, the state of Quintana Roo has spent the quieter period of the COVID-19 pandemic honing a new branding strategy. Cancún is its most popular destination, but the state is making efforts to expand tourists’ horizons. In an interview with Skift, the director of strategic planning for the state’s Tourism Promotion Council, Benjamin Jimenez, explained that the council is focusing on promoting a wider range of options than just sun and sand. This strategy will hopefully entice tourists to visit areas that are culturally significant but not typically popular with foreign visitors, pumping money into local economies and small businesses.

Looking Ahead

The future is bright for tourism in Mexico after a tough few years amid the COVID-19 pandemic. There is also evidence that the Mexican government is looking to expand its tourist industry into deprived areas, which will provide a funding surge, not just from tourist spending but from government and foreign investment too. Perhaps this could be the boost that Mexico needs to eliminate poverty for good.

– Abbi Powell
Photo: Flickr

Providing Earthquake Relief to MexicoLocated in the southern region of North America, Mexico is among one of the most economically disparate nations in the world. This broad inequity is largely a result of the political and economic corruption that is commonplace within the country and has resulted in approximately 41.9% of the nation’s constituents living below the poverty line as of 2018. Unfortunately, a recent earthquake in Mexico has likely caused an increase in this number, but organizations are on the ground providing earthquake relief to Mexico.

Context

On September 19, 2022, an earthquake with a 7.6 magnitude hit Mexico’s central pacific coast. This date, in fact, marked the anniversary of two previous highly damaging earthquakes that hit Mexico City in 1985 and in 2017. Mexico has had a long history of natural weather disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and volcanic eruptions. These unpredictable disasters contribute to the high poverty rate within the country. Natural weather disasters are responsible for the destruction of crucial infrastructure and result in mass displacement.

The most recent September 19 earthquake, in specific, resulted in damage to hospitals, malls, hotels, homes, parking lots and highways. Major parts of the city also faced power losses. Though the area reported no immediate casualties, reports confirm that the earthquake led to the death of at least one person. Mexico is in need of immediate aid.

3 Charities Providing Earthquake Relief to Mexico

  1. Direct Relief. Direct Relief began operations in Santa Barbara California in 1948 as an organization dedicated to “improving the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies – without regard to politics, religion or ability to pay.” The organization provides aid to territories all over the globe, including Mexico. Since 2010, it has provided Mexico with more than $57 million worth of medical assistance, more than 1.2 million pounds of medical supplies and more than 22 million “doses of medication.” In terms of Mexico’s most recent devastation, Direct Relief is providing earthquake relief to Mexico by offering assistance and aid (both physical and financial) to local and federal response agencies.
  2. Red Cross. The Red Cross began operations in Washington D.C. in 1881 as an organization dedicated to “protecting human life and health” and offers a wide range of services across the globe. The Red Cross has a primary focus on disaster relief but also provides blood services and humanitarian aid during global conflicts while working to improve global hygiene through water and sanitation initiatives. Its specific work in Mexico relating to the September 19 earthquake includes sending out Red Cross teams to monitor all regions impacted by the earthquake. In addition to its data collection, 57 Red Cross paramedics are on-call in Mexico City, ready to support affected constituents.
  3. All Hands and Hearts. This foundation came about in 2005 with headquarters in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts. All Hands and Hearts is an organization dedicated to “helping families recover faster after natural disasters through community and volunteer engagement.” All Hands and Hearts’ earthquake relief program in Mexico began after the September 2017 earthquake in Central Mexico. The team devised a five-phase plan to reconstruct schools and piloted several natural disaster education programs within the country, positively impacting more than 2,400 students. This program is still in progress providing earthquake relief to Mexico today.

Looking Ahead

While natural disasters are powerful enough to destroy infrastructure and displace thousands in poverty, it is crucial to remember the important work of organizations in the aftermath of these crises. Together, these relief organizations promise a better tomorrow for forcefully displaced Mexicans.

-Aarika Sharma
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Chiapas
Poverty in Mexico is a long-standing issue in the nation. The National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL) says the poverty rate in Mexico stood at 42% in 2018, but some regions noted disproportionately higher rates than others. In particular, poverty in Chiapas stood at almost 80% in 2018. Several organizations are taking action to reduce poverty in Chiapas and empower locals through education and more.

