Cost of a State Dinner
One of the many responsibilities of any White House administration is to hold a distinguished state dinner that honors a guest of a foreign nation. The goal of most state dinners is to strengthen foreign relations. It is also to discuss policies regarding the country of the distinguished guest. However, these conversations often come at an extravagant price when taking a look at the cost of a state dinner.

Where the Money Goes

The average cost of a state dinner in 2014 was about $200,000. U.S. taxpayers fund the state dinners. Nonetheless, the money for these state dinners could have been used differently. It could have also been an important contribution to fighting poverty within the nation of the honored guest.

How a State Dinner Could Fight Poverty in Mexico

In 2010, a state dinner was held for President Felipe Calderon of Mexico. Discussion topics at the event included legislation regarding economic propositions and clean energy. They also included the prevalent issues of drug-trafficking and violence affecting all of Mexico. The cost of two-state dinners was near $1 million, and the cost for each person at the dinner was close to $5,000. Considering all of this, what problems $1 million solve in Mexico?

Staying on the topic of drug cartels from that state dinner and the ongoing issues of drug violence in Mexico, there is a direct relationship between increasing drug violence and poverty in the nation. From 2013 to 2017, drug violence or drug-trafficking killed nearly 30,000 people in Mexico. As of 2018, 26.2 million people were living at or below the poverty line. The quantity of $1 million is not nearly enough to solve the ongoing drug crisis or to lift people out of poverty. However, that could be a start. The drug crisis has not only affected Mexican lives, but also the lives of over 67,000 Americans as a direct result of Mexico’s crisis. According to Deputy Assistant Secretary Richard H. Glenn, American and Mexican lives depend on U.S. efforts.

How a State Dinner Could Fight Poverty in France

The two most recent state dinners included a dinner for French President Emmanuel Macron in 2018 and Prime Minister Scott Morrison in 2019. There is no available data for the exact cost of a state dinner for the French leaders. However, there were 150 guests at the French State Dinner. Based on previous state dinner costs, each meal averaged at around $1,000. This would mean that the total price for the food at the dinner was about $150,000. How could the cost of this food fight poverty in France?

During the year of the state dinner, France nearly 9 million of its citizens lived in poverty and 14 million more suffered from food insecurity. The quantity of $150,000 is not much to feed the country’s poor. However, this money could directly benefit the younger generation in France and ensure that programs advocate for steady employment and income. A third of the poor population in France includes children. Also, the government recently promised to ensure vocational training in their education programs to set children on a successful path out of school. The benefits of funding this vocational training are that graduates of programs have a higher likelihood of employment, critical thinking skills and lifestyle improvement.

The importance of state dinners is not negotiable in the sense that they do affirm and strengthen foreign relations. However, the cost of a state dinner itself could instead benefit the guest nation in various ways. The poverty-related issues that each country faces are serious and affect millions. Therefore, the money allotted to the state dinners from U.S. taxpayers’ dollars has the potential to serve in fighting foreign aid directly as well.

Josie Collier
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Women's Economic Empowerment in Mexico
In recent decades Mexico has made significant changes to close the gender gap. These progressive impacts include a series of legislative initiatives in 2002, 2008, 2014, and the 2015-2018 National System for Equality between Women and Men. Additionally, political parties promise to promote gender equality in nominations and to allocate money towards training women. By promoting women’s economic empowerment in Mexico, women of all backgrounds can achieve financial independence.

Obstacles To Financial Independence

Women in Mexico face several obstacles toward reaching financial independence. Martina Zoldos, a Slovanian writer, described the discrimination she faced while interviewing for a job in Mexico. Zoldos was asked, “whether [her] husband agreed with [her] decision of having a 9-to-5 office job.”

Traditional values are often placed on Mexican women. A study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development discovered that in Mexico, “only 45% of women between the age of 16 and 64 are employed, yet women perform over 75 percent of unpaid household work and childcare.” Additionally, women face daily violence in the form of rape, domestic abuse, and sexual harassment.

The United Nations identifies Mexico as one of the most violent countries for women. In 2017, The National Institute for Statistics and Geography detailed that 66% of women over 15 experienced some form of violence. In 2018, Mexico’s Security Minister Alfonzo Durazo signed a memorandum with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) to “strengthen actions against gender-based violence.” In addition to violence, women also struggle with access to justice, education, and opportunities. However, organizations like UN Women make it possible for women’s economic empowerment in Mexico.

