Mexico’s Feminist Foreign Policy
Updated: Oct 12, 2020
By Vaishnavi Pallapothu
In January 2020, Mexico became the first Latin American country and the first country from the Global South to adopt a feminist foreign policy. The Mexican government affirmed that this is a step further in its commitment to gender equality and human rights. This is a landmark moment in the history of foreign policy, as Mexico is leading the way in setting a new global standard to subvert patriarchal and male-dominated power-structures in the developing world.
Goals and Objectives
According to a Press Release1dated January 9, 2020, “Mexico’s feminist foreign policy is based on a set of principles that seek to promote government actions to reduce and eliminate structural differences, gender gaps and inequalities, in order to build a more just and prosperous society.” The policy framework intends “to make visible the contribution of women to foreign policy and global actions and to maintain its consistency and congruence by doing this both within and outside of the Foreign Ministry.” Mexico has also committed to an intersectional and a non-traditional human security approach by expanding its purview of feminist policy to include LGBTQ+ rights, climate change, trade and immigration in addition to women’s rights.
The government aims to roll out its strategy in a period of four years, from 2020 to 2024 with the goal of implementing a foreign policy with gender perspective and feminist agenda. Additionally, they strive for equal representation and feminism within the foreign ministry that is also free of violence and safe for all. In order to roll out the policies and implement them effectively, in the first year, training manuals alongside a series of workshops with key actors are envisaged. Further, a violence-free perimeter is to be set up in the Foreign Ministry. The Ministry will also be extending its support the HeForShe program and will obtain an NMX-R-025-SCFI-2015 certification of Mexico’s representations abroad with regards to labor equality and non-discrimination. According to a government press release, in order to qualify for certification, in all areas of the Foreign Secretary, there must be: “training in gender issues; raising awareness about preventing, addressing and punishing sexual harassment; remodeling areas for people with disabilities and making signage inclusive and nondiscriminatory”. The Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights will be overseeing this mandate(1). According to Foreign Policy(2), by the end of the four-year period, Mexico is aiming “for full employment parity, equal pay, and the application of a gender lens to every foreign-policy position, resolution, and mandate.”
Representation of Women in Politics
In the history of Mexican foreign policy, this is the first time that woman’s rights have featured prominently. Perhaps this could be attributed to a gender-balanced cabinet in President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union(3(, Mexico ranks fourth in the world in terms of percentage of women in national parliaments, with 48.2% members in the Lower House and 49.2% in the Upper House.
This wasn’t an overnight change nor an easy battle, though. Equal representation and victories for women’s candidates are the result of reforms and legislative changes on affirmative action over the course of more than 15 years. Before a 30% quota for women was introduced in 2003, women made up only 17% of the seats in the Lower House of parliament. According to Washington Post(4), in 2014, Mexico mandated gender parity in its constitution, to ensure more women are given the chance to gain a seat at the table at both federal and state levels, also making sure that women were not exclusively sent to losing districts. In 2019, the Senate passed a constitutional amendment, enshrining a 50% quota for women in all government positions(5).
Within Mexico’s foreign relations department, former Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Claudia Ruiz Massieu’s tenure was marked by increased support for international women’s rights treaties under her signature project, Pro-Equality(6). In 2016, she also announced that the ministry would be promoting women’s participation and committed to a new batch of ambassadors with 50% women(7). As per a government press release, 56% of the current Mexican Foreign Service staff is made up of women and the Secretary has resolved to increase the number of female diplomats in senior positions(8).
By adopting a feminist foreign policy, Mexico has proven that it is steadfast in its journey towards gender equality and is lending a much-needed perspective from the global south, as these conversations are usually reserved for wealthier, homogenous and predominantly Caucasian nations in Scandinavia and Western Europe. However, it is important for Mexico to not become lethargic by just focusing on an add women and stir approach. It must be committed to more voices from other marginalized communities including but not limited to the LGBTQIA+ community and the indigenous communities.
