Mexico releases Latin America's first feminist foreign policy

A town scene from Cuetzalan, Mexico. Photo by: Hagens_world / CC BY-NC-ND

WASHINGTON — Mexico is the first country in Latin America to release a feminist foreign policy, with the government last week publishing a road map for how it will put gender at the center of its international engagement.

The policy aims “to reduce and eliminate structural differences, gender gaps and inequalities, in order to build a more just and prosperous society.” The document said Mexico intends to set an example with its progressive policy for gender equality efforts around the world and be recognized as a promoter of the global human rights agenda.

“Now there is another example that I can point to. The next time somebody tells me, ‘Well, we can’t all be Sweden,’ I can say, ‘Well, can you be Mexico?’”

— Lyric Thompson, director of policy and advocacy, ICRW

“It’s pretty much everything that — over the course of our years of research and consultation — if we could have painted a gold standard, this is pretty close to it,” said Lyric Thompson, director of policy and advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women. “It’s really exciting because Mexico is the first southern country and the first country in the Latin America region to do this.”

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In 2014, Sweden became the first country in the world to release a feminist foreign policy. And Canada in 2017 declared itself to have a feminist development policy, a frame that was not applied to other areas of the government, such as trade or defense. Last year, France announced its intention to adopt a feminist foreign policy but has yet to release specifics.

There has been criticism of such policies as laudable in theory but difficult to practice and measure, and Thompson said the idea has often been regarded as something only a rich, Western country could achieve.

“At that time [when], everybody was like, ‘Well isn’t that cute,’ but didn’t necessarily take it seriously. And you hear all the time, ‘Everybody really can’t be Sweden,’” Thompson said.

Mexico’s policy has five principles: a foreign policy with a gender perspective and feminist agenda abroad; a Foreign Ministry with gender parity; a Foreign Ministry that is free of violence and safe for all; visible equality of women in the Foreign Ministry; and feminism within all areas of the Foreign Ministry.

The plan sets out multiple steps that the government will take to reach each goal, including a timeline for when the benchmarks will be completed. The first of these goals is to hold meetings with the legislative branch that will take place as soon as this month. Mexico’s undersecretary for multilateral affairs and human rights will be responsible for overseeing the policy, while implementation will fall on various entities in the Foreign Ministry. Cooperation among a diverse set of actors will be key to its success, according to the document.

One of the most important pieces of Mexico’s policy, Thompson said, is the inclusion of deadlines for meeting its benchmarks, which ensures civil society can hold the government accountable and makes the concept of a feminist foreign policy easier to measure. Thompson said demonstrating that a country such as Mexico, which has a male-dominated culture, can execute a feminist agenda will show other countries they can do the same.

“It makes my job much easier because now there is another example that I can point to. The next time somebody tells me, ‘Well, we can’t all be Sweden,’ I can say, ‘Well, can you be Mexico?’” Thompson said. “You don’t have to be a rich country to do this.”

ICRW has taken part of a consultation process involving feminist activists and academics to come up with a framework for the elements of an ideal feminist foreign policy. The group spoke with more than 100 organizations and governments in more than 40 countries to establish coherence, definitions, scope, and best practices for countries that are developing feminist foreign policies.

Having a unified idea of what a feminist foreign policy is will help ensure the phrase is not an empty promise, Thompson said. The group intends to release its framework this year.

“They’ve done it,” Thompson said of Mexico. “It’s much easier as an advocate to ask a government to do something like this when other governments have done it.”

About the author

  • Teresa Welsh

    Teresa Welsh has reported from more than 10 countries and is currently based in Washington, D.C. Her coverage focuses on Latin America; U.S. foreign assistance policy; fragile states; food systems and nutrition; and refugees and migration. Prior to joining Devex, Teresa worked at McClatchy's Washington Bureau and covered foreign affairs for U.S. News and World Report. She was a reporter in Colombia, where she previously lived teaching English. Teresa earned bachelor of arts degrees in journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Wisconsin.