The Work of UN Women

UN Women seeks to improve the financial independence of women. Various international organizations work for women’s economic empowerment, such as the Beijing Platform for Action, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the International Labour Organization. UN Women prioritizes migrant workers and rural and indigenous entrepreneurs. The agency also develops public systems that recognize the contributions of women to the economy.

The programs encourage women to secure decent jobs, build assets, and influence public policies and institutions. To improve women’s economic empowerment in Mexico, UN Women provides for the most vulnerable women. That work often happens in tandem with civil society groups and grassroots movements. UN Women works to develop financial skills among rural women, domestic workers, and migrants. They aim to help these marginalized women find decent work, earn higher incomes, and gain access to and control of resources. The agency also provides resources for women that face violence.

Government efforts also improve the lives of indigenous women. These women have the highest levels of illiteracy, maternal mortality, domestic violence, and poverty in the country. The government supports groups of indigenous embroiderers that create and sell fair-trade art. These efforts empower indigenous women to take part in local and state elections. While there is more to accomplish in protecting women against violence, financial independence can open doors for many women and generations to come.

– Mia Mendez
Photo: Flickr

3 Lessons the World Can Learn From Mexico’s New Feminist Foreign PolicyIn January 2020, Mexico shattered barriers by announcing its adoption of a feminist foreign policy aimed at reducing “structural differences, gender gaps and inequalities” at home and abroad. This commitment made Mexico the first country in Latin America and the Global South to require that “gender equality be at the core” of all foreign policy decisions. Mexico’s new policy initiatives intend to help foster the reduction of women’s economic and social issues through representation and the elimination of structural differences. Here are three lessons that every country can learn from Mexico’s groundbreaking feminist foreign policy initiatives.

Representation Matters

Developing foreign policy necessitates introspection within a government. How can a nation help foster gender equality abroad when it fails to do so within its borders?

In establishing its new feminist foreign policy, Mexico saw the potential hypocrisy of sponsoring gender equality worldwide while failing to address inequalities present in some of its governmental organizations. For this reason, many of Mexico’s feminist foreign policy initiatives focus on the creation of “a foreign ministry with gender parity.” The Mexican government believes that to ensure equitable feminist foreign policy gets passed into law, the ministry which creates such law must have “visible equality of women” within its ranks. This part of Mexico’s feminist foreign policy entails hiring even more women into positions of leadership in the foreign ministry. This hiring shift aims to create an influx of female voices in the Foreign Ministry to instill the opinions of women in policy areas ranging from foreign aid to defense.

Already, the Mexican government has become one of the most gender-equal in the world. As of 2018, Mexico had 246 women in congress occupying 48% of congressional seats. This places it at fourth in the world for its number of women in congress. By committing to include more women in the process of drafting foreign policy legislation, the Mexican government seeks to amplify the voices of women in the legislation process even further. This means increased advocacy for women worldwide, especially those living in poverty.

Mexico’s commitment to include women in the process of foreign policy creation demonstrates to the world that equitable foreign policy requires equal representation of men and women in the lawmaking process. 

Equality and Economics Are Inextricable

Globally, women earn 24% less than men and are more likely to live in poverty than men. High poverty rates among women signal a disparity between the wages of men and women. Any attempts by a government to ensure the equality of women on a global scale must be focused on reducing the number of women in poverty. Mexico recognizes this fact, and many of its groundbreaking feminist foreign policy initiatives involve tackling structural inequalities like the gender pay gap.

The Mexican government has committed to joining with the HeForShe organization, which champions social and economic equality between the sexes throughout the world. By orienting its foreign policy goals toward fulfilling the promises of women’s rights on a global scale, Mexico commits itself to economic initiatives like “microfinancing and small loans for women,” as well as the dismantling of antiquated trade laws and tariffs that put women at an economic disadvantage to men.

Through these initiatives, Mexico aims to reduce the number of women in poverty by helping to dismantle systemic inequalities and by giving women the resources needed in order to create economic equality. Microfinancing creates limitless economic opportunities for women all over the globe and allows them to independently develop their own businesses. Global communities lose around $9 trillion a year due to the gender pay gap. By committing to reduce this inequality, even the poorest of nations can decrease their poverty rates and bring tangible economic benefits to communities in need.

Mexico’s commitment to reducing the number of women in poverty makes it evident that if the systemic economic barriers to equality are to be dismantled, women must be given the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty and to earn wages and jobs at equal rates to men. Equality cannot simply be declared. Rather, social and political equality arises from equal economic opportunity.

