Women in Mexico
A Mexican saleswoman
|Gender Inequality Index|
|Maternal mortality (per 100,000)||49 (2013)|
|Women in parliament||
43 Senators (33.59%)|
212 Deputies (42.40%)
|Females over 25 with secondary education||55.7% (2014)|
|Women in labour force||45.1 (2013)|
|Global Gender Gap Index|
|Rank||71st out of 144|
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|Women in society|
The status of women in Mexico has changed significantly over time. Until the twentieth century, Mexico was an overwhelmingly rural country, with rural women's status defined within the context of the family and local community. With urbanization beginning in the sixteenth century, following the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire, cities have provided economic and social opportunities not possible within rural villages. Roman Catholicism in Mexico has shaped societal attitudes about women's social role, emphasizing the role of women as nurturers of the family, with the Virgin Mary as a model. Marianismo has been an ideal, with women's role as being within the family under the authority of men. In the twentieth century, Mexican women made great strides towards a more equal legal and social status. In 1953 women in Mexico were granted the right to vote in national elections.
Urban women in Mexico worked in factories, the earliest being the tobacco factories set up in major Mexican cities as part of the lucrative tobacco monopoly. Women ran a variety of enterprises in the colonial era, with the widows of elite businessmen continuing to run the family business. In the prehispanic and colonial periods, non-elite women were small-scale sellers in markets. In the late nineteenth century, as Mexico allowed foreign investment in industrial enterprises, women found increased opportunities to work outside the home. Women can now be seen working in factories, portable food carts, and owning their own business. “In 1910, women made up 14% of the workforce, by 2008 they were 38%”.
Mexican women face discrimination and at times harassment from the men exercising machismo against them. Although women in Mexico are making great advances, they are faced with the traditional expectation of being the head of the household. Researcher Margarita Valdés noted that while there are few inequities imposed by law or policy in Mexico, gender inequalities perpetuated by social structures and Mexican cultural expectations limit the capabilities of Mexican women.
The Mayan civilization was initially established during the Pre-Classic period (c. 2000 BC to 250 AD). According to the consensus chronology of Mesoamerica, many Mayan cities reached their highest state of development during the Classical period (c. 250 to 900 AD), and continued throughout the post-Classical period until the arrival of the Spanish in 1519 AD. Women within Mayan society were limited in regards to status, marriage, and inheritance. In all pre-Columbian societies, marriage was the ideal state for women beyond the age of puberty. Noble women were often married to the rulers of neighboring kingdoms, thus creating dynastic alliances
Although the majority of these women had few political responsibilities, they were vital to the political fabric of the state. Elite women enjoyed a high status within their society and were sometimes rulers of city states. Among a handful of female rulers were Lady Ahpo-Katum of Piedras Negras and Lady Apho-He of Palenque. Although women had little political influence, Mayan glyph data include many scenes with a female participating in various public activities and genealogies trace male rulers' right to power through female members of their family.
Women could not own or inherit land. They owned what could be termed feminine goods which included household objects, domestic animals, beehives, and their own clothing. Women could bequeath their property, but it was gender specific and was usually not of much value.
The word 'Aztec' refers to certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Náhuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica from the 1300 A.D. to 1500 A.D. Women within Aztec society were groomed from birth to be wives and mothers and to produce tribute goods that each household owed. Each girl was given small spindles and shuttles to symbolize her future role in household production. Her umbilical cord was buried near the fireplace of her house in the hope that she would be a good keeper of the home.
Growing up, unmarried girls were expected to be virgins and were closely chaperoned to ensure their virginity stayed intact until their marriage. Girls were married soon after reaching puberty as marriage was the ideal state for women. It is estimated that as many as ninety-five percent of indigenous women were married. Couples were expected to stay together, however Aztec society did recognize divorce, with each partner retaining their own property brought into the marriage after divorce.
Similar to Mayan society, Aztec noblewomen had little choice in their marriage as it was a matter of state policy to create alliances. In regards to inheritance and property rights, Aztec women were severely limited. Although women were allowed to inherit property, their rights to it were more to usage rights. Property given to children was much freeing where it could be bequeathed or sold.
When the Spanish conquistadores arrived in Mexico, they needed help to conquer the land. Although often overlooked in the history of the conquest, individual women facilitated the defeat of the powerful Aztec Empire. Women possessed knowledge of the land and the local language. One of the most notable women who assisted Hernán Cortés during the conquest period of Mexico was Doña Marina, or Malinche, who knew both the Nahuatl and Mayan language and later learned Spanish.
