The Supreme Court of Justice of Mexico granted direct amparo on appeal to a woman from the State of Campeche who requested spousal support in her divorce suit. Her request was denied by the trial court and the appeal court, which found that it was not necessary because she had a retirement pension. The Supreme Court found that the principle of gender equality was not applied in the lower courts’ rulings, as it had been shown that during the appellant’s marriage, she both held a job outside the home and carried out domestic duties in the home in order to support her household and children, effectively working “double shifts.” The Court found that the compensatory spousal support requested was not incompatible with the fact that the appellant had held a paying job outside the home, as the compensation was meant to eliminate economic imbalances between women and men. Finally, in addition to a gender perspective, the Supreme Court included an aging perspective in its ruling in order to ensure that the appellant could enjoy her old age with dignity.
In Campeche, Mexico, in 2013, a man filed for divorce from his wife. In April 2014, the First Family Court for the First Judicial District of the State of Campeche granted the divorce but found that there was no need to grant spousal support for the wife, because she had her own retirement pension.
The woman appealed the ruling to the Civil Chamber of the Superior Court of the State of Campeche, which upheld the lower court’s ruling. She appealed again, filing an amparo claim with the Thirtieth Collegiate Circuit Court, which denied her claim. Finally, she took her case to the First Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice of Mexico.
The First Chamber of the Supreme Court found that there were issues of constitutionality related to the appellant’s request for spousal support in light of the rights of equality and non-discrimination.
a) gender stereotypes, “double shifts,” and economic imbalance.
The Court found that the facts of the amparo claim were well-founded, due to the presence of stereotypes in the social, family, political, or labor sphere. The roles played by men and women in these areas have long been determined by cultural and traditional practices as well as deeply ingrained cultural and social prejudices. The Court held that gender characteristics are sociocultural constructs that society defines as “male” or “female.” Therefore, the discrimination generated by this stereotyping process must be identified and rectified if justice is to be achieved.
Analysis of gender roles within the family and division of labor by gender
The Supreme Court pointed to the historical gender disparity that exists in the division of labor in Mexican families, as domestic duties and childrearing have long been considered the responsibility of women. Women are expected to perform domestic and childrearing duties, whether or not they also work outside the home, simply because they are women.
The Supreme Court found that there is a cultural expectation that women should put their families first, and that gender functions as a hierarchical structure that influences family relationships and the division of labor. For instance, women are assigned the role of mother, along with a set of duties and expectations that role entails, simply because they are women. The Court further recognized that the notion of the “good mother” drives many women to work what amounts to double shifts without their work being valued or recognized as work, because as women, they are expected to take sole responsibility for childcare and domestic duties.
The gender wage gap
The Supreme Court went on to note that the gender disparity present in the family sphere is reflected in the workplace as well. Mexico is one of the countries with the greatest gender wage gaps and lowest rates of labor force participation by women. The Court pointed to the wage gap as one of the factors that perpetuate inequality between women and men. This, along with the fact that the domestic work that women perform in the home is disregarded and not taken into account as work, perpetuates inequality between men and women.
Although labor force participation has increased for women in Mexico, this has not been accompanied by equal division of labor in the home, which has led to the rise of working “double shifts,” as the Court itself puts it in its ruling.
The Supreme Court argued that the gross domestic product of Mexico was underestimated, because the economic contribution of domestic work performed by women was not taken into account. This represents a financial savings for households, because achieving the same level of well-being in the home without this work would require spending large amounts of money.
In almost all cases, the total amount of time worked by women is greater than that of men. The Court interpreted this as a consequence of the greater proportion of unpaid work, domestic duties, and childrearing activities in women’s lives. Women’s opportunities are therefore curtailed both by unequal division of labor in the home and unequal participation in the job market. The ruling emphasized how gender discrimination creates these “double shifts,” leading to an imbalance in the amount of time women and men work.
b) fundamental right to an adequate standard of living as it relates to support obligations
The Court found that this right is closely linked to human dignity, which is a right entitled to the broadest legal protections under Mexican law. The Court argued that this fundamental right is the responsibility of the State, through the social security system, but also of private citizens, through spousal support and other support obligations.
The Court further noted that spousal support granted in a divorce is not intended as a sort of civil sanction, but that it arises from an ethical duty of support between family members that responds to financial realities which place the spouse receiving the support in a state of necessity.
The Court found that the principle of proportionality also required a review of the obligor’s financial circumstances and the specific facts of the case, in order to ensure that the support ordered does not constitute a disproportionate burden.
c) seniors’ rights and their relevance to the instant case
Finally, the Court performed an analysis of seniors’ rights and their relevance to the instant case. Applying an aging perspective, the Court found that older adults do not constitute a homogenous group, so there is no presumption of a state of necessity. Laws and regulations governing issues relating to older adults do not generally require the application of an aging perspective. In many cases, this is prejudicial to their interests. In accordance with the general principle of dignity, and taking into account a gender perspective, women have a right to age with dignity, enjoying all their rights in conditions of equality and non-discrimination.
The Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation granted the amparo requested and ordered compensatory spousal support for the woman.