Anyone Can Try It

Before Mexico announced its adoption of a feminist foreign policy aimed at reducing women’s poverty and encouraging a “feminist agenda abroad,” the only other countries to have oriented their foreign policies toward feminist initiatives were Sweden, Canada and France. These other three nations have an average poverty rate of 9.7 % and an average GDP per capita of $49,907. Comparatively, Mexico has a poverty rate of around 17% and a GDP per capita of $10,065. Although Mexico’s peers in the field of feminist foreign policy have more national wealth than it does, this did not prevent the nation from adopting and maintaining policy objectives with women’s rights at their core.

Mexico’s new foreign policies demonstrate that it does not take an extreme amount of national wealth to launch feminist initiatives at home and abroad. Regardless of GDP, any government can make commitments to ensuring tangible gender equality. 

Overall, although Mexico still has progress to make with respect to ensuring women’s equality at home and abroad, its commitment to a feminist foreign policy sets a strong example for other Latin American countries. With any luck, other Latin American countries will soon follow Mexico’s lead and begin to implement similar feminist foreign policies that not only work to lift women out of poverty and assure social and economic equality but that also recognize that “women’s rights are human rights.

 – Nolan McMahon
Photo: Flickr

Medical Care in MexicoMexico, a country with a rich and expressive culture, is populated with over 129 million people. However, amongst the 129 million people, there are people who do not have health coverage. Although medical care in Mexico has made advances to improve its system over the years, access to medical care remains a concern for the people of Mexico who cannot afford the costs to see a doctor.

IMSS in Mexico

Mexico has private practices, hospitals and physicians working in the healthcare system. The medical employees are trained. They also have experience working in the U.S. and Europe. Mexico’s national healthcare system includes The Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, or the IMSS system. It translates to the Mexican Institute of Social Security.

The IMSS system is a part of the national Social Security and focuses on helping employees and employers. Reportedly, applying to be a part of the IMSS system costs about $40 a month. People with pre-existing medical conditions are less likely to be accepted when applying.

Seguro Popular in Mexico

Seguro Popular is the second option people have to get assistance and coverage with medical care in Mexico. It targets people who did not qualify for the IMSS system or cannot afford the costs. Unemployed and ill individuals are already a focus for being part of the program. Fees to participate in Seguro Popular vary depending on household income.

According to the World Bank, in 2002, only half of the Mexican population benefited from health insurance. With Seguro Popular’s efforts to help those underprivileged, the insurance sought to help up to 55.6 million people by 2013. By 2013, 22.8 million people were also able to receive a screening for diabetes and high blood pressure. Millions of people who were unable to receive assistance before the establishment of Seguro Popular are able to now. The percentage of poor people that received help from Seguro Popular grew from 42.3% in 2008 to 72.32% in 2012. Although Seguro Popular has helped many people in need with medical assistance, there remains an issue of access for unemployed people below the poverty line.

Medical Costs and Poverty in Mexico

On average, access to prescription drugs is 30% to 60% less than the U.S charges; however, the prices remain challenging to afford for poor individuals.

Above 40% of people living in Mexico are living under the poverty line. Dozens of poor people live with less than $2 a day, and those who are extremely poor are living at $1 a day. Millions of children in Mexico are poor. Over 20 million children and teens being poor and five million are extremely poor.

Some people cannot apply for programs such as IMSS and Seguro Popular because of their inability to access the internet or afford transportation costs to get to medical facilities. Although there are over 80 million people who have access to the internet in Mexico, there are still millions of others without access.

 

As the country advances technologically and medically, more people will continue to access medical care in Mexico whether it be through a public or private practice. However, the poor and extremely poor remain groups who cannot be forgotten about.

Amanda Cruz
Photo: Wikipedia

air quality in Mexico CityThe Mexico City metropolitan area, home to more than 21 million people, experiences air pollution that can have negative long-term impacts for its residents. Indeed, some recent grim headlines bemoaning increased smog and ozone during the dry season, as well as premature deaths due to air pollution, are quite discouraging. However, CDMX, as the city is colloquially known, has a “comeback kid” success story to tell. In 1992, the U.N. and WHO declared the megalopolis the world’s most polluted city. Following this sobering declaration, the city government made sweeping changes to bring the city’s air quality under control. Here are five innovations that are continuing to help air quality in Mexico City move in the right direction.

