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Mexico: Champion of Women or Detractor?

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. 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.

Image credit: WILPF
Daniela Philipson
1 April 2020

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.

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Daniela Philipson

Daniela Philipson Garcia currently works as a Data Analyst at the Center for Policing Equity. A policy enthusiast and researcher, Philipson Garcia has also served as a Security Policy Advisor to the Speaker of the Senate of Mexico, a Citizen Security and Justice Consultant to the Interamerican Development Bank, and a Women, Peace and Security Fellow at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. 

Melissa Torres

VICE-PRESIDENT

Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo

PRESIDENT

Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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