Known for its very high rates of violence against women (the number of femicides has been rising dramatically for years), Mexico yet attracts attention at the international level for its strong commtiment to gender equality, especially by adopting a Feminist Foreign Policy in 2020. We want to take stock of the situation and examine how the country’s Feminist Foreign Policy aligns with the domestic situation.
A Comment by Joanna Bedersdorfer, Sophie Domres and Helena Lüer
The midterm elections in Mexico on 6 June highlight the deep divide between the feminist movements in the country and its president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Amlo). Many women’s rights activists voted for the left-wing politician, who took office in December 2018, hoping that his anti-neoliberal and progressive politics would change the situation for women in Mexico. This and Mexico’s recently initiated Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) give us reason to take a closer look at the country’s so called feminist policies.
As the first country in the Global South, under the government of Amlo, Mexico adopted a FFP and joined Sweden and Canada who had previously adopted similar guidelines. But while the president has sought the approval of domestic women’s rights groups since the beginning of his presidency, it seems that so far he has only paid lip service to their recommendations and avoided implementation. FFP is a comprehensive concept that aims to initiate structural change at a wide variety of levels. As such, an effective implementation of FFP must not be underestimated and it is essential that it correlates with domestic policies to ensure effectiveness and international credibility.
On the occasion of the elections, it is worthwhile to take a look at how a FFP has been implemented so far and where gaps remain, both in foreign as well as in domestic policies. This blog post aims to contribute an answer to this question. We are also aware that as white women living in the Global North, we are not affected by Mexican political structures. This limits our perspective and should be kept in mind while reading this peace. Nevertheless, we believe that addressing this topic is also important in the German space and that it contributes to developing new synergies from different perspectives on feminist politics.
Mexico’s foreign policy is known for its long commitment to multilateralism and support for nuclear nonproliferation and wealth distribution – concepts that are coherent with a Feminist Foreign Policy. The promotion of gender equality is part of Mexico’s foreign policy and was demonstrated as early as 1975, when, ringing in the International Women’s Year, the First World Conference on the status of women was held in Mexico City. However, looking at domestic developments, violence against women has always been a serious problem and the situation has deteriorated massively since the beginning of the War On Drugs in 2007. Although men are killed at higher rates in this conflict, sexual and domestic violence, including homicides against women have also risen dramatically since the onset of Mexico’s Narco-Wars.
An exciting development for Mexican foreign policy came in 2019, when the Mexican government first announced its intention to implement a FFP at the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly. A few months later, in January 2020, the FFP was officially launched. Even before that, Mexico had pushed for the integration of a gender-sensitive perspective in foreign policies and, for example, advocated for a Gender Action Plan for Climate Policy at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25), which clearly states that gender and climate policies are mutually dependent. The same year, Mexico established a partnership with the European Union and the United Nations to implement the Spotlight Initiative to Eliminate All Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific. Moreover, Mexico, alongside France, co-hosts the Beijing+25 Generation Equality Forum that marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
But what does Feminist Foreign Policy actually mean? We use the definition from a report published last year by the Open Think Tank Network, of which Polis180 is a member. As a concept, a FFP “seeks to achieve overall equality based on rights, is fundamentally pacifist, and promotes a regenerative approach to nature.” In an intersectional FFP, gender, or the social construct of gender that is closely tied to societal role expectations, is not the sole variable incorporated into policy analyses and decisions.
In fact, gender can be seen as a category operating in a complex interaction with other social categories such as race, class, (dis)abilities, sexuality etc. Particularly postcolonial feminists invite us to think critically about Western-centric power structures and to consider the intersectional character of oppressive power hierarchies. This basic assumption is echoed by the Mexican government, which explicitly refers to intersectional feminism as being at the heart of its FFP.
Based on an analysis of Swedish and Canadian foreign policy, the Mexican government sets out to go even further and differentiate itself from the already existing approaches as the first country of the Global South to enact a FFP: “[I]t is clear that Mexico’s feminist foreign policy is geared towards addressing structural causes, beyond recognising and protecting the existing rights in gender equality included in national and international legal instruments.” But what are the specific goals of Mexico’s FFP? The government announced 5 guidelines on which Mexico’s foreign policy will be based in the initial period from 2020 to 2024:
- Through the mainstreaming of gender equality and intersectionality into all areas of foreign policy, Mexico’s FFP will have a gender perspective and a “feminist agenda plus” at the heart, which includes incorporating human rights into treaty law, agreements, resolutions, candidacies, composition of delegations and more. This is especially important in light of the fact that a comprehensive, human rights-based approach is a hallmark of FFP!
- The elimination of all forms of gender inequality within the Foreign Ministry itself will be a core objective of Mexico’s FFP.
- The Foreign Ministry will serve as a safe space whilst eradicating any form of gendered violence. This shall also apply to Mexicans living abroad who can seek safety in Mexican diplomatic institutions.
- Equality will be made visible by exposing women’s contributions to foreign policy. Mexico “proposes gender parity during conferences, events and meetings; promotes an effective communication that is inclusive and non-sexist; training and creating awareness on gender equality to all members of the Ministry.”
- Feminism and intersectionality will guide the work of all areas within the Foreign Ministry.
What is striking about the guidelines is that in the beginning, Mexico prioritises tackling its own institutional hurdles that threaten gender equality in its foreign ministry, which shows that Mexico starts with FFP where it has the most contact points with international relations and Mexico’s diplomatic missions around the world.
Additionally, as mentioned above, it is intriguing that Mexico considers intersectionality as a crucial part of a successful FFP. Government representatives emphasised that as a country of the Global South, Mexico can embody this concept better than any country of the Global North. That signaled great potential, especially with regard to possible spillover effects to other countries of the Global South.