Recent Track Record on Gender Equality at the International Level
As a rising influencer on the world stage and as a strong middle power, Mexico’s new feminist foreign policy approach has already been put into action in the past year. At the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25) in December 2019, Mexico displayed strong leadership and initiative to mobilize parties to commit to gender equality and was unwavering in its efforts to ensure its inclusion in the talks and subsequent agreements. Mexico participated in the review and renewal of the Lima Work Program on Gender and was a key stakeholder in the adoption of a new Gender Action Plan, one of the few progressive and tangible outcomes of the conference. “It promoted its priorities of human rights, gender equality, intersectionality, a just transition of the workforce – with a focus on decent work for women – and the strengthening of mentions of indigenous women and girls.”(9)
Mexico is also co-hosting the Generation Equality Forum alongside France and UN Women in 2021. The Forum promises to be an action-oriented global effort to launch transformative actions to “achieve immediate and irreversible progress towards gender equality” and will commemorate 25 years of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Mexico and France also announced that they will be co-hosting a gathering of progressive countries in which heads of state will have the opportunity to deliberate, visualize and operationalize commitments for the next generation of women’s rights(2).
Domestic Track Record on Gender Equality
Mexico seems to be committed to championing and advocating for an intersectional feminist approach to foreign policy, fighting for the application of a gender lens in all global issues from the environment to the economy. However, the country’s poor record on violence against women at home has highlighted a contrasting – and possibly hypocritical – stance.
Mexico is one of the countries with the highest levels of violence against women. In Mexico, 63% of women over the age of 15 state that they have been victims of some type of violence during their lives(10). Femicide is rampant in the country, with UN Women estimating that (10) women are killed every day in the country(11). Organized crime has also likely contributed to rising cases of sex trafficking and disappearances(12).
Following large-scale demonstrations, rallies and protests in the latter half of 2019, On March 8th, International Women’s Day, the country witnessed historical protests. Dubbed #ADayWithoutWomen (Un Día Sin Nosotras), Mexican women across the country took part in a 24-hour general strike to protest government inaction towards gender-based violence and femicide by demonstrating how the country would look like if disappearances and killings continued.
The administration’s response has been mixed. After being met with backlash for condemning protestors, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said that a sex offenders registry would be created and also pushed for a city law that “makes sharing unauthorized sexual digital content a crime carrying a six-year prison sentence”(12). While steps are being taken in the capital city, smaller and less developed ones are yet to see any real progress. On the flip side, the president claimed that reports of increased cases of domestic violence due to the coronavirus lockdowns were false. Recent cuts in the public security budgets also meant that Women’s Justice Centers around the country were strapped for resources(13).
Evidently, these structural and systemic problems of patriarchy and impunity cannot be solved overnight nor can the structures be dismantled quickly. However, they are barriers to justice and peace and continuing and increasing violence against women is a violation of a woman’s fundamental right to security. In turn, this affects their ability to participate in the public and economic life of their country. Indigenous women, trans women and women with disabilities face compounded risks and are doubly vulnerable to poverty, discrimination and violence.
However, there is hope amidst all the despair – having more women and non-binary leaders at home, bolstered by a commitment to a feminist foreign policy abroad can not only ensure that the violence against women agenda remains a priority for the government, but also keep alive the activism and anger. For example, earlier this year, women legislators held strikes outside the Congress’ Lower House by standing barefoot and preventing the session from running. They demanded President Obrador to show more empathy towards victims of femicide and urged immediate action on these human rights violations. Another such instance occurred in January, when vice-chancellor Martha Delgado amplified the call for more women in diplomatic negotiations and regretted the omnipresence of ‘manels’ in foreign policy discussions(6).
Indigenous Women's Rights
Another factor that must be crucial to both the conceptualization and crystallisation to Mexico’s feminist foreign policies is the inclusion of provisions for indigenous peoples’ rights, particularly those of the indigenous women. Indigenous communities mostly belong to the most impoverished and remote regions of the country and often lack access to proper public services. Throughout Mexico’s postcolonial history, indigenous peoples have fought to preserve their own forms of organisation and local governance. After years of struggle and activism, in 2001, the Mexican government recognised and enshrined the community’s right to self-determination and self-governance, and also included a clause that “guaranteed the participation of women in conditions of equality” in Article 2 of the Constitution(14). In 2015, the government reformed this article once more to ensure women not only had the right to vote but also to have the right to be elected as authorities in their communities.
Documented and reported experiences of indigenous women show that an absence of an intersectional approach to law and policy-making can be detrimental to their inclusion and prosperity in their own communities, and in society at large. By looking at their rights only through a community basis and sidelining their individual ones, indigenous women are left out of decision-making and management of resources(14). According to Lyric Thompson and Rachel Clement(15), feminist foreign policies can risk becoming the “postcolonial export of Northern countries” if they do not pay attention to intersecting forms of discrimination based on race, ethnicity and more. In the case that these policies are out of tune with the harsh realities of their own domestic communities, they will end up being uninformed and may well further perpetuate oppression.
