Gender, the State and patriarchy: partner violence in Mexico



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This dissertation focuses in the phenomenon of partner violence in Mexico. It examines the causes of partner violence at multiple levels of analysis. At the micro level it examines characteristics of individual victims, the family and the relationship. At the macro level the focus is on the legal and social structures that define domestic violence and the State's response. Throughout the analysis, the State plays a central role as the set of institutional arrangements that define the rules of the game and that determine the possibilities for change and the potential roles and effectiveness of key players including the feminist movement. Throughout the analysis I examine the confluence of forces that influence the State's attempts to reduce individual women's risk of partner violence through its legislative, judicial and police powers in a historically defined situation characterized by pervasive structural patriarchy. A major objective is to asses the influence of the pervasive patriarchy in the system on individual women's risk of partner violence. The approach adopted in this dissertation is based on the assumption that patriarchy is a social system that permeates social institutions and that becomes internalized and part of the normative everyday reality that structures individual's interpretations and motivations. This research demonstrates that, on average, the structural gender inequality between Mexican men and women is high. This inequality is revealed through qualitative and quantitative analyses that demonstrate empirically the influence of the patriarchal system both on individual experiences of partner violence, and on the State's response. Adopting a feminist post-structuralist approach to the analysis of the State's role, the research reveals inconsistencies between the discourses and practices of the Mexican State regarding partner violence. By analyzing administrative family violence legislation, I determine whether the Mexican State has in fact made substantively meaningful attempts to challenge patriarchy and to end violence against women in the family realm. The family violence legislation has two often inherently contradictory purposes. On the one hand the objective is to protect the family as a core social institution. The second, which is often in conflict with the first objective, is to protect women from abuse by their partners. This dissertation demonstrates that these conflicting objectives and the embededness of patriarchy throughout the social help explain why certain branches of the Mexican State tend to strengthen patriarchy and reify women's subordinate position in the family. The way in which the State interprets and implements family violence legislation reveals the inability and/or unwillingness of the State to protect women's rights and highlights the patriarchal assumptions pervading the State's actions. Finally, this research looks at feminist and women's movements and NGOs to determine whether they have been effective in influencing the State to adopt measures to guarantee women a life free of violence. I looked not only for their influence on the legislative level, but also surveyed the role they continue to play in implementing antiviolence laws.