Education in Chiapas

Education is a proven pathway out of poverty, yet in 2020, just 36.3% of the Chiapas population completed primary school, 26.8% completed middle school and 20% completed high school. Furthermore, in terms of tertiary education, only 12.5% of the population had a bachelor’s degree. A lack of educational attainment limits access to skilled and higher-paying job opportunities that could help people break cycles of poverty.

According to Data Mexico, “the illiteracy rate for Chiapas in 2020 was 13.6%. Of the total illiterate population, 37.1% corresponded to men and 62.9% to women.” A lack of literacy links to a lack of access to quality education and contributes to high levels of poverty.

On top of this, the minimum wage in Mexico is only about 172 pesos for a day at work (about $9 USD per day). A lack of livable wages also contributes to the economic struggles of the country’s people.

Efforts to Improve Education

One of the key ways to help reduce poverty in Chiapas is by providing education. There are several organizations, such as Schools for Chiapas, providing education services to the young and impoverished in Chiapas. Schools for Chiapas came about in 1996 to provide education to locals in Chiapas by raising funds to build new schools, especially for Mayan communities. In particular, Schools for Chiapas aims to “support the autonomous, Indigenous Zapatista communities of Chiapas,” its website says.

Another example of a local NGO that is helping to alleviate poverty in Chiapas is Help Chiapas. Set up in 2008, Help Chiapas focuses its efforts on supporting Indigenous populations by creating more secure and prosperous communities to prevent forced migration.

Help Chiapas is achieving this by setting up clinics that provide dental and health care while educating the Indigenous population on essential healthcare practices, among other efforts. It also runs a scholarship program, which launched in 2019, to give Indigenous young people the opportunity to further their education through college learning or trade school. By raising literacy rates and increasing levels of educational attainment, locals can rise out of poverty through access to more opportunities.

To decrease poverty in Chiapas, organizations such as Schools for Chiapas and Help Chiapas need to continue their work in providing new opportunities through education and addressing basic needs through services such as clinics. On a wider scale, efforts from the Mexican government are necessary to ensure long-term success in reducing poverty throughout the nation, but especially in areas like Chiapas, which see the highest rates of poverty.

– Reuben Cochrane
Photo: Flickr

Gender Inequality in Mexico
Gender inequality is one of the most widespread barriers to global development. The World Economic Forum has reported that political participation, economic opportunity, education and health care are still not fully accessible for women around the world and noted that it would take about 132 years to dissolve the gender gap in the world’s current trajectory. Gender inequality in Mexico reflects a similar reality — in 2021, almost 44% of females 15 and older participated in the labor force compared to 75.7% of males. Furthermore, females in Mexico contribute 30.7% of their time to unpaid care work in comparison to just 10% of men. These numbers work to reinforce poverty as having more women in the workplace brings many positive benefits that lift up entire economies. GENDES AC aims to reduce gender inequality in Mexico by focusing on the roles of men.

Gender Inequality in Mexico

The COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on just how deeply rooted the exclusion of women is. In Mexico, at the onset of the pandemic, women faced higher rates of job losses and shouldered the burden of unpaid domestic care. According to a study that Paula Andrea Valencia Londoño led, “The inequality in the distribution and use of time is an important determinant in workforce inequality.” Further, “the fact that women bear the brunt of unpaid domestic labors and caregiving has limited their economic participation and constitutes one of the principal barriers to their economic independence.”

Violence against women in Mexico is common and citizens have criticized the government for failing to effectively protect women. A May 2022 Americas Quarterly article said that there are about 10 femicides in Mexico each day. Mexico’s government has largely dissolved social programs aimed at empowering women, contributing to increasing gender equality in the nation.

GENDES AC

Founded in 2008, GENDES AC is a nonprofit based in Mexico that fights this gender inequity with a unique approach. In Mexico, “the presence of a machista culture, in which men exaggerate the violent, authoritarian, aggressive aspects of male identity, can be seen in the socially entrenched gender inequality and sexist, patriarchal structures,” said a journal article by Sarah Frances Gordon. This type of cultural norm dictates the nature of relationships between men and women in Mexico, in private spheres as well as in the broader economic landscape.

GENDES AC operates workshops for men to challenge their cultural biases and unlearn the social stigmas surrounding violence and relationships. These workshops teach men to contribute to gender equality and the protection of women by identifying their own actions that contribute to these injustices. GENDES AC’s mission is to involve men in the restructuring of gender norms in order to create a safer space for women to participate in civil society.