5 Green Innovations Improving Air Quality in Mexico City

  1. Low-emission public transit: The city has expanded public transit options to include low- and zero-emissions options like the Metrobús and Ecobici bicycles. Early changes that revolutionized air quality in CDMX were part of a multiphase government program called ProAire. The program included closing fuel refineries, adding catalytic converters to cars and enacting weekly “Hoy No Circula” (“No-Drive Days”) for city cars. Later, in 2005, the low-emission Metrobús system made its debut as part of the third phase of the same program. Among many benefits, Metrobús is cheaper to run than the subway and far cleaner than regular buses. In recent years, the city has also worked to become less car-centric by designating bike lanes on roads. In 2010, Ecobici stations with public-use bicycles started popping up around the city. Anyone with an Ecobici card can now use a bicycle in 45-minute increments, picking it up at one station and dropping it off at another. Hybrid and electric taxis have also been introduced to improve air quality in Mexico City.
  2. Air quality forecasting: In 2017, Mexico City unveiled a new tool to forecast high levels of air pollution. The city’s location in a valley surrounded by mountains puts it at a disadvantage for ridding the air of dangerous pollutants. These come in the form of nanoparticles, which are released into the air mainly through vehicle emissions and industrial activity. Nanoparticles can become lodged in people’s lungs and hearts, where they can have long-term consequences. In a country that, in comparison to developed nations, has very limited availability of hospital beds and doctors, the need for prevention is urgent. The forecasting system for air quality in Mexico City can accurately predict high rates of pollution a full day in advance, allowing schools to cancel classes if necessary and giving people time to safely plan their activities and transport.
  3. Eco-friendly art: Young artists are using air-purifying paint to create murals for awareness about air quality in Mexico City. In 2019, the Absolut Street Trees project, run by Mexico City’s Anonimo Agency in partnership with French company Pernod Ricard, painted three murals on different buildings around the city center. The colorful murals portray positive environmental messages using Airlite paint, whose active ingredient, titanium dioxide, reacts to the presence of light. Undergoing a process comparable to photosynthesis, the paint can scrub the air of nearly 90% of harmful toxins and pollutants from cars. In a city where buildings abound, space is limited and private vehicle transport is a necessary evil for many, Airlite offers possibilities for redemption. In 2019, the U.N. hailed the innovation as one of the four most useful new technologies for solving air pollution problems in cities across the world.
  4. Solar panel integration: Ciudad Solar (Solar City) is an ambitious solar panel program that aims to harness 350 megawatts of solar energy by 2024. In 2019, the city government, led by mayor Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, launched the nearly 8 billion peso ($414 million) plan using funding from the city budget, the Mexican federal bank Nacional Financiera (NAFIN), the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. By installing renewable energy units like solar panels and solar heaters across the city in private and public buildings over five years, the city aims to slash carbon emissions by 2 million tons to improve air quality in Mexico City.
  5. Clean outdoor spaces: The city is expanding green acreage, using recycled materials to open a massive new park in an outlying zone. The centrally located Bosque de Chapultepec is a well-known gathering place for many residents, as it is the largest and oldest urban park in all of Latin America. However, green spaces are needed in other neighborhoods as well if air quality in Mexico City is to sustainably improve. In 2017, a large park called Parque La Mexicana opened in the Lomas de Santa Fe neighborhood on the city’s western edge. More recently, Parque Ecológico Cuitláhuac in Iztapalapa has been the biggest revitalization project to take place in the city. The 250 million peso ($11.4 million), 358-acre park, once a trash dump, has been cleaned, greened and transformed by a brigade of more than 200 scientists, engineers and other specialists. It has been built in large part using recycled materials and is opening three distinct sections in three phases. One debuted in 2020, and the last two are set to open in 2021 and 2022. Some have already dubbed it “the new Chapultepec.”

While geographical and ecological challenges occasionally cloud efforts to achieve better air quality in Mexico City, public and private organizations, including the government, have shown openness to innovative solutions. This is not for nothing: the changes have earned attention as models for other pollution-challenged countries like India. However, more consistency and dedication to green innovation is needed to make this vibrant and iconic “city of palaces” a palace not just for tourists, but for those who call it home.

– Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr

Education Reforms in MexicoImproving education has been a consistent focus throughout Mexico for decades. Both the former and current presidents have created, stripped and appealed legislation in efforts to strengthen the education system. Two opposite reform strategies and impassioned teachers alike advocate the importance of progress, but the country’s previous president failed to truly achieve this goal. Education reforms in Mexico remain a top priority for the country, but the new president may fall short in a different way than his predecessor.

