Thursday, June 14, 2012

Passport Series: Mexico grapples with wealth and gender inequality

Home to the world's richest man and a poverty rate of over 47%, Mexico struggles with the cause and effect of extreme income disparity. The disconnect drives many of the country's problems that make international headlines, but they only tell part of the story.

The fifth largest country in the Americas and the eleventh most populous country in the world, Mexico is broken up into 31 sovereign states, each with its own unique culture and needs.

The World Economic Forum ranked Mexico 89th out of 135 countries in gender parity, resulting in few opportunities for women to participate politically and in the labor market. While female labor market participation is up to 43.4% from 32% in 1980, that figure leaves much to be desired.

This data can be attributed to many factors, nevertheless Mexico's lingering machismo culture remains very influential. While this attitude impacts political, economic and social behavior, progress as a result of increased education, international trends and the global recession is slowly forcing old social mores to evolve.

Mexico was hit hard by the recent recession, suffering a decline in GDP roughly equal to Greece. Unemployment and underemployment have paved a new -- albeit reluctant -- path for women to enter the workforce.

While economic conditions have created a necessity for women to work, an increase in education -- between 60 and 70% of men in their early 20s have completed primary school, compared with only 20 to 30% of men aged 40 to 54 -- has resulted in a more equitable participation in domestic chores and childcare.

A study found that 79% of Mexican men with university educations, compared with only 22% of Mexican men with no or low education, believed that domestic chores should be jointly shared by men and women.

In 2002, electoral reform mandated that major parties select female candidates for at least 30% of the seats they campaigned for in the country’s congress. As a result, women now hold close to 30% of the seats --that's almost twice as many as in the United States. This year, for the first time, a major political party nominated a female presidential candidate.

This progress is promising, but it must be coupled with an increase in economic opportunity and mobility.

So what are some of the unique factors we must take into consideration as we seek to help develop and alleviate poverty in Mexico? Health, sustainability and environmental issues, rise to the top.

Health: The childhood death rate in Mexico is nearly seven times that of Western Europe. And 15% of Mexican children under age five are stunted by malnutrition. Food insecurity is reported to affect over 40% of the country’s population. Environmental concerns, such as pollution and smoke inhalation from cooking stoves, are also crippling factors.

Sustainability: As Mexico's population grows and development continues, it's important to think about long-term impact and viability. Investing in sustainability, clean energy and encouraging organic agricultural practices will be critical to the country's future.

Environment: Home to 12% of the world's biodiversity, Mexico is one of the most diverse countries in the world, but it faces climate change, pollution as a result of population growth, and deforestation, which has led to soil erosion and degradation. All of these forces are threatening the next generation's health and resources.

Mexico has a rocky road to navigate, and while the steep income disparity can contribute to a sense of "have" and "have nots," it can also be an incentive. The key will be to utilize the strong familial bonds, encourage education and extend economic opportunity to everyone. And, in part 2 of this series, we will look at how our Field Partners are working to do just that.

Support fathers and families by lending to one today!

This is the first post of a three part series taking a deep-dive look at Mexico, its history with microfinance, Kiva's role in expanding opportunities for Mexicans, and what it's like to participate in the country's economy as a borrower, lender and field worker. 

Questions? Comments? Emails us at

photos courtesy of Bread for the World, Foundation Escalera, Urban Woodswalker