Feminism in Mexico

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Feminism in Mexico is the philosophy and activity aimed at creating, defining, and protecting political, economic, cultural, and social equality in women’s rights and opportunity for Mexican women.[1][2] The history of feminism in Mexico can be divided chronologically into three peak periods: the Revolutionary period (1915–1925), the Second Wave (1968–1990, peaking in 1975–1985), and the post-1990 period.[3] In Mexico, women's equality demands stem from women's struggle between household commitments and underpaid jobs. Most Mexican women in the upper and middle classes are provided with domestic help, causing those women to be more accepting of traditional gender roles.[4] For many Mexican women, assisting other women through benevolent organizations and charitable works is in line with a traditional view of womanhood.[5]

Level of education has played a large part in Mexican feminism because schoolteachers were some of the first women to enter the work-force in Mexico.[6] Many of the early feminists who emerged from the Revolution were teachers either before or after the war,[7] as were the participants of the Primer Congreso Feminista, the first feminist congress in Mexico.[6] The participants in the Mexico 68 clashes who went on to form that generation's feminist movement were predominantly students and educators.[8] The advisers who established themselves within the unions after the 1985 earthquakes were educated women who understood the legal and political aspects of organized labor. What they realized was that to form a sustained movement and attract working-class women, they needed to utilize worker's expertise and knowledge of their jobs to meld a practical, working system.[9]

Because Mexico was dominated by one political party for 71 years, women's roles as mothers was politicized, marginalizing the political involvement of feminism to a great degree before 2000.[10] This view of women often put feminist goals at odds with activities that they also supported. For example, both state-run and national programs, like DIF (National System for Integral Family Development), offer welfare assistance and food supplements to low-income women. To receive the benefits, the government requires women to take classes in domestic skills. These programs develop skills that tie women to domesticity or low-skill tasks without any evaluation as to whether those programs are appropriate or needed in the local marketplace.

As of the most recent Gender Gap Index measurement of countries by the World Economic Forum in 2014, Mexico is ranked 80th on gender equality.[11]

Feminist theory in Mexico[edit]

Feminist theory is the extension of feminism into theoretical or philosophical fields.

Traditional stereotypes[edit]

In Mexico, most of these theories stem from postcolonialism and social constructionist ideologies. A postmodern approach to feminism highlights "the existence of multiple truths (rather than simply men and women's standpoints)," which plays out in the Mexican social perception, where the paternalistic machismo culture is neither clearly juxtaposed against a marianismo nor a malinchismo counterpart.[12] In a particularly Mexican context, the traditional views of women have resided at polar opposite positions, wherein the pure, chaste, submissive, docile, giver-of-life marianistic woman,[13] in the guise of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is at one end of the spectrum and the sinful, scheming, traitorous, deceptive, mestizo-producing, La Malinche is at the other.[14] These stereotypes are further reinforced in popular culture via literature,[15][16] art,[17][18] theater,[19] dance,[20][21] film,[22] television[23] and commercials.[24] Regardless of whether these portrayals are accurate, historically based, or were manipulated to serve vested interests,[25] they have promoted three of the underlying themes of the female Mexican identity — Catholicism, Colonialism and Mestizo.[3]

Predominantly, until the latter part of the 19th century, images of women, whether in the arts or society as a whole, were those dictated by men and men's perceptions of women.[26][27] After the Revolution the state created a new image of who was Mexican. Largely through the efforts of President Álvaro Obregón the cultural symbol became an indigenous Indian, usually a mestizo female, who represented a break with colonialism and Western imperialism.[28] While men's definitions of women and their sphere remained the "official" and predominant cultural model,[29] beginning in the 1920s women demanded being allowed to define their own sphere.[30]

Changing perceptions[edit]

Women's depictions of themselves in art, novels, and photography were in opposition to their objectification and portrayal as subjects of art. By creating their own art, in the post-Revolutionary period, artists could claim their own identity and interpretation of femininity.[31] While the female artists of the immediate period following the revolution tried in their own ways to redefine their personal perceptions of body and its imagery in new ways,[32][33][34][35] they did not typically champion social change. It was the feminists who came after, looking back at their work, who began to characterize it as revolutionary in sparking social change.[36] In the 1950s, a group of Mexican writers called "Generation of '50" were influential in questioning the values of Mexican society.[37] Rosario Castellanos was one of the first to bring attention to the complicity of middle-class women in their own oppression and stated, "with the disappearance of the last servant will the first angry rebel appear".[38] Castellanos sought to question caste and privilege, oppression, racism, and sexism through her writing.[37] Her voice was joined by Elena Poniatowska, whose journalism, novels and short stories philosophically analyzed and evaluated the roles of women, those who had no empowerment, and the greater society.[39]