The Hard Truth

Even compared to the most economically disadvantaged children across the world, Mexican children are still academically outperformedincluding the few who fall above the poverty line. Ranking last out of the 35 OECD countries in education, children in the Mexican school system have the least proficient math, reading and literacy skills. This trend is not surprising: 20% of schools lack the basic necessities to operate including running water, food and furniture. There are buildings still in ruins from earthquakes dating back to 2015, and these conditions are amplified in the poorest states like Oaxaca.

Despite education being unversially free, up to 13% of childrenover one million studentscan not afford the supplies and transportation necessary to attend school. Less than 50% of students that attend public school graduate high school and only 60% are enrolled in primary school systems.

Native Mexican children are hit hardest in terms of education. Although the country is home to nearly 1.3 million children speaking native languages, only 55,000 teachers are fluent in these languages. In addition to this stark language barrier, systemic racism conducted by teachers against native children is also a persistent yet largely ignored issue.

Union Corruption

Education reforms in Mexico are at a standstill due to a failing economy, cyclical poverty and corruption. Prior to 2013, the teachers’ union had full control of choosing teachers. Rather than base staff selection on classroom results or experience, hiring was based upon union involvement. The union allowed teachers to sell their positions to anyone with no questions asked and granted life-long job security to teachers with failing grade averages.

Surprisingly, Mexico’s teacher salaries are close to $50,000 per year, making teaching a highly sought after job. The first-ever education census in 2014 revealed that the corrupt union leader Elba Esther Gordillo, who was imprisoned for embezzlement in 2013, allowed 39,000 ‘ghost teachers’ on payroll including teachers who had died, who never appeared in a classroom or who did not exist at all. This expenditure totaled $1.2 billion.

Former Legislation

In 2013 former president Peña attempted to rebrand education reform in Mexico by stripping the unions of their power. Peña gave the power to a body of the government that enacted rigorous assessments and exams. Teachers were subjected to three annual assessments and if they did not pass they were moved to an administrative job or let go. Despite the positive attempts at change, the legislation was met with opposition due to the recourse from poor evaluations and the integration of merit-based promotions.

Yet, none of the approved legislation addressed the needs of the schools themselves. Less than 7% of the GDP funding in 2016 was spent on schools both private and public. There has been no effort to supply teachers with the proper equipment or tools to give basic educational lessons. Only 5% of public spending went into the school systems; both percentages are far below the recommended percentage allocated to schools.

The New Reform

Last year, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador—also known as AMLOwas elected with a platform heavily focused on repealing the old school system. His campaign rallied around education reform in Mexico, placing it at the forefront of his first actions in office. In practice, the new legislation follows the same basic school structure and gives power to the unions that hired teachers; however, it is novel in that it eliminates teacher evaluations. Overall, this new system has received both praise and criticism from the people of Mexico. AMLO’s reformed plan aims to broaden school curricula by adding music, art and cultural studies to classrooms, rather than continuing to focus exclusively on STEM and humanities. Many of Mexico’s constituents believe this expansion of course offerings will remove limitations on children’s abilities to express themselves creatively.

Teachers are the backbone of education. However, without proper funding, resources and training, education reforms in Mexico are stuck in the recurring failures of the country’s leaders. Recent legislation has only shifted power from unions to the government and back to the unions. Without allocating money to the schools themselves, proper education for the children of Mexico will remain out of reach, leaving over half the population with a limited educational experience and overall quality of life.

– Amanda Rogers
Photo: Pulse News Mexico

Education in Mexico
One of the most fundamental features of poverty and inequality in Mexico comes in the form of educational corruption. Despite its size and economic power, Mexico’s education system is rampant with inequality and inefficiency: according to recent rankings in 2018, among OECD countries, Mexico’s national higher education system ranked a mere 46 out of 50. As a result, education reform in Mexico has reemerged as a major focus of national politics in recent years.

The victory of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, better known as AMLO, has highlighted education reform in the country’s 2018 general elections. Although AMLO and his MORENA party had promised to bring about seismic change and reform to Mexico’s public education system, ongoing corruption and the country’s experience with the COVID-19 pandemic may halt any hope of bringing change to this important issue.