Born a Nahua, or an Aztec, Marina was sold into slavery by her own people to the Mayans and eventually was given to Cortés as a payment of tribute. To Cortés, Doña Marina was a valuable asset in overthrowing the Aztec empire based in Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City) and was always seen at his side, even during battles with the Aztecs and Mayans.
Malinche had become the translator and the mistress of Hernán Cortés. No matter how useful Doña Marina was to Cortés, he was “reluctant to give Doña Marina credit, referring to her as ‘my interpreter, who is an Indian woman’”. During the conquest women were viewed as objects that could be exploited by men to gain a higher standing in society. Malinche was considered a spoil of conquest to the males surrounding her and originally intended to sexually please the soldiers.
Just like Malinche, many women were offered to the conquistadors as an offering because both cultures viewed females as objects to be presented to others. Since few women traveled to the New World, native females were considered a treasure that needed to be Christianized. It is believed that there were ulterior motives in the Christianization of indigenous individuals, especially women. Conquistadores were quick to convert the women and distribute them amongst themselves.
The division of social classes was essential and such divisions were expressed through the attire worn by individuals. Elite and upper class women could afford expensive textiles imported from Spain. Due to the strong system of racial hierarchy, known as the sistema de castas, women tended to dress in accordance with their level of wealth and racial status. The racial hierarchy divided society first through separating the República de Españoles, which was the Hispanic sphere encompassing Spaniards, (Españoles) both peninsular- and American-born; Negros (Africans); Mulatos (mixed Negro and Español); Mestizos (mixed Español and Indian); and offspring of further mixed-race pairings. Regardless of the social status of Indian women, she would dress in compliance with Indian customs. Wealthy females were able to purchase superior materials for clothing.
The importance placed upon social class caused purity of blood to become a factor in regards to marriage. Women were affected by these policies as it was required for both men and women to submit documents proving their blood purity. European men sought elite Mexican women to marry and have children with, in order to retain or gain a higher status in society. Problems that occurred with providing documentation in blood purity are that males were the ones who were called as a witness. Women rarely were able to defend their purity and had to rely on men from the community.
Regardless of social class, women in eighteenth century Mexico City usually married for the first time between the ages of 17 and 27, with a median age of 20.5 years. Women were inclined to marry individuals belonging to the same social group as their fathers.
Education for women was surrounded by religion. Individuals believed that girls should be educated enough to read the bible and religious devotionals, but should not be taught to write. When girls were provided with an education, they would live in convents and be instructed by nuns, with education being significantly limited. Of all the women who sought entry into Mexico City’s convent of Corpus Christi, only 10 percent of elite Indian women had a formal education.
Mexican War of Independence
The Mexican War of Independence was an armed conflict between the Mexican people and Spain. It began with the Grito de Dolores on September 16 of 1810 and officially ended on September 27 of 1821 when army forces marched into Mexico City. Independence affected women in both positive and negatives ways. Prior to the independence, women were only allowed to act as their children’s guardians until the age of seven in cases of separation of widowhood. Post-independence laws allowed women to serve as guardians until the age of majority. Women continued to occupy domestic service positions although economic instability led to many households ending employment of domestic servants.
Mexican Revolution and its Consolidation, 1910-30
The Mexican revolution began in 1910 with an uprising led by Francisco I. Madero against the longstanding regime of Porfirio Diaz. The military phase is generally considered to have lasted through 1920. Most often it is the case that women involved in war are overlooked. Although the revolution is attributed to men, it is important to note the dedication and participation women contributed, just as much as their male counterparts. Poor mestiza and indigenous women had a strong presence in the revolutionary conflict becoming camp followers often referred to in Mexico as soldaderas.
Most often, these women followed the army when a male relative joined and provided essential services such as food preparation, tending to the wounded, mending clothing, burying the dead, and retrieval of items from the battlefield. Women involved in the revolution were just as laden if not more so than men, carrying food, cooking supplies, and bedding. Many soldaderas took their children with them, often because their husband had joined or been conscripted into the army. In 1914, a count of Pancho Villa’s forces included 4,557 male soldiers, 1,256 soldaderas, and 554 children many of whom were babies or toddlers strapped to their mother’s backs. Many women picked up arms and joined in combat alongside men, often when a male comrade, their husband or brother had fallen.