Up until the 1980s, most discussion of feminism centered on the relationships between men and women, child-centric spheres, and wages. After that time period, bodies, personal needs, and sexuality emerged.[40] Some feminist scholars since the 1980s have evaluated the historic record on women and shown that they were participants in shaping in the history of the country. In 1987, Julia Tuñón Pablos wrote Mujeres en la historia de México (Women in the History of Mexico), which was the first comprehensive account of women's historical contributions to Mexico from prehistory through the Twentieth Century. Since that time, extensive studies have shown that women were involved all areas of Mexican life. From the 1990s, gender perspective has increasingly become a focus for academic study.[41]


Women have played a pivotal role in Mexico's political struggles throughout its history,[42] yet their service to the country did not result in political rights until the middle of the twentieth century.[6]

Pre-revolutionary period[edit]

Women distinguished themselves in battle and command during the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821),[43] and also were employed as spies, provocateurs, and seductresses. Newspapers in 1812 harangued women to take part in the independence effort as they owed their countrymen a debt for submitting to conquest and subordinating Mexico to Spanish rule.[44] Mexican women did have some rights, including greater property rights, than their counterparts elsewhere in North America. Spanish colonial law, and Mexican law after independence, recognized the separate individual property of a husband and wife, as well as jointly owned property.[45][46] There were feminist gains between 1800 and 1910, but they were typically individual gains and not a formalized movement.[47]

  • In 1870, Rita Cetina Gutiérrez founded La Siempreviva (The Everlasting) in Yucatán, one of the first feminist societies in Mexico. The society founded a secondary school, which Cetina directed from 1886-1902, educating generations of young teaching women[48] and inspired others to open schools for women.[49]
  • In 1887, Laureana Wright de Kleinhans established a literary feminist group that published a magazine, "Violetas de Anáhuac" (Violets of Anáhuac), which demanded equality of the sexes and women's suffrage.[50]
  • In 1904, the Sociedad Protectora de la Mujer (The Society for the Protection of Women)[47] formed and began publishing a feminist magazine, "La Mujer Mexicana" (The Mexican Woman).[51]
  • In 1910, the Club Femenil Antirreeleccionista Hijas de Cuauhtémoc (Anti-Reelectionist Women's Club of the Daughters of Cuauhtémoc) led a protest against election fraud and demanded women's right to political participation.[52]

Revolutionary period: 1915–1925[edit]

As they had in the War for Independence, many Mexican women served during the Mexican Revolution as soldiers and even troop leaders, as well as in more traditional camp-follower roles as cooks, laundresses, and nurses.[53] However, those who gained recognition as veterans of the war were typically educated women who acted as couriers of arms and letters, propagandists, and spies. In part, this was due to an order issued on March 18, 1916, which decommissioned all military appointments of women retroactively and declared them null and void.[54] Because of the nature of espionage, many of the women spies worked directly with the leadership of the revolution and thus had at least a semi-protected status as long as the leader they worked with was living. They formed anti-Huerta clubs,[55] like the Club Femenil Lealtad (Women's Loyalty Club) founded in 1913 by María Arias Bernal,[56] using their gender to disguise their activities.[55] Some gains were made, as the right to divorce was attained in 1914,[56] and in 1915, Hermila Galindo founded a feminist publication, Mujer Moderna (The Modern Woman) which discussed both politics and feminist ideas,[57] including suffrage.[56] Also in 1915, in October, the newly appointed governor of the Yucatán, Salvador Alvarado, who had studied both European and United States feminist theory and socialism, called for a feminist congress to be convened. In January 1916, the Primer Congreso Feminista (First Feminist Congress) was held in Mérida, Mexico and discussed topics of education, including sexual education; religious fanaticism; legal rights and reforms; equal employment opportunity; and intellectual equality among others,[6] but without any real challenge to defining women in terms of motherhood.[58]