Nieto’s 2013 Reform Plan

The contemporary debate over education reform in Mexico dates back to the beginning of Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency in 2012. During the campaign, Nieto had promised to tackle the deep-rooted corruption in Mexico’s national teacher’s union. The national teacher’s union in Mexico is the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, or SNTE, an organization ubiquitous in the country for its kickbacks, bribery, record manipulation and various other forms of corruption.

Nieto’s reform aimed to restructure the distribution of salaries and the overall payroll policies of the SNTE, which entered law soon after his ascendancy to the presidency. Primarily, the reform enforced performance-based criteria for hiring and salaries, with promotions and bonuses being based on students’ testing results. Furthermore, the reform has placed more control over school management and bureaucracy in the hands of the federal government instead of the SNTE.

Criticisms of Nieto’s Education Reform in Mexico

Nevertheless, a significant wing of the SNTE and Mexican teachers, in general, have found Nieto’s education reforms to be inadequate or outright malevolent. Even with a new performance-based structure, the issues of a bloated bureaucracy and unequal spending continued to be a significant issue.

Importantly, Nieto’s reform did not address the inequalities of the education system. Five years into Nieto’s education reform policy, many of the same differences in quality of instruction and schooling between Mexico’s rich and poor remained the same. According to Patricio Solís, a professor at the Center for Sociological Studies of the National Institute, young Mexicans in the highest income group have seven times greater access to higher education than those in the lowest income group.

Nieto’s popular mandate in fighting corruption in Mexico’s education system came to a sudden halt in 2016 when violent protests broke out between dissident teachers and Mexican police in the southwestern state of Oaxaca leaving six people dead. Many of these demonstrators were members of the SNTE who viewed Nieto’s education reform as inadequate; they criticized the redistribution of funding, the recently adopted merit-based philosophy for promotions and the arrest of several union leaders on charges of money laundering.

AMLO’s Reform in 2018

AMLO, Mexican’s first left-wing president of the 21st century, made discontent with Nieto’s educational reform a central tenet of his 2018 campaign. The 66-year-old often said on the campaign trail that Nieto had “turned education into a business.”

The scrapping of Nieto’s education reform under the new administration had two primary components; firstly, repealing the merit-based structuring to salaries and promotions which had come under fire from Mexican teachers and the public at large, and, secondly, expanding access to free higher education among the country’s most impoverished children. This latter part involved the construction of over 100 new public universities and the introduction of public scholarships for 300,000 students.

Nevertheless, many ordinary citizens and experts alike have criticized these new policies under AMLO. For example, Alexandra Zapata, director at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness in Mexico City, views the repeal of the merit-based system as a way for corruption to grow internally. She believes educational achievement criteria may be less trustworthy than under the previous system. Furthermore, much of the revenue for free higher education came at the expense of funding for early learning and primary care, resources that many rural and impoverished Mexican families desperately need. Zapata believes that the greatest efficiency for upward social mobility comes at the beginning of education, not at the university level. The question of to what extent this balance between earlier education and higher education can alleviate the issue of inequality in Mexican education can only be determined down the road.

COVID-19 and Education Reform

Like many other places around the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdown have created a paradigm-shifting challenge for public education in Mexico. Stay-at-home orders early in the spring shut down Mexican public schooling; the access to resources for learning at home, such as internet connection and computer hardware, has further exacerbated the educational and economic gap between Mexico’s richest and poorest.

However, some experts view the chaos stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to kickstart real, lasting reform in Mexico’s public education system. Julia Coyoli, a Ph.D. candidate from Harvard focusing on educational reform in Latin America, believes that home-schooling and remote learning will shine a public light on the underlying inequities in the country’s public education system. Once these blatant injustices come into the light, it should force the Mexican government to take more of a stand-in specifically targeting low-income students’ education.

Jason Beck
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rates in MexicoA few weeks ago, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) boarded a commercial flight with constituents on his way to meet President Donald Trump. Many viewed it as a rare presidential moment, considering the poverty rates in Mexico of 52.4 million people living in poverty. However, AMLO has justified his unique transportation method as a small gesture to those in poverty by saving government money.

Cause of Rising Poverty Rates

Unfortunately, COVID-19 continues to ravage Mexico’s globally-dependent economy and unequipped health system. Simultaneously, this massive group of people living in poverty is only going to expand. Addressing this growing crisis is not only our humanitarian duty as one of its major allies. Rising poverty rates in Mexico will also inevitably threaten the American people in two key ways.