GENDES AC also conducts research and partners with local governments and civil society to propose public policy solutions that effectively utilize gender inclusion for development. It releases a number of publications, ranging from providing education about the interplay between masculinity and poverty to guidebooks for those seeking to relearn new behaviors that empower their communities. The organization’s release titled “Gender Equality Policies” offers insight into culturally relevant strategies for Mexico to improve outcomes for women.

Looking Ahead

Coupled with sound economic and public policy, community-based efforts to restructure power and increase understanding may be the best approach to fighting gender inequality in Mexico. GENDES AC is doing the grassroots work necessary to garner national attention and create change.

– Hannah Yonas
Photo: Flickr

Mexican hunger
Texans have grown up with H-E-B being a household name. The grocery store is famous for its fresh produce, low prices and wide variety. Most Texas residents, however, are ignorant of the good work the establishment does abroad. Mexico, the state’s neighbor to the south, is a developing country with quite a bit of malnourishment and poverty within its borders. H-E-B recognized this reality and implemented generous relief measures, making H-E-B v.s. Mexican hunger is an interesting and unforeseen rivalry.

Crisis in Mexico

As of 2020, 6.1% of Mexico’s population was undernourished, a figure that is part of an alarming trend of increased hunger. Such movements are a consequence of a variety of factors, whether that be the 2012 statistic of 10% of Mexicans who are 50 years or older having no education or the data from that same year that showed 17% of men and 14% of women had no health insurance. Undesirable employment due to illiteracy and empty bank accounts due to high medical bills leaves individuals with limited food options and gives generous organizations like H-E-B a lot to combat.

Hence why the H-E-B v.s. Mexican hunger fight is multifaceted, with funds going towards food banks and festive feasts alike. The assistance allocation process includes a wide network of partnerships and the mere scope of the endeavor showcases just how invested the corporation is in helping the helpless. Take for instance the H-E-B Food Bank Assistance Program, this subset of the company’s anti-hunger campaign, founded in 1982, supports 13 different food pantries across Mexico.

Relief Efforts

A quarter of all donations come from the H-E-B Reclamation Center, reducing the number of shipping fees the banks have to pay and greatly improving their administrative abilities. That is alongside the figure of 50% of contributions originating from H-E-B’s Retail Donation Program, a policy that entails stores donating their unsold commodities to various food banks, according to H-E-B’s website. This means that it delivers the aid quite efficiently.

After all, in 2020 more than 600 truckloads of food were delivered to banks, 80,000 meals were donated to hospitals, and there was a 35% increase in the total amount of pounds of aid being distributed with respect to the previous year.

H-E-B took this efficiency one step further by providing the storage materials for these organizations, a rare move among food bank contributors, and by partnering with notable anti-poverty groups such as the Global Food Banking Network. In working with these NGOs, H-E-B has donated more than 1 billion pounds of food since its Food Bank Assistance program’s genesis, according to its website. Every year the corporation holds what it calls the Feast of Sharing at several different locations both within the states and in Mexico.

Even when the pandemic was raging, the company found a philanthropic alternative to this tradition, donating more than 340,000 meals to various meal centers and poverty-fighting organizations. Such adaptivity truly highlights how H-E-B v.s. Mexican hunger is fierce competition.

Sourcing

When H-E-B expanded into Mexico in 1997, the corporation created new relationships between Mexican companies and the store, giving the agricultural industries down south a welcomed boost. For goods that do not come from the Mexican fields, Texas farmers are then there to stock up the locations across the border, which means more business for them in the long run.

Considering that as of 2019, 3.3% of Mexico’s GDP was agriculture-based, this sector of the economy has huge implications for the well-being of the Mexican people and is definitely a key market of investment within the H-E-B v.s. Mexican hunger battle. As of 2017, 36%of producers in Texas had connections to farms, meaning that increased farming activity has greatly influenced the lone star territory.

Larger Scale Implications

Given the mutually beneficial aspects of H-E-B’s international initiatives, other public and private aid measures on the global stage seem more enticing. Many naysayers to U.S. corporate and federal assistance claim that the nation has so many problems of its own, it should not look abroad for dilemmas to fix. These two concerns are not mutually exclusive, however, operations like mere grocery stores can foster meaningful economic growth in markets far and near.