The 1917 Constitution of Mexico created by the reformist movement contained many of the ideas discussed in the Feminist Congress — free, mandatory, state-sponsored education;[59] "equal pay for equal work" (though the delegates were not attempting to protect women, but rather protecting male workers from foreigners being paid higher wages);[6] the preliminary steps to land reform; and a social, as well as political structure.[59] While the Constitution did not prohibit women's enfranchisement, the 1918 National Election Law limited voting rights to males. The Law of Family Relations of 1917 expanded the previous divorce provisions, giving women the right to alimony and child custody, as well as the ability to own property and take part in lawsuits.[49]

In 1919, the Consejo Feminista Mexicano (Mexican Feminist Council)[60] was created with the goals of attaining the right to vote and social and economic liberty[61] and co-founded by Elena Torres Cuéllar; María “Cuca” del Refugio García, who was a proponent of indigenous women's rights, including protection of their lands and wages;[62] and Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza, who became the first president of the Council and was an advocate of miner's rights and education.[63] In 1922, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, governor of the Yucatán, proposed legislation giving women the right to vote and urged women to run for political offices. Heeding his call, Rosa Torre González became the first woman to be elected in any political capacity in Mexico, when she won a seat that same year on the Mérida Municipal Council. The following year, 1923, Carrillo Puerto's younger sister, Elvia Carrillo Puerto was one of three women delegates elected to the state legislature. The other two were Beatríz Peniche Barrera and Raquel Dzib Cicero.[64]

In 1923 the First Feminist Congress of the Pan American League of Women was held in Mexico and demanded a wide range of political rights.[65] That same year the Primer Congreso Nacional de Mujeres (First National Women’s Congress) in Mexico City was held from which two factions emerged. The radicals, who were part of workers unions and resistance leagues from Yucatán and were aligned with Elena Torres Cuéllar and María “Cuca” del Refugio García. The moderates, who were teachers and women from Christian societies in Mexico City and representatives from the Pan American League and US feminist associations, followed the lead of G. Sofía Villa de Buentello.[66] 1923 also saw the formation of the Frente Unico Pro Derechos de la Mujer (FUPDM) (United Front for Women‟s Rights). By 1925, women in two other Mexican states, Chiapas and San Luis Potosí had also gained the right to vote.[67] At the close of this period, Villa de Buentello organized the League of Iberian and Latin American Women to promote civil code reform in 1925. The group adopted a series of resolutions, primarily dealing with gender relations and behavior, which also contained provisions on the right to vote and hold public office.[68]

Although more women throughout Mexico were seeking suffrage during this period, the movement lacked sophistication and focus, evident in the fact that Mexican women did not gain the vote until 1953.[6]

Post-revolution: 1926–1967[edit]

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s a series of conferences, congresses and meetings were held, dealing with sexual education and prostitution.[69] Much of this attention was in response to the 1926 passage of the Reglamento para el Ejercicio de la Prostitución (Regulation for the Practice of Prostitution), an ordinance requiring prostitutes to register with authorities and submit to inspection and surveillance,[70] which may have been part of a normal phenomenon which occurs at the end of conflict. Often, at the end of armed conflict, citizens turn to reordering the social and moral codes, regulating sexuality and redefining social roles.[71]

Near the end of the decade, political parties, like the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (the precursor to PRI) and Partido Nacional Antireeleccionista (National Anti-Reelectionist Party (PNA)) included a women's platform in their agendas,[49] but the most significant gains in this period were regarding practical matters[49] of economic and social concerns. In 1931, 1933 and 1934 the Congreso Nacional de Mujeres Obreras y Campesinas (National Congress of Women Workers and Peasants) sponsored the Congreso Contra la Prostitución (Congress Against Prostitution).[69] One important development that these groups secured in this time frame was the legalization of abortion in case of rape in 1931.[72]

Throughout the '30s FUPDM concentrated on social programs that would benefit lower-class women, advocating for rent reductions of market stalls, and lowered taxes and utility rates. These programs earned the group a large following and their pressure, with the support of President Lázaro Cárdenas, resulted in the ratification in 1939 by all 28 Mexican states of an amendment to Article 34 of the Constitution granting enfranchisement to women. The Mexican Congress refused to formally recognize the ratification or proclaim that the change was in effect.[73] The years from 1940–1968 were predominantly a period of inactivity for feminists as World War II shifted the focus to other concerns. There were scattered gains,[74] most specifically, women finally acquired the right to vote. In 1952, the FUPDM had organized the Alianza de Mujeres Mexicanas (Mexican Women's Alliance) and made a deal with candidate Adolfo Ruiz Cortines that they would support his presidential bid in exchange for suffrage. Ruiz consented to the arrangement if Alianza could secure 500,000 women's signatures on a petition asking for enfranchisement. When Ruiz was elected, Alianza delivered the signatures and as promised, women were granted the right to vote in federal elections in 1953.[75]