As a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) from 2021 to 2022, Mexico now has the opportunity to implement its international feminist commitments. To this end, Mexico recently adopted the first National Action Plan (NAP) for the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda and joins 86 countries who have adopted NAPs since the adoption of resolution 1325 in 2000, the first resolution of the WPS Agenda. The plan mainly refers to the participation in peacekeeping operations, but lacks strategies in solving the country’s own internal conflict and adopting a gender perspective along this process.
A feminist domestic policy?
In addition to these foreign policy goals, Mexico also stated that the feminist approach should lead to progress in dismantling internal gendered hierarchies: “A long-term endeavor as it is, the FFP can contribute to ensure consistency between foreign and domestic actions, through effective communication.” Women’s rights groups also hightlight that a FFP can only work hand in hand with feminist domestic policy – pursuing only one of the two is insufficient to achieve real gender equality. Like many other countries, however, Mexico has a noticeable predicament related to pervasive gender-based inequality structures and violence.
While Mexico has arrived at gender parity in its parliament, there is by far no real gender equality. Women’s bodily autonomy is heavily restricted in most states and gender-based violence is an ongoing risk to the lives and well being of many women and LGBTQI* persons across the country. It is estimated that two-thirds of all women aged 15 or older have experienced violence at some point in their lives. Almost half (44 percent) have had violence inflicted upon them by their partners.
In 2018 and 2019, approximately 10 women were killed every day with a majority of around 90 percent of cases being left unpunished. While femicides, the murder of women because of their gender, have increased since 2006 with 946 registered in 2020, Mexico only recognised them as a specific type of offense in 2017.
Violence against women is undeniably a problem in Mexico. President Amlo regularly downplays the issue and demonises the women’s movement protesting it. He even goes so far as to claim that most of the emergency calls coming in because of violence against women are prank calls. Even though his government has recognised femicides a specific type of crime, Amlo sees the reason for gender-based deaths as the same as for other types of homicides, declaring the social decline caused by the neoliberalist agenda that has reigned over Mexico before his election as the primary cause for all kinds of violence.
For Amlo, family disintegration and the loss of traditional values are to be accountable for violence against women. This attitude might in part explain why, instead of collaborating with the feminist movement demanding gender equality and protection for women, the president has accused the movement of having been incited by his political adversaries to work against his government. The president’s neglect of adequately responding to the issue is reflected in budgetary cuts made to women’s shelters as well as day-care centers and reproductive health services in 2020. Adding to that, the funding for INMUJERES, the federal agency coordinating gender equality issues has been reduced.
Women’s protests across the country are labelled as violent and arrested female protesters are subject to threats and sexual violence by police officers. Even Claudia Sheinbaum, who is seen as a representative of gender equality for being the first female mayor of Mexico-City, labelled women’s protests as provocations purposefully seeking a violent response by the state. The right and access to a safe abortion is also severely restricted in Mexico, with only Mexico-City and the state of Oaxaca permitting abortions up until the 12th week of pregnancy. Encouraged by the victory of the pro-choice movement in Argentina, Mexican women protest across the country for their right to terminate unwanted pregnancies. But the president tries to avoid directly answering their calls and instead proposes a public referendum on the question. This idea is criticised by women’s rights organisations who see abortion as a human right that should be decided by women themselves instead of by a popular vote.
A glimpse into the future
As much as it is to be congratulated that Mexico has adopted a FFP and advocates for gender-sensitive policies at an international level, it clearly lacks feminist domestic policies. Too few synergies have yet been forged to adapt the domestic situation for women to the goals of the FFP. Internal conflicts between the president and the women’s movement clearly reveal this gap. These tensions heightened as Amlo continued his support for the gubernatorial candidate Félix Salgado Macedonio, accused of five cases of sexual violence, including rape, for the mid-term elections. Salgado Macedonio has now been disqualified for the elections by the electoral tribunal because of missing campaign expense reports, a decision the president strongly criticised.
Unfortunately, the pre-election period is accompanied by violence and forced displacements. Since the campaign season started in September 2020, 69 politicians have been killed. As the opposition is divided, the ruling party of the president, Morena, is expected to maintain control in Congress. However, the feminist movement is reaching a new momentum now as it is supported by a younger generation of women. They demand more protection, structural change away from patriarchal oppression and an end of impunity against predators.
An internal implementation of the WPS agenda, for example, would be a good starting point and would go hand in hand with a FFP. In addition, countries like Germany should not only cooperate with the Mexican government and praise it for its international commitments, but should also highlight the demands of the Mexican civil society and feminist movement. It remains to be seen whether this gap will be reduced or whether this discrepancy will remain part of Mexican reality, and how the upcoming elections might affect the national climate.
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Joanna (she/her) holds a Staatsexamen degree (equivalent to MA) in English, History, Political Science and Economics. Some of her main areas of interest are gender and climate justice, gender in international developmental cooperation as well as queer- and intersectional-feminist literature. At Polis 180, she is a member of the programme Gender and International Politics.
Sophie (she/her) is master’s student of International Relations at the Free University of Berlin, the Humboldt University of Berlin and the University of Potsdam specialising in critical feminist research. Her research focuses on the nexus between gender and international power structures as well as transnational feminist solidarities. At Polis180, she is engaged in the programme Gender and International Politics.
Helena (she/her) is Co-Head of the Programme Gender and International Politics at Polis180. She holds a MA in Peace & Conflict Studies and works for an international humanitarian organization. Her main areas of interest include feminist foreign policy, postcolonial feminism, sexual and reproductive rights and the role of gender in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism.