As Mexico’s poverty rate has remained over 40 percent since 2008, the number of single mothers and female-headed households in Mexico has increased. According to the National Institute of Statistics, Geography, and Informatics (INEGI), from 1970 to 2005, the percentage of female-headed households increased from 13.7 percent to 23.1 percent.

This raises major social concerns as studies show that female-headed households are more likely to be in poverty. This substantial increase also contributes to the “feminization of poverty.” The “feminization of poverty” is the phenomenon in which the rate of women in poverty is significantly higher when compared to men. Female heads of households encounter various challenges with income level, choices of employment, domestic responsibilities and labor discrimination, especially among women with a lack of education. Such disadvantages have made poverty within female-headed households a major policy issue.

Gender Pay Gap in Mexico

Women in the workforce often earn fewer wages than men due to an inequality of employment opportunities within the labor market. Mexico currently has a gender pay gap score of 3.55 out of seven. Hilda Gudino, 64, was a single mother in Jalisco, Mexico when she was earning 10 pesos (50 cents) a day working at a clothing store. Gudino told The Borgen Project, “In small towns, there is not much work and most jobs don’t pay very much.”

In Mexico, government assistance is not much of an option since welfare provisions are underdeveloped.
Previously known as PROGRESSA, Oportunidades is a conditional cash transfer program formed by the Mexican government to help alleviate poverty. But because of the program’s scarce resources, Mexico’s poor hardly receive the minimum protection. Though Oportunidades is not aimed towards single mothers, they still comprise a great number of its recipients.

Female-Headed Households

Female-headed households in Mexico are typically a result of male migration to the United States or other urban areas for work. However, these women differ from single mothers because they are not divorced, separated or never married. Wives of migrants are also likely receiving international money transfers from their husbands.

Female heads of household that find employment often work informal, part-time jobs at clothing stores, grocery stores or as housekeepers. Gudino said she knows a woman who goes to people’s houses to do pedicures for a living. The woman always takes her daughter to work with her because she cannot afford childcare. Gudino said that some women will create their own jobs by selling fresh juice or food on the streets. She said: “Some will go door to door selling strawberries and orange juice. Some create their own small business or sell on the streets. Some also help clean houses and work there every day in the morning. I started my own beauty salon and was the only one who did nails.”

According to an ethnographic study in Guadalajara, female-headed households in Mexico have at least one additional family member living in the home. These family members will help with housework, also allowing single mothers to work.

Single Mothers

Single teenage mothers are less likely to finish school, causing more disadvantages in the labor market, poverty, and limited resources. Additionally, for some women, a lack of education comes as a result of sociocultural norms. Gudino said: “The girls did not have to go to school because they were going to get married and husbands do not let them work. Parents told their daughters that they had to stay with the children. But more women are working now than they did back then.” Discrimination in the labor force along with having little to no education make it difficult for women to find work. In 2013, 26 percent of women reported labor discrimination in Mexico.

Single mothers are also under pressure to balance both domestic responsibilities and wage work. This can typically affect the types of jobs a mother is able to apply for. In Mexico, it is very common for single mothers to rely on family or kinship networks as a safety net. These networks will share chores and provide childcare so mothers are able to work.

Programs for Change

Oxfam Mexico has created programs to educate women and provide them with employment strategies. Oxfam Mexico works to improve living conditions for the impoverished, enhances local organizations and ensures citizens’ rights are being met. Some of these programs are:

  • Women as Agents of Change: Focuses on local development, employment and income generating strategies. This program aims to give women social and economic power while helping them acquire leadership and entrepreneurial skills.
  • Indigenous peoples fighting discrimination: The building of local organizations to protect their territories while advocating the important role that females play in these communities.

In recent years, many legislative improvements have been made in Mexico to promote gender equality, including efforts made by Mexico’s Supreme Court.

Although poverty remains as the overarching issue, measures are being taken to provide women in Mexico with the necessary skills and resources to improve their financial situations. Such programs by Oxfam Mexico and the promotion of gender equality are a step in the right direction and give hope for an equal labor market and pay wage.

– Diane Adame
Photo: Flickr