The Second Wave: 1968–1990[edit]

1968 to 1974[edit]

Armored cars at protests at the "Zócalo" in Mexico City in 1968

Between July and October 1968, a group of women participants in the student protests that would become known as Mexico 68, began a fledgling feminist movement.[76] During the uprising, women used their perceived apolitical status and gender to bypass police barricades. Gaining access to places that men could not go raised women's awareness of their power.[8] Though the protests were suppressed by government forces before political change happened,[77] the dynamic of man-woman relationships changed, as activists realized platonic working relationships could exist without leading to romance.[78]

The uprising mobilized students and mothers. Seeing their children slain brought lower class and poor women en masse for the first time into the realm of activism with educated middle class women. These "Mother's Movements" occurred in rural and urban areas and across socio-economic barriers, as mothers protested repeatedly for social ills and inequalities to be addressed by their governments. What began as a voice for their children, soon became demands for other kinds of change, like adequate food, sufficient water, and working utilities.[79] Voices also were raised questioning disappearances in various places in the country, but in this period, those questions met with little success.[80]

In 1972, Alaíde Foppa created the radio program "Foro de la Mujer" (Women's Forum) which was broadcast on Radio Universidad, to discuss inequalities within Mexican society, violence and how violence should be treated as a public rather than a private concern, and to explore women's lives. In 1975, Foppa co-founded with Margarita García Flores the publication Fem, a magazine for scholarly analysis of issues from a feminist perspective.[81]

In addition to the more practical Mother's Movements, Mexican feminism, called "New Feminism" in this era, became more intellectual and began questioning gender roles and inequalities. Between June and July 1975, the UN World Conference on Women was held in Mexico City. Mexico hosted delegates from 133 member states, who discussed equality, and governments were forced to evaluate how women fared in their societies.[79] Despite the fact that many Mexican feminists viewed the proceedings as a publicity stunt by the government and that some of the international feminists disparaged the Mexican feminist movement, the conference laid the groundwork for a future path, bringing new issues and concerns into the open and marking the point when frank discussions of sexuality emerged.[82] Spurred by the 1975 conferences, six of the Mexican women's organizations merged into the Coalicion de Mujeres Feministas (Coalition of Feminist Women), hoping to make headway on abortion, rape and violence in 1976. The Coalicion dominated women's efforts until 1979, when some of its more leftist members formed the Frente Nacional de Lucha por la Liberacion y los Derechos de las Mujeres, (National Front in the Struggle for Women's Liberation and Rights). Both groups had withered by the early 1980s.[83]

1975 to 1989[edit]

An economic crisis, which began in 1976, brought women together across class lines for the first time. Social issues gave women a new political voice as they demanded solutions to address problems created by the rural-to-urban migration which was taking place. Women formed neighborhood coalitions to deal with lack of housing, sanitation, transportation, utilities, and water. As more people moved into cities to find work, lack of investment in those areas, as well as education and health facilities, became challenges that united women's efforts.[84] Though these colonias populares (neighborhood movements) were making "demands for genuine representation and state accountability as well as social citizenship rights" they did not ask for systemic changes to improve women's societal positions.[85] As the debt crisis intensified and Mexico devalued its currency to gain international loans, wages decreased while the cost of living escalated, causing more and more women to enter the workforce. Companies began hiring women because they could pay them lower wages, male unemployment soared, and feminist activity came to a standstill.[86]

Mobilization, popular demonstration, and social movements came together in a new way in response to the devastating 1985 earthquakes. The scope of the destruction invigorated the dormant women's movement to meet the immediate needs of families. Feminist groups, local grass-roots organizations, and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) stepped in to offer aid that the government or official political organizations were either unable or incapable of providing.[87] There was a recognition during this time that a short-term disaster relief movement could be turned into an organization focused on implementing long-term political gain. Simultaneously, several worker's unions implemented female advisory boards, with the goals of educating, training and politically organizing garment workers. Feminists serving on advisory boards made workers aware that they could change the environment and attitude of their places of employment and demand changes in areas other than wages and hours. They expanded demands to include addressing sexual harassment, covering child and health care, improving job training and education, raising workers' awareness, and changing the actual work conditions.[88]


Members of the Women's Human Rights Centre in Ciudad Chihuahua, Mexico call for justice for the murders of Rubi and Marisela.

