Can panic alarms save women in Mexico City?

Victims of domestic abuse in Mexico City will be given panic alarms as part of government efforts to combat growing rates of violence against women in a country where on average more than seven women are killed by men every day.

Authorities aim to hand out key rings with a global positioning system (GPS) tracking device and panic alarm buttons to 128 women, mostly aged 30 to 40, who have suffered domestic abuse, including those living with their aggressor, in a first-of-its kind initiative in the capital.

Mexico has one of the world’s highest rates of femicide – the killing of a woman by a man because of her gender – according to the United Nations.

Victims of femicide often have a long history of domestic violence, and perpetrators are often current or former partners, with many killings taking place in or near the home.

It is hoped the use of panic buttons can help prevent femicides by allowing women to quickly alert the police and allow them to track down and respond to incidents of violence.

“They are victims mainly of domestic violence, at the hands of their partner,” Nelly Montealegre, an assistant prosecutor at the Mexico City Attorney General’s Office told local media on Monday.

“In these cases, the aggressors control what they do, their mobile phones … they follow them, spy on them, call them constantly and leave threatening messages,” Montealegre said.

Some of the women have previously received threats from their partners using guns and knives, she said.

Last year, 760 women were victims of femicide across Mexico, up from 407 in 2015, and more than three women were killed in the capital alone every day, government figures show.

Violence is driven by Mexico’s “macho” culture, which tends to blame women for the violence inflicted on them and to condone it, along with low conviction rates for gender crimes, experts say.

A 2018 poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked Mexico City as the most dangerous transport system for women out of five cities surveyed.

It found about three in every four women the capital were not confident about using the transport system without the risk of sexual harassment and abuse or sexual violence.

Mexico City’s first elected female mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, who took office last month, has said eradicating gender violence is a top priority.

Sheinbaum has pledged to increase the number of prosecutors handling femicide and domestic violence cases to get more convictions for such crimes, and make it easier for women to report violence against them.

Panic buttons connected to the police are being used by women in other countries, including Brazil, the UK and Canada.

In 2017, the Indian government required all mobile phones sold in India to have a panic button enabling women to call for help.

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Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Jason Fields. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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