Institutions and its Discontents, Minimal notes about women´s rights in Mexico

Coalición de Mujeres Feministas en 1976.
Coalición de Mujeres Feministas en 1976.

Economic modernization moved forward, the State’s authority became stronger and educational services were expanded. At the same time, poverty, inequality and social discontent increased.

Institutions and its Discontents, Minimal notes about women´s rights in Mexico

This relative stability for decades led to profound transformations in Mexico. Economic modernization moved forward, the State’s authority became stronger and educational services were expanded. At the same time, poverty, inequality and social discontent increased.

The student movement of 1968, which was brutally suppressed by the army, fought for democracy and political freedom, and revealed the authoritarianism of Mexico’s political system. It was fuelled by the participation of a rising middle class, and highlighted the presence of the numerous women who became supporters of Mexico’s feminist movement (Sánchez, 2002).

In the 1970s, the country fell under the shadow of repression. The government eventually implemented a “democratic opening”, consisting primarily of electoral reforms that created opportunities for parties of the left and of the right, lending legitimacy and strength to efforts to oppose the governing party, while at the same time fostering the development of a variety of social movements, including the women’s movement.

The struggle that women began in the 1970s, in Mexico City, was accompanied by social phenomena such as women’s mass entry in the labor market, a growing number of female university students, reforms favoring greater legal equality, and legal access to methods of contraception. The members of the first feminist groups were middle-class university students challenging their limited role in the public sphere, and protesting their exclusion from the political and counter-cultural movements of the time.

The Coalition of Feminist Women was formed in 1976. Its political activism centred around the issues of voluntary motherhood, sexual education and access to contraception, rejection of sexual violence and the right to free sexual choice (Lamas, 2006: 16). In 1979, the National Front for Women’s Liberation and Rights was established. It presented to the Chamber of Deputies, through the Mexican Communist Party, a legislative bill decriminalizing abortion. In response, the Catholic hierarchy and conservative groups undertook an aggressive campaign against the deputies who had advanced the proposal (Tamayo, 1999)—an effort that included the creation, by the Catholic Church and a number of conservative groups, of the National Pro-Life (or “Pro-Vida”) Committee. Pro-Vida has played a leading role in fighting feminist demands for sexual and reproductive rights.

During the 1980s, feminists established links with leftist groups, grassroots church groups and popular-sector women’s movements, putting forward demands that brought together class and gender, resulting in an expansion of the already extensive women’s movement, and giving it greater prominence in the society. The 1985 earthquake that shook Mexico City put a spotlight on the conditions of extreme exploitation suffered by thousands of working women, who organized to gain recognition of their social and labor rights. This effort was joined by groups demanding access to decent services and housing. In associating itself with these movements, the feminist movement underwent a transformation in how it conceived of politics: it recognized the need to negotiate with the State, develop more effective forms of organization, and join forces with other social movements (Lamas, 2006).

In 1988, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the PRI presidential candidate, was accused of having won the election through electoral fraud, perpetrated against the leftist candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, who represented a broad social movement that encompassed a range of leftist forces, and who, for the first time, made women’s demands a specific item on the electoral agenda (Lamas, 2006). As a result of this movement, the Democratic Revolution Party (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, or PRD) was founded in 1989, incorporating a variety of social and political forces, including feminist elements.

With a State weakened by an emboldened opposition, a Church reinvigorated by its international political presence and seeking to change what it regarded as a hostile political environment, and a president in search of legitimacy, the legislation on religion was modified in 1992, and the government’s relations with the Vatican were reestablished, while churches and religious groups regained their former legal status. This trend led to a strengthening of the Church’s influence over the last several years.

The political crisis intensified in the final six-year term of the PRI government (1994-2000), with an armed indigenous uprising in the state of Chiapas and the onset of an economic crisis. In 1994, the Mexican government assumed commitments based on the principles of the Fourth International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo, and, in 1995, of the Fifth World Conference on Women in Beijing. It thereby recognized its obligation to promote, protect and guarantee the right of all persons to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children, and to have access to the information, education and economic means to do so.

These global conferences helped the international women’s movement consolidate its position as a party in the dialogue with the State, and the participation of Mexico’s feminist groups in public and political life grew stronger as they pressured the government to honor its commitments.

In 2006, members of the feminist movement who, in 1999, had become part of the formal political system, participated in the presidential elections as members of the new Social Democratic Alternative party, which can be defined as a left wing party. The party put forth a feminist candidate, Patricia Mercado, forcing all of the parties to state their positions on controversial issues such as the decriminalisation of abortion and homosexual rights. This signaled a significant advance by the feminist movement in making its agenda part of the national debate. The demand to expand freedoms for women and sexual minorities demonstrated the critical potential of the feminist platform, and helped to establish a new framework for citizenship.

The 2006 case of sexual assault by police of more than 26 detained women in San Salvador Atenco is symbolic of the widespread denial of access to justice by both state and federal authorities. The women were arrested without explanation during protests by a local peasant organization, many of them subjected to physical, psychological and sexual violence. In spite of enquiries and recommendations by the National Human Rights Commission and the National Supreme Court, the unjust circumstances have forced nine of the women to take their case to the Inter American Commission of Human Rights.

Amnesty International's report said the Mexican state is failing women on gender discrimination, threats and attacks against women activists, violence suffered by women migrants, failure to fully comply with Inter American Court of Human Rights judgments on the rape of two indigenous women in Guerrero state and the Cotton Field abduction and killing of young women in Ciudad Juarez as well as identifying obstacles to effective access to sexual and reproductive health. Also detailed are the increased level of threats and attacks against women human rights activists who worked to ensure justice for their murdered relatives.

In 2012 there were more than 130 killings of women in the state of Chihuahua. In 2009 alone, public prosecutor's office round the country received 14,829 reports of rape – an alarming number considering that most women do not report these crimes. Only 2,795 convictions were achieved in the courts, illustrating that most cases are not effectively investigated and insufficient measures are taken to protect the survivors.

In the past years, Mexico has approved a number of laws and institutions designed to protect women from discrimination and violence.  Much of the problem, however, lies in the lack of effective implementation of these laws and the weakness of the institutions.

Institutions and its Discontents, Minimal notes about women´s rights in Mexico