A Persisting Opioid Epidemic

In 2017, President Trump declared the Opioid Epidemic as a national emergency, citing the rising cases of fentanyl overdose deaths. Despite the domestic focus on the problem, it has become more evident that a solution to save the tens of thousands of Americans dying in this crisis requires us to look to the source of the epidemic– Mexico. According to the acting Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) director, Mexican cartels have been responsible for the vast majority of synthetic drugs entering the U.S., including fentanyl.

Problematically, these cartels have been fueled by rising poverty rates in Mexico. In many places, economic hardship has allowed cartels to thrive. They have used protection and basic necessities as a powerful incentive to recruit historically poor populations. Also, vulnerability within many communities has allowed cartels to grow their influence through hollow gestures of aid. This turns cities towards helping their cause; because of this, despite growing civilian casualties in cartel wars, Mexican cartels have seen massive growth in influence and prowess, allowing for them to grow their opioid trade on the US-Mexican border. In order to minimize the cartel’s fueling of the Opioid Epidemic, the American government needs to do more to fight poverty within Mexico. It also needs to find a long term solution to curb the rooted influence most of these cartels have found.

Growing Human Trafficking Concern

Additionally, rising poverty rates in Mexico have pushed many Mexicans towards other illicit industries. According to the London School of Economics, sex trafficking and exploitation is incredibly profitable. As a result, rising economic inequality has pushed many Mexicans towards this industry.

Many people within Mexico have had no choice but to turn to these alternate industries to survive. This is due to a lack of opportunity. As a result, human trafficking has grown within Mexico, with 21,000 minors falling victim to this horrid industry. This problem is not an isolated one. According to the Human Rights Watch, as a result of this industry, Mexico has become one of the largest sources of human trafficking in cases in the U.S. Simply put, rising poverty rates are only fueling a major threat to the U.S. They hurt women and children alike in one of the world’s most horrid illicit industries. Action needs to be taken in order to curb the rising poverty rates in Mexico that have been paramount in causing this crisis.

Mexico has always been a critical economic and geopolitical ally to the U.S. However, as it falls into a growing poverty crisis, the U.S. cannot turn a blind eye. Luckily, positive progress is being seen. Countless organizations such as Freedom from Hunger, Un Techo para mi País (TECHO) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) have all been working to mitigate the crisis. In 2018, the U.S. also pledged $4.6 billion to bolster development in Southern Mexico. By continuing on this path and pushing for even more developmental assistance in the future, we cannot only effectively curb the growing poverty crisis. Instead, we can also provide a more secure America for generations to come.

 

Andy Shufer

Photo: Flickr

clean water in Mexico
Water is fundamental to human survival, yet half of the population of Mexico lacks drinkable water. These seven facts highlight how limited access to clean water in Mexico can intensify poverty.

7 Facts about Access to Clean Water in Mexico

  1. Water Scarcity: Over 50% of people in Mexico face water scarcity. Mexico has an insufficient water supply that cannot sustain a population of 125.5 million people. As a result, an enormous 65 million people are struggling with water scarcity. This issue intensifies during Mexico’s driest month of April as people face droughts preventing accessible water.
  2. Natural Disasters: Natural disasters negatively affect access to clean water. Climate change brings hotter temperatures and droughts that can possibly dry up Mexico’s vital water sources. Earthquakes can destroy water purification plants and break pipelines, leading to floods of toxic waste. These sudden events can lead to an unpredictable water crisis for large numbers of Mexican citizens.
  3. Water Systems: An aging pipe system can also cause an inadequate water supply. Around 35% of water is lost through poor distribution, while faulty pipelines lead to pollution. Plans of the neighboring purification plant should be reconsidered as the city of Tijuana is overwhelmed with toxic sewage water from failing pumps.
  4. Mexico City is Sinking: The populous capital is sinking up to 12 inches annually due to the lack of groundwater. Consequently, floating houses pollute waterways and lead to further destruction of infrastructure. The city plans to modernize hydraulics or implement artificial aquifers to combat water scarcity.
  5. Rural Mexico: Rural regions are often overlooked in favor of cities. Water systems that run through rural towns are riddled with pollutants, making the water undrinkable. The town of Endhó dangerously uses Mexico City’s polluted water for farming because it does not have access to clean water. Some households have no running water, so they drink from polluted lakes to avoid the expense of bottled water. To prevent these dire conditions, government agencies are working to expand waterworks throughout rural areas.
  6. Water Laws: Water laws in Mexico are not enforced. The Mexican government is responsible for regulating access to clean water, but the laws are often disregarded. Citizens demand water for agriculture, which results in over-pumping of groundwater. Environmental problems such as 60% of groundwater in use being tainted are preventable by upholding Mexico’s Environmental Standard.
  7. Children’s Health: Children are vulnerable to arsenic and fluoride that contaminate the drinking water. Mexico’s regulations allow µg/L of arsenic in the drinking water which considerably surpasses the World Health Organization’s (WHO) suggestion of a maximum of 10 µg/L. This poses a dire situation in which 6.5 million children drink this hazardous water putting them at risk of severe health consequences including cancer.