The period beginning in 1990 marked a shift in the politics of Mexico which would change the country from the control of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to a National Action Party (PAN) candidate in 1989,[89] which was followed in 1997 by PRI's loss of control of the lower house and the loss of the presidency in 2000.[90] The impact that end of the virtual one-party-rule would have on women in Mexico was an open question.[91] 1990 also saw the birth of Debate Feminista (Feminist Debate), a publication founded by Marta Lamas, which aimed at connecting academic feminist theory with the practices of activists in the women’s movement.[92] Debate has become one of the most important journals in Latin America, because it also prints articles written by men.[93]

In 1991, a constitutional reform established freedom of religious belief, granted open practice of all religions, and for the first time in the 20th century, established diplomatic relations between Mexico and the Vatican. Almost immediately, the Catholic church launched a campaign opposing family planning and a condom distribution program the Mexican government was sponsoring as part of an HIV/AIDS prevention program. In reaction, the feminist movement began studying pro-choice movements in France and the United States, to analyze how to direct the discourse in Mexico. In 1992 they formed the Grupo de Information en Reproduction Elegida (GIRE) (Information Group on Reproductive Choice).[94] Transforming the discussion from whether one was for or against abortion to focus on who should decide was a pivotal change in forward-progress of the abortion debate in Mexico.[93] In order the gauge the public perception, GIRE in conjunction with Gallup polling, completed national surveys in 1992, 1993 and 1994, which confirmed that over 75% of the population felt that the decision of family planning should belong to a woman and her partner.[94]

After 1997, when PRI lost control of the legislature,[90] female activists and victims’ relatives in Chihuahua convinced the state government to create special law enforcement divisions to address disappearances and deaths of women in Ciudad Juarez. Success in the state legislature led to a similar law at the national level, which also aimed at investigating and prosecution of Dirty War and narco-trafficking disappearances.[80] By 2004 the violence toward women had escalated to the point that María Marcela Lagarde y de los Ríos introduced the term femicide, originally coined in the United States,[95] to Latin American audiences to refer to abductions, death and disappearances of women and girls which is allowed by the state and happens with impunity.[96] In 2006, the Mexican Congress adopted the term accepting that it points to the State's responsibility, and in 2009 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a verdict against Mexico condemning the failure to protect hundreds of murdered women in Ciudad Juarez.[97]



Women campaigning for the decriminalisation of abortion in 2011

In the middle of the Second Wave, there was hope by activists that gains would be made in the area of contraception and a woman's right to her own body choices. President Luis Echeverría had convened the Interdisciplinary Group for the Study of Abortion, which included anthropologists, attorneys, clergy (Catholic, Jewish and Protestant), demographers, economists, philosophers, physicians, and psychologists. Their findings, in a report issued in 1976, were that criminality of voluntary abortion should cease and that abortion services should be included in the government health package. The recommendations were neither published or implemented. In 1980, feminists convinced the Communist Party to table a bill for voluntary motherhood, but it never moved forward. In 1983, a proposal was made to modify the penal code, but the strong reactions from conservative factions dissuaded the government from action.[94]

In 1989, a scandal broke when police raided a private abortion clinic, detaining doctors, nurses and patients. They were jailed without a court order in Tlaxcoaque, subjected to extortion demands, and some of the women reported they were tortured. After her release, one of the victims filed a lawsuit alleging police brutality and the media picked up the story. In a first for Mexico's feminist movement, feminists published a notice in response to the situation, and obtained 283 signatories with different political alliances and gained 427 endorsements. For the first time, feminists and political parties spoke in harmony.[94] The period marked slow, but steady gains for women in the country.[87]

Within a month Vicente Fox’s 2000 election, the PAN governor of Guanajuato attempted to ban abortion even in the case of rape. In a speech to commemorate International Women's Day Fox’s Secretary of Labor, Carlos Abascal, angered many women by proclaiming feminism "as the source of many moral and social ills, such as 'so-called free love, homosexuality, prostitution, promiscuity, abortion, and the destruction of the family'.”[98] In reaction, feminists staged protests and demanded political protection. In Guanajuato, Verónica Cruz Sánchez coordinated protests over numerous weeks which eventually defeated the measure.[99] Rosario Robles, feminist leader of the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) led efforts in Mexico City to expand abortion rights in cases when the health of the mother or child is jeopardized.[98] After 38 years of work by the feminist movement, in 2007 the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation decriminalized abortions in Mexico City which occur by 12 weeks of gestation. GIRE lawyers assisted in drafting legislation and in coordinating defense of the law when lawsuits alleged it was unconstitutional. Marta Lamas testified during the Supreme Court trial.[100]