Though regardless of the American concerns, the H-E-B v.s. Mexican hunger fight, seen through the food bank donations and the festive meals, was an endeavor that the organization did in an orderly, thoughtful and efficient manner and the organization is providing more and more assistance. Regardless of which way you slice its ambitions, it is influential nonetheless.

– Jacob Lawhern
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

education in MexicoMuch of Mexico’s population faces economic struggles that have only magnified amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, one of which includes the high dropout rate for school-age children, a challenge education in Mexico is facing.

Mexico Faces High Student Drop-Out Rates

Mexico’s enrollment rate is one of the most successful out of the Latin American countries. By the start of the 21st century, almost all of Mexico’s age-eligible population was enrolled in primary and lower secondary school. A study found that the enrollment rate for students in grades one to nine as of 2007 was around 95%. Yet, the country fails to secure a high rate of student enrollment through the end of lower secondary schooling, with the overall drop-out rate being close to 50%

Data shows that less than 60% of students finish upper secondary school (high school level) and of that percentage, a large number of children age-eligible for high school do not even attend, according to a University of Nebraska-Lincoln study. Many students decide to end their educational pursuits around the age 15, due to financial reasons. Additionally, an estimated 5.2 million students, around 14% of Mexico’s school-aged children, had dropped out of school since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, citing financial hardship as the reason for their educational termination.

The Impact of Poverty

Although the government made secondary education mandatory in Mexico, it doesn’t directly enforce it. Additionally, “children marginalized by… poverty experience particularly high risks of dropping out” due to financial burdens, according to an article published in the International Journal of Educational Development. As children age, their school curriculum tends to become more difficult and financial costs tend to increase. Coupled with that fact, as children grow older they become more capable of contributing to their family’s financial status, whether that labor is through household duties or in the formal job market, the same article reports.

Mexico’s high dropout rates for school-aged children during and prior to secondary school therefore can have two reasons: the country’s poverty rates and the dependency on children’s labor to supplement household income, all of which especially escalated following the onset of COVID-19.

The Cancellation of Prospera

In recent news, Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador canceled Prospera, a governmental program intended to keep children in school and improve education in Mexico, according to Social Protection. The government developed the program in 1997 in response to Mexico’s economic crisis during the years 1994-1995, renewed it as Oportunidades in 2002, then renamed it Prospera in 2014. Following its cancellation, a new program, the Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund, replaced the educational components of Prospera.

What was Prospera?

Prospera was a conditional cash transfer program (CCT) that not only focused on child education but health and nutrition; it supplied monthly cash subsidies to poor households, primarily those belonging to single and/or unemployed mothers, under certain conditions, Social Protection reports. These conditions included school enrollment and regular trips to health clinics for children.

The CCT program reached 6.2 million households and researchers found that during its implementation, educational attainment for children increased by about 10%, according to Social Protection. Other short-term positive impacts thanks to the program’s conditional healthcare visits included a decrease in maternal death by 11% and infant mortality by 2% and an average improvement in children’s nutritional health.

Long-term impacts of Mexico’s Prospera are still being studied, but one study found that the program’s beneficiaries were “37% more likely to have a job” than those who did not participate and the World Bank attributes one-third of the decrease in Mexico’s rural poverty rates to the program. The World Bank also notes that over 50 countries have replicated Mexico’s Prospera model, adopting similar CCT programs.

Reasons Behind Cancellation

Despite this, Prospera was not particularly popular among voters and Mexico’s president Lopez Obrador eventually canceled it. Data has shown that the program’s beneficiaries received 30% to 40% less in cash value than what was originally intended.

Additionally, the program failed to include 55% of families living in poverty and with household incomes that should have qualified for program consideration, according to Development Pathways.

The Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund

That being said, President Lopez-Obrador and his administration intend for the Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund, Prospera’s replacement, to serve children’s educational pursuits without Prospera’s past corruption. In an effort to confront Mexico’s low enrollment and high dropout rates in secondary education and beyond, the fund will give monetary grants in the form of scholarships to teenagers attending upper secondary (high) schools, Social Protection reports.

This fund, however, does not account for “the removal of conditional health and nutrition requirements of Prospera,” Social Protection reports. Despite this fact, the Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund aims to “encourage [children’s] school enrollment and graduation” without making subsidies conditional upon parents meeting certain requirements.

