Mexico has been internationally recognized as a champion of gender equality in multilateral fora; yet, gender-based violence within its borders is ubiquitous. This article discusses the strengths and weaknesses of Mexico’s feminist foreign policy and makes recommendations on how to address contradictions by enhancing civil society’s participation at the local level.
In 2020, Mexico became the first Global South country to adopt a feminist foreign policy, which has, with little scrutiny, been hailed and understood as in line with Mexico’s commitments and progress on gender equality internationally. The country’s foreign policy principles, enshrined in the constitution, commit to non-intervention, peaceful solutions to conflict, and international cooperation.
Consistent with these principles, the country is a strong advocate of gender equality at the international level. It has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women. In 2020, Mexico co-hosted the Generation Equality Forum, the first international forum to address gender equality since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. During its two-year tenure as a non-permanent member of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, which began in January 2021, Mexico co-presided the informal expert group on Women, Peace and Security with Ireland and Kenya. As part of the “Presidency Trio,” Mexico sought to ensure a strong representation of diverse women civil society briefers and requested the inclusion of a gender analysis in UN briefings.
A quick snapshot at the national level also suggests Mexico has a strong commitment to gender equality. Mexico has gender parity across all levels of government, and both of the leading presidential candidates for 2024 are women, guaranteeing that Mexico will elect its first female president next year. The country has also made immense strides regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights. In 2021 and 2023, the Supreme Court ruled to decriminalize abortion at the state and federal levels respectively—decisions that marked a notable contrast with the reversal of Roe v. Wade north of the border.
A closer look at the state of gender equality within Mexico, however, paints a different picture. The country has one of the highest rates of homicide and gender-based violence in the world. Approximately ten women are murdered every day in Mexico. Moreover, Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO for short), has shown hostile attitudes toward feminists. In the past, he has denounced Mexican feminists as staging a “conservative plot” against his government and has systematically undermined efforts to address gender-based violence in the country, as well as the care crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under AMLO’s government, militarization has also increased. Mexican activists and experts point to militarized masculinities and the increase in the availability of firearms as drivers of gender-based violence in the country. In 2021, two out of ten women detained by the military experienced sexual violence. Likewise, four out of ten women detained by the Navy experienced sexual violence. During the current administration, the military’s budget increased by approximately 50 percent and the number of military personnel deployed across Mexican territory increased by approximately 25 percent. The Mexican military has even taken over some public safety tasks, such as patrolling and detentions, in lieu of the police. Important sectors of the Mexican economy are also becoming militarized. Mexico’s city airport and a commercial airline are now under the military’s control. At the same time, funding for shelters for victims of gender-based violence and the Mexican Institute of Women significantly decreased. The budget assigned to the military in 2021 is 1,000 times the budget assigned to the Institute of Women.
Feminist Foreign Policy: What does it mean for Mexican women?
Since it was announced in 2019, Mexico’s feminist foreign policy (FFP) has faced little criticism and has been celebrated globally as the first in the Global South. Recently, more Latin American countries have joined the FFP wave, including Chile, Colombia and, possibly, Argentina. Daniela Sepulveda Soto and Evyn Papworth noted that Latin America is increasingly showcasing regional leadership and innovative approaches to FFP. Nonetheless, in its manifesto, Política Exterior Feminista América Latina underscored that Latin American governments with a feminist foreign policy have weaker, more vertical relationships with civil society relative to their partners in the Global North. Hence, civil society in Latin America “is not considered by governments as a legitimate actor to monitor and demand accountability.”
For Mexico to thrive as a global champion of women, it is critical that it resolves contradictions within its borders. While the FFP has improved Mexico’s credibility as a foreign actor in multilateral fora and negotiations, the FFP lacks legitimacy and ownership among domestic actors. In fact, feminist civil society in Mexico has shown little interest in feminist foreign policy and many feminists are not even aware of the country’s FFP.. With a few exceptions (Internacional Feminista and Global Thought), feminist civil society in Mexico has not engaged with the FFP whatsoever.
One of the main reasons why feminist civil society in Mexico is estranged from the FFP is that the government did not conduct consultations for the formulation, design, and implementation of the FFP. Although the Foreign Affairs Ministry has collaborated with feminist civil society in Europe and the United States, for example with the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy, the International Center for Research on Women, and the Feminist Foreign Policy Collaborative, it has not established similar partnerships with civil society within Mexico. On the contrary, the current government has antagonized feminist civil society. The Mexican Ministry of Defense even listed feminist collectives, along with drug cartels and Al Qaeda, as a national security threat.