The fight for abortion rights in other states continues, as many state laws criminalize miscarriage in a crime characterized as "aggravated homicide of a family member" and activists have worked to have excessively harsh sentences of up to 30 years reduced.[101] In 2010, Veronica Cruz was successful in leading the effort to free seven women serving prison sentences for abortion or miscarriage in Guanajuato[102] and in 2011 secured a similar release in Guerrero.[103] In November 2014, the SCJN began hearings on a case from Veracruz, which is the first case in Mexico to ask the court to consider whether women have a constitutional right to abortion and whether criminalization should be eliminated across the nation.[104]

Indigenous women's rights[edit]

In 1987 feminists from the organization Comaletzin A.C. began working with indigenous women in Chiapas, Morelos, Puebla, and Sonora for the first time. In 1989 the Center for Research and Action for Women and the Women’s Group of San Cristóbal de las Casas initiated programs for indigenous women in Chiapas and the Guatemalan refugee community against sexual and domestic violence. In Oaxaca and Veracruz, Women for Dialogue and in Michoacán, Women in Solidarity Action (EMAS), who work with Purépecha women, also began helping indigenous women in their struggles for rights.[105]

Indigenous women began demanding rights beginning in 1990. Because many indigenous women had been forced into the workplace, their concerns had similarities with urban workers, as were their concerns with violence, lack of political representation, education, family planning choices, and other issues typically addressed by feminists. However, indigenous women also faced an ethnic discrimination and cultural orientation that was different from feminists, and particularly those from urban areas. In some of their cultures, early marriage, as young as 13 or 14 prevailed;[105] in other cultures, derecho de pernada (right of the first night) allowed rape and abuse of women with impunity for their attackers,[106] while in others, organized violence against women had been used to both punish activism and send a message to their men that women's demands would not be tolerated.[105] Similar to other women of color and minorities in other feminist movements[107][108] indigenous women in Mexico have struggled with ethnocentrism from mainstream feminist groups.[105]

With the 1994 formation of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) (Zapatista Army of National Liberation), indigenous women in Chiapas advocated for gender equality with the leaders of the uprising. On January 1, 1994, the Zapatistas announced the Ley Revolucionaria de Mujeres (Women's Revolutionary Law), which in a series of ten provisions granted women rights regarding children, education, health, marriage, military participation, political participation, protection from violence and work and wages.[105] While not recognized by official state or federal governments,[109] the laws were an important gain for these indigenous women within their native culture. In 1997 a national meeting of indigenous women titled “Constructing our History” resulted in the formation of the Coordinadora Nacional de Mujeres Indígenas (CNMI) (National Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Women) among communities from Chiapas, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Mexico City, Michoacán, Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí, Sonora, and Veracruz. The purpose of the organization is to strengthen from a gender perspective the leadership opportunities, networking potential and skills of indigenous women, within their communities and nationally, and sensitize indigenous peoples on indigenous women’s human rights.[105]

Gender rebels[edit]

Mexico has a long history of "gender rebels" [110] which according to archaeological, ethno-linguistic and historical studies of pre-contact include tribes of Albardaos, Aztec, Cipacingo, Itzá, Jaguaces, Maya, Pánuco,[111] Sinaloa,[112] Sonora, Tabasco, Tahus, Tlasca, and Yucatec peoples.[111] During the colonial period, Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz wrote against patriarchy, the church's policy of denying education to women, and women's intellectual equality to men. She has been called one of Mexico's first feminists.[113][114] Several women came out of the Mexican Revolution and refused to return to gender "normalty".[49][115] These are typically isolated cases, and not indicative of a social or political movement.