The program targets families with school-aged children whose monthly income falls under the extreme poverty line and Mexico’s government claims “priority is given to families that live in areas of indigenous populations, areas with high degrees of marginalization or with high rates of violence,” according to Observatory on Social Development.

Mexico’s government has made efforts to improve education in Mexico and school enrollment through programs such as Prospera and, more recently, the Benito Juarez Scholarship Fund.

– Ashley Kim
Photo: Flickr

Microfinance in Mexico
Microfinance is a form of banking that provides financial support to those who would not normally have access to conventional types of financial services, due to reasons such as unemployment and poverty. Microfinance also provides access to important financial tools such as insurance, funds and savings. According to a 2016 research article by Subhabrata Bobby Banerjee and others, microfinance “aims to alleviate poverty by providing the poor new opportunities for entrepreneurship. It also aims to promote empowerment (especially among women) while enhancing social capital in poor communities.” Although microfinancing has also led to negative outcomes for communities, when implemented responsibly, microfinance has significant poverty reduction potential. In particular, microfinance in Mexico has the potential to empower women and reduce gender inequality.

Microfinance in Mexico

As it stands, Mexico falls behind in relation to financial inclusion. In Mexico, only 37% of adult citizens have bank accounts and only 32% have engaged in digital payment transactions. Access to a bank account provides individuals with the opportunity to use microfinance services. The World Bank outlines how Mexico’s current microfinance system is lagging behind countries at a similar level of development: “credit to the private nonfinancial sector was just 42% of GDP, far below the 143% average for emerging markets worldwide” in 2019.

Poverty and Gender Inequality in Mexico

According to the World Bank, almost 42% of people in Mexico lived under the national poverty line in 2018, equating to 52.4 million people. In some areas of Mexico, poverty is significantly high — in 2018, Chiapas, home to large numbers of Indigenous people, noted a poverty rate of almost 80%.

Gender equality also plays a role in poverty. Unemployment rates for women in Mexico are greater than those of men and pay for the same work is on average 22% less for women than men, according to a 2018 article by The Conversation.

Microfinance in Mexico can reduce poverty among women by providing the financial support required to decrease the gender inequality gap. Providing more access to microfinance for women and educating women on how to use microfinance most effectively is important. For example, a survey utilizing a hypothetical microcredit situation found that Mexican women would only invest about 6% of the money received through microfinance. To promote long-term growth in Mexico, this investment rate would need to increase considerably. This highlights the importance of providing more financial education.

Mexico’s Urban-Rural Divide

Poverty in Mexico is amplified by the government’s poor provision of infrastructure and education. This has resulted in a large urban-rural inequality gap in education and wealth, especially for women in these rural areas.

There is an 8% difference in access to bank accounts by men and women in Mexico. This exacerbates the gender inequality gap as men have higher rates of access to financial institutions than women do. On top of this, 90% of the credit goes to urban areas despite more than 20% of adult Mexicans residing in rural parts of Mexico. Without aiming for financial inclusion among marginalized groups, these new financial institutions may exacerbate poverty in Mexico.

How Microcredit Can Help

Banco Compartamos is leading the way in expanding microfinance in Mexico. More importantly, Banco Compartamos is making its financial services accessible to all regions and populations, including low-income groups and women. Women account for as much as 88% of the institute’s clients in Mexico. Banco Compartamos empowers women with the financial tools necessary to achieve financial independence and explore female entrepreneurship opportunities. Not only does Banco Compartamos strive for financial inclusion but it also promotes financial literacy through initiatives to empower communities to make better financial decisions.

Banco Compartamos currently has 180 branches in 29 Mexican states. This demonstrates the bank’s goal of being accessible to all in Mexico. The institution noted 2.6 million clients in Mexico by July 2020.

To accelerate the financial inclusion of marginalized populations, such as women and people in rural areas, the Mexican government launched the 2020–2024 National Financial Inclusion Policy (PNIF). One of the goals of this policy is for 77% of Mexican adults to have “at least one financial product” by 2024 and for more than 90% of Mexican municipalities to have “at least one financial access point” by 2024, the World Bank reported.

By expanding access to microfinance in Mexico, marginalized groups, such as women, can access financial resources to help them rise out of poverty. In turn, this will reduce the gender inequality gap and help expand the Mexican economy through the economic contributions of women in the form of entrepreneurship, increased consumption rates and more.

