In March 2021, Victoria Salazar, a Salvadoran immigrant and single mother of two, died in Tulum, Mexico after a policewoman knelt on her back and broke her neck while three other officers watched.
A year before Salazar’s death, the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs announced what could be a promising new era in tackling the challenges underlying Salazar’s killing. In January 2020, Mexico became the first country in Latin America and the Global South to adopt a feminist foreign policy.
The reasoning for following the feminist approach is because ‘the feminist struggle for gender equality has been at the forefront of seeking the emancipation of society’s most vulnerable groups,’ according to Martha Delgado Peralta, the foreign ministry’s undersecretary for multilateral affairs and human rights.
The aims of the new policy are to raise the profile of Mexico’s international leadership on gender; to ensure gender and intersectionality are embedded throughout Mexico’s foreign policy; and to promote gender parity among its staff.
Additionally, it seeks to eliminate gender-based violence within the secretariat itself. A survey from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, found that 26.6 per cent of Mexican women face gender-based violence in the workplace.
While overly inward-looking, it is an acknowledgement that the foreign ministry must get its own house in order if it is to have a chance of achieving more ambitious goals abroad . What’s lacking are a framework, roadmaps and targets to measure success.
The circumstances that led to the killing of Salazar point to three issues that challenge Mexico and Latin America more broadly. To promote a feminist vision abroad, a feminist foreign policy in Mexico should address and finance long-term solutions to the issues that disproportionately harm women, chiefly gender-based violence, immigration and economic inequality.
For many of the country’s feminists, Mexico’s commitment to this approach rings hollow. In Mexico, ten women are killed each day. Many of these killings are considered femicides or hate-crime killings. Gender-based violence across Latin America is equally prevalent. According to the Wilson Centre, the region is home to 14 of the 25 countries in the world with the highest rate of femicide.
A feminist foreign policy in Mexico could encourage a regional response to this problem – but it needs to go much further in tackling the deeply entrenched attitudes to women that lead to femicide.
US President Joe Biden’s administration recently pledged to address the root causes of instability in Central America as part of its efforts to curb the flow of undocumented immigrants through its southern border. Gender-based violence has long been a cause of migration in Central America. Research shows that gender inequality is a cause of internal conflict. Mexico-US co-operation should prioritize reducing gender-based violence to enhance overall stability and address immigration flows in Central America.
Mexico’s militarized response to insecurity has further exposed women and girls to sexual violence. Mexico should move towards a civilian-led strategy, especially in the context of Mexico-US security cooperation.
This would require withdrawing the National Guard, a military-led security arm of the Mexican federal government, from public safety responsibilities, including border control, and investing in municipal police departments with gender-responsive training via US-Mexico security cooperation initiatives, such as the Merida Initiative to counter drug-fuelled violence and the US-Mexico Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities to counter cross-border crime.
In November 2021, Mexico presided over the United Nations Security Council and organized an open debate chaired by its president Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
In his address, López Obrador pitched a global anti-poverty plan that calls on the 1,000 richest individuals and corporations to donate 4 per cent of their annual wealth to a $1 trillion-dollar fund to alleviate ‘marginalization and misery’. The specific purpose of the fund would be to support 750 million people who live on less than $2 a day.
This proposal is a step in the right direction. Although López Obrador did not specifically mention women, the widening poverty gap between men and women has increased since the start of the Covid pandemic. According to UN Women, the poverty rate for women increased by 9 per cent between 2019 and 2021.
If López Obrador’s proposal is taken up by the international community, the global anti-poverty plan has the potential to disproportionately benefit women and girls. To ensure this happens, the plan needs to include gender-specific language and a stronger gender-responsive component that specifically recognizes the poverty gender gaps.
To be truly feminist, Mexico’s foreign policy should be aligned with core feminist values. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s toolkit on practising feminist foreign policy lists intersectionality, substantive and descriptive representation, accountability and an active commitment to peace as core values.
While Mexico’s feminist foreign policy specifically addresses the first two values, it neglects accountability and an active commitment to peace.
Hence, Mexico should include clear, measurable outcomes that enhance transparency and accountability to its constituents regarding the objectives and outcomes of its feminist foreign policy.
In a region marked by violence and instability, Mexico should make an active commitment to peace by prioritizing a human rights and international cooperation approach over military-led initiatives.
With its feminist foreign policy, Mexico faces a unique opportunity to implement gender analyses across policy issues that have relevant consequences at the regional and international levels.
As the first country to adopt this progressive approach in the Global South, Mexico is strategically positioned to lead transformational change in Latin America. However, Mexico’s potential is contingent on whether or not it develops robust and measurable policies and seeks to achieve more ambitious goals.