The countercultural artists movement of the post-Revolutionary period, beginning in the 1920s, was clearly political and aimed at allowing other voices in the development of a modern Mexico.[116] In Guadalupe Marín's novel La Única (The Unique Woman) she speaks of violence against women, misogyny and lack of citizenship for women, but also feminine and homosexual desires. She presented publicly the understanding that sexuality has a political component.[35] Frida Kahlo's work, blending both masculine and feminine gender perceptions, challenged false perceptions,[32][117] as did Maria Izquierdo's insistence on her right to be independent of any state or cultural attempts to define her art.[34] Tina Modotti's move away from portraiture and toward images of social change through the lens of realism and revolutionary action[33] and Concha Michel’s dedication to the rights and status of Mexican women, without challenging sexual inequality, represented a more humanist rather than feminist approach to their art.[36] Whereas Michel explored feminism and politics with Anita Brenner, Modotti did not. The women were bound by their questioning of women's place in Mexico and society with their art, but they did not formally join with the suffragettes or in feminist organizations.[118] In retrospect these artists have become feminist icons because their actions and work questioned gender restrictions, but in their time, they may not have seen themselves in that way.[36]

Beginning in the 1970s, when Nancy Cárdenas declared her lesbianism on national television, activism increased, but mostly in small private gatherings.[119] She founded the first gay organization in Mexico, organized the first Pride Parade, and both lectured and participated in media events, seminars, and congresses on feminism and sexuality.[120] As early as 1975, at a seminar organized by Carla Stellweg to address feminist expression in Mexican art, psychologist and art historian Teresa del Conde was making arguments that biology did not dictate gender roles.[121] By the mid-90s, almost half of the membership in feminist organizations was lesbian.[4]


In Mexico, where 6.34% of the female population has a child between the age of 15 and 19,[11] there are some who make a conscious choice against motherhood. For some, becoming a nun offers a way out domesticity, machismo, and a lack of educational opportunity toward a more socially responsible path.[122] Those in orders who see their work as allies of the poor and imbued with a mission for social justice[123] have increasingly been characterized as feminists, even from a secular perspective.[124] Mexico's nuns who work along the US/Mexico border with migrants experience difficulties trying to balance strict Catholic doctrine against suffering that they see and some believe the church needs to take a more humanitarian approach.[122] Those religious who work to bring visibility to femicide and halt violence against women see beyond religious beliefs and call attention to the human dignity of victims.[125] An organization called the Rede Latinoamericana de Católicas (Latin American Catholic Network) has gone so far as to send a letter to Pope Francis supporting feminism, women's rights to life and health, their quest for social justice and their rights to make their own choices regarding sexuality, reproduction and abortion.[126]


The Zapotec cultures of the Isthmus of Oaxaca in Juchitán de Zaragoza and Teotitlán del Valle are home to a non-binary gender sometimes called a third gender, which has been accepted in their society since pre-conquest. The Muxe of Juchitán and biza’ah of Teotitlán del Valle are not considered homosexual but instead a separate category, with male physiology and, typically, the skills and aesthetics of women. According to Lynn Stephen in her study of Zapotec societies, muxe and biza'ah are sometimes disparaged by other men, but generally accepted by women in society.[127]

The AIDs pandemic caused the coming together of the Muxe and feminist groups. Gunaxhi Guendanabani (Loves Life, in the Zapotec languages) was a small women's NGO operating in the area for 2-years when the muxe approached them and joined in the effort to promote safe sex and protect their community.[128] On November 4, 2014, Gunaxhi Guendanabani celebrated its 20-year anniversary and their efforts in decreasing HIV/AIDs and gender-based violence, as well as its campaigns against discrimination for people living with HIV and against homophobia.[129]

List of notable figures[edit]

Social movements[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Dore, Elizabeth. Gender Politics in Latin America: Debates in Theory and Practice. Monthly Review Press, 1997.
  • Finkler, Kaja. Women in Pain: Gender and Morbidity in Mexico. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.
  • Franco, Jean. Plotting Women: Gender and Representation in Mexico. Columbia Univ. Press, 1991.
  • Lamas, Marta. Feminism: Transmissions and Retransmissions. Palgrave Macmillan: New York, 2011.
  • Levine, Sarah and Clara Sundeland Correa. Dolor Y Alegria: Women and Social Change in Urban Mexico. Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1993.
  • Macías, Ann. Against All Odds: The Feminist Movement in Mexico to 1940. Greenwood Pub. Group, 1982.
  • Rosenbaum, Brenda. With Our Heads Bowed: The Dynamics of Gender in a Maya Community. Insititute of Mesoamerican Studies, 1993.
  • Salas, Angel. Literatura Feminista. 1998.
  • Soto, Shirlene Ann. Emergence of the Modern Mexican Women: Her Participation in Revolution and Struggle for Equality, 1910-1940. Arden Press, 1990.
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See also[edit]

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