Certainly, Mexico’s foray into the realm of feminist foreign policy is both ambitious and path-breaking in that it joins a growing number of countries to commit to gender equality in their international relations. As a growing economy and increasingly influential middle power, Mexico’s feminist diplomacy has a lot of potential to bring more momentum and encourage other countries from the Global South to join in too.
Nonetheless, effective implementation will be of utmost essence in order for Mexico to become a true trailblazer and its policies must improve and advance rights of all minority groups, not only at the global level but also at the national and regional levels. This can’t be achieved only through increased tokenistic representation of women in political leadership but through dedicated grassroots support from marginalized groups and civil society.
1. Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, (2020, January 9), Mexico Adopts Feminist Foreign Policy, Press Release 15, 2020, https://www.gob.mx/sre/prensa/mexico-adopts-feminist-foreign-policy?idiom=en
2. Thompson, L. (2020, January 14), Mexican Diplomacy Has Gone Feminist, Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/01/14/mexican-diplomacy-feminist-foreign-policy/
3. Inter-Parliamentary Union, (2019, February 1st), Women in National Parliaments, http://archive.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm
4. M. Hinojosa and J. Piscopo, (2018, July 11), Women won big in Mexico’s elections — taking nearly half the legislature’s seats. Here’s why., Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/07/11/women-won-big-in-mexicos-elections-taking-nearly-half-the-legislatures-seats-heres-why/
5. R. Ghai, (2019, 15 May), Mexico reserves 50% seats at all levels of government for women, DownToEarth, https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/governance/mexico-reserves-50-seats-at-all-levels-of-government-for-women-64558
6. M. Hinojosa and J. Piscopo, (2020, May 19), What the U.S. Can Learn from Mexico on Women’s Issues, Ms Magazine, https://msmagazine.com/2020/05/19/mexico-feminist-foreign-policy-what-the-u-s-can-learn-from-mexico-on-womens-issues/
7. Guest blogger (2016, February 23), Using Data to Uncover Hurdles for Mexico’s Female Diplomats, Council on Foreign Relations, https://www.cfr.org/blog/using-data-uncover-hurdles-mexicos-female-diplomats
8. Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, (2019, November 8), The SRE celebrates and recognizes the Mexican Foreign Service on Diplomatic Day, Press release 393, https://www.gob.mx/sre/prensa/la-sre-celebra-y-reconoce-al-servicio-exterior-mexicano-en-el-dia-del-diplomatico
9. Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, (2019, December 11), At COP25 in Madrid, Mexico Reaffirms Commitment to Environmental Agenda, Foreign Ministry-Environment Ministry-INECC Joint Press Release, https://www.gob.mx/sre/prensa/at-cop25-in-madrid-mexico-reaffirms-commitment-to-environmental-agenda?idiom=en
10. A. Gurria, (2020, January 9), Remarks: Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women for Inclusive Growth in Mexico, OECD, https://www.oecd.org/about/secretary-general/gender-equality-and-empowerment-of-women-for-inclusive-growth-mexico-january-2020.htm
11. UN Women, (2019, November 25) Spotlight Initiative on the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women, UN Women, UN Women, https://mexico.unwomen.org/es/noticias-y-eventos/articulos/2019/11/spotlighteliminacionviolenciamujereshttps://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/26/world/americas/mexico-women-domestic-violence-femicide.html
12. P. Villegas and E. Malkin, (2019, December 26), ‘Not My Fault’: Women in Mexico Fight Back Against Violence, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/26/world/americas/mexico-women-domestic-violence-femicide.html
13. A. Deslandes (2020, May 20), Despite the Coronavirus, Mexican Women Are Fighting Femicide, Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com./2020/05/20/coronavirus-mexico-women-fighting-femicide/
14. P.L Maymon (2017, August 9), Systems Thinking for Policymaking: The Case of Indigenous Women’s Rights in Mexico, Cornell Policy Review, http://www.cornellpolicyreview.com/indigenouswomensrightsinmexico/
15. L. Thompson and R. Clement, (2019), Defining Feminist Foreign Policy, International Center for Research on Women, https://www.icrw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/ICRW_DefiningFeministForeignPolicy_Brief_Revised_v5_WebReady.pdf
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