There were also many cases of women who fought in the revolution disguised as men, however most returned to female identities once the conflict had ended. The lasting impacts of the revolution have proved mixed at best. The revolution promised reforms and greater rights for women to one extent or another, but failed to live up to its promises. Thousands of women fought in the battles and provided necessary services to the armies, however their contributions have largely been forgotten and viewed as merely supportive.
There had been agitation for women's suffrage in Mexico in the late nineteenth century, and both Francisco Madero and Venustiano Carranza were sympathetic to women's issues, both having female private secretaries who influenced their thinking on the matter. Carranza's secretary Hermila Galindo was an important feminist activist, who in collaboration with others founded a feminist magazine La Mujer Moderna that folded in 1919, but until then advocated for women's rights. Mexican feminist Andrea Villarreal was active agitating against the Díaz regime in the Mexican Liberal Party and was involved with La Mujer Moderna, until it ceased publication. She was known as the "Mexican Joan of Arc" and was a woman represented in U.S. artist Judy Chicago's dinner party.
Carranza made changes in family and marital law with long-lasting consequences. In December 1914, he issued a decree that allowed for divorce under certain circumstances. His initial decree was then expanded when he became president in 1916, which in addition to divorce "gave women the right to alimony and to the management of property, and other similar rights."
Violence against women
According to the 2013 Human Rights Watch, many women do not seek out legal redress after being victims of domestic violence and sexual assault because "the severity of punishments for some sexual offenses are contingent on the "chastity" of the victim and "those who do report them are generally met with suspicion, apathy, and disrespect."
According to a 1997 study by Kaja Finkler, domestic abuse "is embedded in gender and marital relations fostered in Mexican women's dependence on their spouses for subsistence and for self-esteem, sustained by ideologies of romantic love, by family structure and residential arrangements."
Mexican women are at risk for HIV infection because they often are unable to negotiate condom use. According to published research by Olivarrieta and Sotelo (1996) and others, the prevalence of domestic violence against women in Mexican marital relationships varies at between 30 and 60 percent of relationships. In this context, requesting condom use with a stable partner is perceived as a sign of infidelity and asking to use a condom can result in domestic violence.
Gender violence is more prevalent in regions along the Mexico-US border and in areas of high drug trading activity and drug violence. The phenomenon of the female homicides in Ciudad Juárez involves the violent deaths of hundreds of women and girls since 1993 in the northern Mexican region of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, a border city across the Rio Grande from the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas. As of February 2005, the number of murdered women in Ciudad Juarez since 1993 is estimated to be more than 370.
Surging birthrates in Mexico in the 1960s and 70s became a political issue, particularly as agriculture was less productive and Mexico was no longer self-sufficient in food. As Mexico became more urban and industrialized, the government formulated and implemented family planning policies in the 1970s and 80s that aimed at educating Mexicans about the advantages of controlling fertility. A key component of the educational campaign was the creation of telenovelas (soap operas) that conveyed the government’s message about the virtues of family planning. Mexico pioneered the use of soap operas to shape public attitudes on sensitive issues in a format both accessible and enjoyable to a wide range of viewers. Mexico’s success in reducing the increase of its population has been the subject of scholarly study.
Contraception is still a big issue for Mexican women with a population of 107 million. It is the second most populated nation in Latin America. The population trend is even expected to grow in size in a little over thirty years. With a population that keeps increasing it was the first nation in 1973 to establish a family planning program. It is called MEXFAM (The Mexican Family Planning Association); the program has been recorded to have decreased Mexican households from 7.2 children to 2.4 in 1999.
In spite of these promising numbers contraceptive use in rural areas is still far lower than that of urban areas. Approximately 25% of Mexican women live in rural areas, and of that, only 44% of those use birth control, and their fertility rate, 4.7%, is almost twice that of urban women.” Mexico was even able to incorporate a sexual education program in the schools to educate on contraception, but with many young girls living in rural areas, they are usually not able to attend.
There are still persisting inequalities between levels of sexual experience between females and males. In a recent national survey of Mexican youth, 22% of men and 11% of women of the age 16 had admitted to having experienced sexual intercourse. However, these rates for both men and women remain fairly low due to the cultural perception that it is inappropriate to engage in intercourse before marriage. This shared cultural belief stems from the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church which has had great influence over Latin American cultures.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Women of Mexico.|
- An Introduction to Mexico & the Role of Women (INTRODUCCIÓN DE MEXICO Y EL PAPEL DE LA MUJER) by Celina Melgoza Marquez, West Virginia University