In this context, it is necessary to consider what, if any, benefits the FFP confers to women, feminists, and marginalized communities in Mexico. Moreover, does the FFP require the meaningful participation of and accountability to Mexican feminists to be considered truly feminist?
Bridging the gap: Participation of local actors and accountability
Global issues, such as peace accords, gender-based violence, the climate crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic are determined by local dynamics and grassroots solutions. As FFPs seek to tackle these issues, they must seek alignment at the local level. Moreover, grassroots feminist activists and practitioners are those with the most experience and the best skill sets to inform, lead, and implement feminist policies. Without their active and meaningful involvement and participation, state actors risk co-opting feminism as a means to continue business as usual—not because they have bad intentions, but because they do not have the knowledge, experience, and expertise that feminists have accrued through their lived experiences and hard work.
Despite some important criticism, the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda remains an important policy framework and instrument to link global and local actors. Four of the ten UN Security Council resolutions (1888, 1960, 2106, and 2122) that make up the WPS agenda recognize local civil society as key actors. Specifically, resolution 2106 underlines “the important roles that civil society organizations […] can play in enhancing community-level protection against sexual violence in armed conflict and post-conflict situations […].” Furthermore, the 2022 Global Humanitarian Review found that local actors play a key role as first responders in a crisis and the long-term providers of support. Moreover, local actors play a key role in translating international norms into their everyday contexts.
An important threat to the survival and success of FFPs is changes in governments. The end of Sweden’s FFP after a right-wing coalition was elected is an important lesson that local contexts do matter. Sweden’s example shows that for FFPs to achieve their goals of gender equality and gender justice, more broadly, local buy-in and ownership are necessary prerequisites. To achieve buy-in and ownership, FFPs require meaningful participation of local actors and accountability.
One example of how Mexico could strengthen its FFP commitments at the local level and engage actors at the grassroots level is by strengthening an existing program called Network of Women Peacebuilders, known in Spanish as Redes de Mujeres Constructoras de Paz (MUCPAZ). This initiative seeks to grow existing networks of women peacebuilders at the grassroots level, organize nationwide meetings, and encourage information and knowledge sharing across networks. Led and coordinated by the Institute of Women, MUCPAZ promotes, documents, and shares women’s experiences as peacebuilders. Results so far show that 357 networks of women peacebuilders have been created under the program’s tutelage. For this work to continue, it is critical that MUCPAZ be adequately funded and that its impact is closely monitored and evaluated. In addition, this program should be implemented without incurring additional burdens on the participants, recognizing and remunerating women for their time and effort when necessary.
Reports on Mexico’s FFP from Internacional Feminista and Global Thought have come up with detailed recommendations. These recommend that efforts to meaningfully involve feminist civil society in Mexico’s FFP and ensure accountability go further than MUCPAZ and focus on establishing participation and accountability mechanisms. The Mexican government, specifically the Foreign Affairs Ministry, should conduct extensive and transparent consultations with feminist civil society and academia in Mexico, focusing on key issues, such as immigration, gender-based violence, the climate crisis, international trade and cooperation, reproductive and sexual health and rights, and the care economy. Beyond civil society, the Ministry should engage other government stakeholders, such as legislators and other relevant ministries, such as the Ministry of Economy, the Institute of Women, and government representatives at the state and municipal levels.
Furthermore, the Foreign Affairs Ministry should establish an advisory board with representatives of academia and civil society to monitor and assess the FFP periodically. Lastly, the Foreign Affairs Ministry must ensure accountability and transparency by creating a publicly available policy roadmap that includes the FFP’s specific objectives, action items, benchmarks, budgetary commitments, and indicators. Annual data to assess the FFP’s impact should also be made public.
Countries with an FFP are seeking to lead the way toward a more inclusive, sustainable, peaceful, and gender-just world by adopting feminist foreign policies, which is an important, sizeable, and commendable task. However, it is important to recognize that feminist activists and academics have long been advocating for these same goals—not just within foreign policy and international relations, but at all levels. Transnational and grassroots feminist organizations have collaborated for years to influence normative, legislative, and policy changes to promote gender equality and human rights for women and girls. Without accountability and the meaningful participation of local actors and feminist civil society, Mexico’s FFP lacks legitimacy, and its transformative potential remains limited.
Daniela Philipson García is a PhD candidate at Monash University and a co-director of Internacional Feminista.
This interview is part of a series reflecting on the 23rd anniversary of the WPS agenda.
 Based on conversations between the author and various representatives of feminist civil society in Mexico.