– Reuben Cochrane
Photo: Flickr

Organized Crime in MexicoMexican authorities race to intervene against the recent waves of cartel-related violence sweeping the nation. While organized crime in Mexico poses a serious threat to national security, for its impoverished citizens, many view cartels as potential golden tickets out of poverty.

Recent Waves of Violence

On August 17, 2022, the U.S. Department of State issued travel warnings for several Mexican cities as intense waves of cartel-related violence erupted across several cities during the second week of August. The outbreak of cartel brutality began on August 9 in the cities of Jalisco and Guanajuato when Mexican authorities apprehended a leader of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). In response, gang members retaliated, setting the cities into anarchy by setting cars and businesses ablaze.

Another incident occurred on August 11, in Ciudad Juárez when a prison encounter between two rival gangs, Los Chapos and Los Mexicles, escalated into widespread chaos. The disorder poured into the city where members of Los Mexicles went on to assault nearby civilians and scorch local establishments leaving 11 dead. The following day, the border city of Tijuana witnessed an influx of approximately 30 vehicles set on fire and blockades along highways by the CJNG.

Poverty as a Recruitment Tool for Organized Crime Groups

The Mexican government has been waging war on organized crime since 2006. The long and costly history of this struggle against cartels has affected thousands of Mexican citizens. Mexican cartels have become one of the leading drug traffickers of cocaine, marijuana and other illicit substances in the United States. It is their activities that place cartels and organized crime as a security risk.

Viewing organized crime in Mexico solely as a national security risk overlooks underlying factors that contribute to the cartel’s strength and overall growth. Many scholars and analysts view the gang “phenomenon” as incredibly diverse, with growing numbers rooted in exploiting vulnerable members of society including Mexican youth.

In an analysis conducted to understand youth-related crime groups, the groups are defined as impromptu attempts by adolescents to establish an environment that better suits their needs where “they can exercise the rights that their families, government and communities do not offer them.” At the root of this analysis is the recognition of youth poverty in Mexico. Adolescent boys take matters into their own hands to alleviate the dire symptoms of poverty. In doing so, they further alienate themselves from society and find themselves in a cycle of social exclusion from poverty and further marginalization from an affiliation with cartels.

Nearly half of Mexican youth under the age of 20 are poor. Among those living in poverty, approximately 76% experience social exclusion. While Mexico is a steadily growing economic state, poverty remains a core disparity. Symptoms of poverty in Mexico include inaccessibility to education, health care, food security and housing. While social stigmas about gangs exist, when facing adversities from such a young and vulnerable age, cartels entice youth populations as a remedy to their dire socio-economic situations.

Organized crime in Mexico affects impoverished youth and the lives of citizens. Local cartels in Mexico and greater Latin America extort communities and businesses, further hindering economic opportunities for vulnerable members of society. Policies centered on the socio-economic foundations of cartel culture are crucial to mitigating organized crime-related violence and overall activity.

Government Response and Efforts

In 2008, Mexican authorities, in coordination with the U.S. government, enacted the Merida Initiative, a program that recognizes the dual responsibility of the two states to counter organized crime in Mexico. The initiative operates on four primary objectives.

  1. Limiting the power of organized crime groups via systemic reduction of “drug trade revenues by interdicting drugs, stopping money laundering, reducing production and dismantling criminal organizations.”
  2. Improving the scope of judicial and law enforcement institutions to “sustain the rule of law and support Mexican government efforts to promote accountability, professionalism and integrity.”
  3. Fostering well-founded (and legal) industries while countering the “illicit flow of drugs, people, arms and cash.”
  4. Supporting the Mexican criminal justice system and local communities via advancing human rights initiatives, civil liberties and “implementing programs that engage youth in their communities, building community confidence in public institutions and reducing drug demand and addiction…”

The Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA or CEPAL) operates alongside other Latin American nations to build effective and sustainable socio-economic progress. Further investments in solid educational institutions, awareness programs from ex-gang members, professional development resources, rehabilitation programs and counseling services are vital preliminary steps to reducing overall involvement in cartels.

With the help of the U.S. government and non-state actors, continue its efforts to reduce organized crime in Mexico and improve the livelihoods of its citizens.

Ricardo Silva
Photo: Unsplash