Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, with a population of 107 million. Despite gradually lowering its birth rate, it is the second most populous nation in Latin America (Brazil is the first). The population of Mexico has tripled since the 1950s and is now expected to double in 32 years. The socio-economic gap between the rich and poor remains wide and is worsening.
Although there have been some successes in recent years to raise the status of the poor, and particularly poor, marginalized, and indigenous women, much more needs to be done. Contraception is a critical need.
Mexfam, Fundación Mexicana para la Planificación, the country's leading private family planning and reproductive health provider, reports that 44% of married women of reproductive age in rural areas use some kind of contraceptive. A government report in 1995 stated that 66.5% of women of child-bearing age who lived with their partner used some method of family planning (PDF). Sterilization is the most common method (43.3%), followed by the IUD (17.7%), oral contraceptives (15.3%), injectables, and traditional methods. Although the percentage of women in Mexico who have unmet need for contraception (those who wish to avoid pregnancy but are not using contraception) decreased from 25% in 1987 to 12% in 1997, there remains striking disparities across geographic areas. More than 20 % of rural women had unmet need for contraception in 1997, as compared to 9% of urban women.
Traditional methods, such as drinking herbal tea thought to have abortifacient properties, or withdrawal, are very common in rural areas because the women there lack access to modern contraceptive services and information. In 1996, fertility rates for Mexican women who have never received any formal education was 4.7—more than twice the number of women who have finished high school. The use of contraceptive methods is more common among women with higher educational levels and who reside in urban areas. There is also greater spacing between pregnancies among women who live in urban areas.
The 1997 "Women's Reproductive Rights in Mexico: A Shadow Report" (PDF), prepared by the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York City and Grupo de Información en Reproducción (Information Group on Reproductive Choice) in Mexico City, indicates that information about reproductive health is not always accessible to those within the health system. The report referred to The National Survey on Family Planning of 1995, which revealed that after giving birth, 22% of women who had not wanted their last pregnancy and who did not want another child at the time of the interview, were still not using any method of contraception. A further 15% had never practiced any fertility control. When these 37% of women were asked why they did not use any form of contraception, they cited lack of information regarding what different birth control options were available, how to use them, and to a lesser extent, how to obtain them.
An enormous concern raised by the shadow report is the significant disparity between supply and demand for contraception within the Mexican public health system. Mexico's economic crisis has deepened this disparity and the government is currently unable to meet the growing demand, even with the help of international bodies. This is a grim finding.
Mexico is a society grappling with social upheaval and demands for policies that will raise the status of women and end the massive discrimination seen in many sectors. Quality health services, reproductive rights, education, illiteracy, jobs, housing, domestic violence, rape and other sexual crimes, medically accurate sexuality education, sexual harassment, maternity leave, and other employment rights during pregnancy are all key issues needing serious attention. On April 24th, Mexico City decriminalized abortion in the first trimester, paving the way for the establishment of quality and respectful abortion care for the women of Mexico. We can only hope that this incredible victory for women's lives and rights will have an effect on the many other core issues that women need to have addressed so that they may live in dignity—and in equality with men.