These seven facts concerning water quality in Mexico focus on the importance of having clean drinking water. Access to clean water is necessary in order to maintain good health. The nation is working to fix its outdated infrastructure to bring improvements necessary to solving the water crisis in both urban and rural regions.

Hannah Nelson
Photo: Pixabay

Women-Owned BusinessesNonprofit organization Mary’s Pence is working towards a world of empowered women making changes in their communities. To get there, Mary’s Pence partners with grassroots organizations in Canada, the U.S. and Central America to provide funding and development programs for women-owned businesses.

Executive director Katherine Wojtan believes Mary’s Pence is different from other nonprofits because the organization not only cares for the individual women, but also oversees the sustainment of their small businesses. Mary’s Pence also values the idea of “accompaniment,” explained by Wojtan as utilizing the abilities of everyone to accomplish a long-term shared vision. This concept is applied to the organization’s execution of both the programs in the states and in Central America, focusing on improving the whole rather than the individual.

ESPERA

The program in Central America called ESPERA, or Economical Systems Providing Equitable Resources for All, was created almost 12 years ago. “Espera” is the Spanish word for hope, a fitting name for the life-changing program working with women in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

“This is very intentional, it is not about making individual women rich, but about ensuring all women have access to resources and skills to make their way in the world and earn what they need for a good life,” Wojtan said.

ESPERA aids women who were victims of domestic or gang violence or are single mothers struggling to make ends meet. By giving grants to grassroots organizations in struggling communities, Mary’s Pence creates community-lending pools which women can take loans from to start local women-owned businesses that generate income. To ensure success, the staff of Mary’s Pence teach the community loan management and help elect leaders to track the lending.

Gilda Larios, ESPERA team lead, grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico and worked with Central American refugees before starting work with Mary’s Pence. ESPERA funding gives back to the whole community, not just the women receiving aid. Instead of focusing on building credit, women realize the importance of circulating money and products.

“Their confidence grew – first they asked for a very small loan, and over time they asked for larger loans and grew their businesses,” Larios told The Borgen Project. “With their strength, they are role models for new leadership in the community.”

ESPERA and COVID-19

ESPERA has helped develop many small women-owned businesses that create jobs for their communities and generate income for struggling women. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic put many of these businesses at risk as workers feared for their lives, but the ESPERA team responded fast, changing their focus from long-term development to responding immediately to the needs of the women.

As some women panicked about their businesses and the effects of the pandemic, the ESPERA team responded with a 12-week emotional wellness series, delivered via WhatsApp, and supported stores so they could keep reasonable prices for the communities. For women in the midst of paying back loans to the community-lending pool, their status is put on hold until they have the income to continue their payment.

Despite the support network ESPERA provides, the pandemic revealed some gaps in the system. It was challenging to ensure the safety of women experiencing domestic violence. The lack of access to phones and the internet made communication between communities and ESPERA leaders challenging. However, this time of crisis also brought the communities closer and proved the importance of working together through local businesses.

In her interview with The Borgen Project, Larios told of a woman named Aminta, who is in the ESPERA program in San Salvador, El Salvador. She transitioned from working in a “maquila,” or factory, to starting her own business sewing uniforms for local sports teams. During COVID-19, she also began sewing masks to help keep her community healthy. Success stories of women-owned businesses like this one propel communities into further financial security and empower other women to do the same.

Confidence and Creating Futures

Above all, ESPERA and Mary’s Pence hope to give women confidence in their own abilities to create the future they want for themselves and for their families. For Larios, the most rewarding part of working with ESPERA women is the “feeling of satisfaction and joy to see them embrace their possibilities and capacities that before they thought they didn’t have.”

Through ESPERA and their role in the creation of women-owned businesses, Mary’s Pence continues to change women’s lives by showing them the power they already had within themselves.

– Kiyomi Kishaba
Photo: Google Images