By Daniela Philipson
In January 2020, the Mexican government announced that it would implement a Feminist Foreign Policy that would put women and marginalised communities at the centre of its approach to international affairs. This makes Mexico the first country in the Global South to adopt a Feminist Foreign Policy. In this piece we will look at some of the contradictions between this announcement and the current Mexican government policies at the domestic level on gender equality and women’s rights.
According to the Mexican Foreign Affairs Ministry’s website, the country is seeking to exercise leadership at the international and regional level to promote gender equality and human rights. Mexico will also be a co-host for one of the Generation Equality Forums this summer, along with France and UN Women (the logistics and dates of the events are currently under review in light of the recent COVID19 outbreak). The Forum is a coordinated effort among member states, civil society and the private sector to catalyse dialogues, actions and compromises on gender equality and women’s rights in line with the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. These policies and actions fit into a broader popular narrative. The current president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, won in a landslide election by claiming a left-wing, progressive agenda that allegedly puts the interests of the poor and marginalised first. However, evidence shows that the current administration’s policies have had the reverse effect, disproportionately harming women and marginalised groups after implementing severe economic austerity measures.
Violence Against Women in Mexico
A few days after its Feminist Foreign Policy announcement, Mexico was engulfed in a gender-based violence crisis after a woman and a girl were violently murdered. Ingrid Escamilla was murdered by her partner, who then skinned her and removed some of her organs. Days later, pictures of Ingrid’s mutilated body were published in sensationalist tabloid newspapers. At around the same time, the body of a 7-year-old girl, Fatima, was found on the side of a road inside a plastic bag, naked and bearing signs of torture. Femicide and gender-based violence in Mexico are far too ubiquitous. Due to insufficient and untrustworthy data, there are no reliable figures regarding how many women are victims of femicide, which is defined as a specific gender-based hate crime. However, we know that approximately 10 women are killed in Mexico everyday due to different types of gender-based violence.
Feminist protests quickly erupted to demand justice for Ingrid and Fatima. However, the government did little to address the crisis. Three days after Fatima was found dead, President López Obrador gave a speech in which he set forth a 10-point plan to prevent and eradicate gender-based violence. Yet, his speech did not mention femicide victims and failed to detail accountability mechanisms or comprehensive public policies to address the crisis. Moreover, his plan was riddled with platitudes that reinforce gender stereotypes, mainly that men should uphold their roles as protectors of women. This in turn portrayed women as victims whose wellbeing and dignity is subject to men’s goodwill. He also called on men to not be cowardly and to ‘say no’ to committing hate crimes against women.
Breaking Glass Ceilings or Scratching the Surface?
The development of these events has inevitably drawn much attention to the inherent contradictions between Mexico’s international attempts at feminist foreign policy leadership and its negligence at the domestic level to prevent and end violence against women and girls. The Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy defines a Feminist Foreign Policy as “a framework which elevates the everyday lived experience of marginalised communities to the forefront and provides a broader and deeper analysis of global issues.” According to this definition, the Mexican government is not feminist and will not be unless it safeguards women’s lives, human rights and dignity, as well as that of marginalised communities, particularly migrants, and addresses impunity for crimes against these groups.
During his presidency, López Obrador has implemented a series of public policies that have disproportionately harmed women. For example, he implemented an aggressive economic austerity package, reduced subsidies for domestic violence shelters, militarised the federal police by creating the national guard, deployed the armed forces to stop migrants in the southern border, and eliminated a widespread social security and healthcare program for informal workers. Women are more likely to suffer the consequences of these actions due to a greater lack of access to public services, social protection and safety. Women have also been disproportionately affected by an increase in widespread violence due to the government’s militarised War Against Drugs, an approach which has deployed the military in larger numbers than ever before and substituted them for civilian law enforcement officials.
Until recently, only Global North countries had adopted a Feminist Foreign Policy, which largely meant supporting and funding initiatives to build on gender equality in countries with less resources. What then does it mean for a Global South country to implement a Feminist Foreign Policy vis-a-vis an industrialised country like Canada or Sweden? As a Global South country with relatively less military, humanitarian and financial influence abroad, a Mexican Feminist Foreign Policy would have to diverge from the more or less traditional approach of having a strong aid-based component to support girls and women in less developed countries. Instead, Mexico’s best bet is to lead by example and implement feminist policies at the domestic level by, for example, legalising abortion nationwide and implementing a demilitarisation strategy. However, Mexico’s current domestic policies fall short of being deemed feminist despite the government’s tailored narrative as a champion of women and girls in multilateral forums.
Walk the Talk – a Challenge for Mexico
Mexico has been waging a War Against Drugs since 2007. Since then, two hundred thousand people have been killed, forty thousand have gone missing, and thirty thousand have been internally displaced. During this time, women have been particularly vulnerable to sexual violence as men have become more aggressive due to a context of generalised violence. Since femicide figures are not reliable, an alternative approximation to measure the impact of the War Against Drugs in Mexico is the homicide rate of women. Studies show that, although men are killed at higher rates, homicide rates of women are rapidly increasing and are at an all-time high.
If the Mexican government wants to go beyond paying lip service to gender equality at the international level and have a meaningful impact at home, it ought to begin by building peace mechanisms in line with the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda consisting of UN Security Council resolution 1325 and nine other Security Council resolutions. This area of opportunity is particularly relevant as Mexico seeks a Security Council membership candidacy for 2021-2022.
As of now, 43% of UN member states have a National Action Plan (NAP) on the implementation of UNSCR 1325. Mexico is not one of them. Hence, another good starting point would be to design and implement a NAP in the year prior to when it takes a seat in the Council. This instrument must be developed closely with WPS experts and civil society. Moreover, it should contain a dedicated budget, as well as rigorous monitoring and evaluation mechanisms that prioritize transparency and maximising impact. Such mechanisms would help track actual progress and build trust among civil society organisations who are frustrated and disappointed by the government’s poor efforts to tackle gender-based violence.
While Mexico’s Foreign Feminist Policy might be well-intentioned, it conflicts with the Federal government’s general agenda which constantly undermines women and girls’ rights and wellbeing. Intentions alone will not stop women and girls from being brutally murdered. The Generation Equality Forum and Mexico’s upcoming membership in the Security Council are two important windows of opportunity for Mexico to reconcile its contradictions and make progress on gender equality by building peace with a feminist perspective and demilitarising the War Against Drugs. Drafting a NAP in collaboration with civil society and measuring and maximising impact that is human rights based to prevent and end gender-based violence ought to be priorities.