I grew up in a changing world that recognized many international human rights instruments, including of course those related to women’s human rights. Regional and international documents would protect us from all evils. My government had strong statements and commitments towards women, frequently repeating ‘we will overcome gender inequalities’. I smiled, even though I was a young child, I thought ‘this is great!’ But as years passed by and became more conscious, I realized something was wrong. I had friends, family, educators and TV constantly reminding me that women were only able to perform domestic activities due to a lack of academic and professional preparation.
By mid-2000s, I realized things were changing in Mexico. Women were becoming lawyers, doctors, astronomers, among many other professions. Everything seemed to be in the right path, but something kept calling my attention: women were limitedly interested nor allowed to participate in public institutions, and the worse part! I did not see many women working along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or at Kofi’s United Nations! I immediately recalled what I was told as a child ‘women were not born to rule the world’. I felt angry, sad, but above all, curious to find out the root causes of women’s lack of participation in international affairs, which five years later led to another personal passion and interest: to become a professional in International Relations.
This now six-year passion led to identify that from all the many issues Mexico faces in political, social, economic and cultural terms within its large and diverse population, women and girls are among the most disproportionally and directly affected people along with other linguistic minorities, disabled persons, indigenous groups, children and youth. Gender inequalities in Mexico impose great challenges to women and girls, which would hardly be tackled if underrepresentation at the local, regional and federal levels of government takes place.
Mexican society has judge and discriminated its women, even though history shows us that they have fought along with men since the Mexican Independence from Spain in 1810 and its Revolution a hundred years later. But hey! Then you find out in fact that women have been shaping Mexican history since pre-Hispanic times! Yes, women have demonstrated their ability to take part in social movements and economic structures that unfortunately were recognized until 1953, when a group of bright and talented women under the leadership of one my sheroes Amalia Caballero de Castillo Ledón – a prestigious Mexican diplomat, gave women the right to participate in the Mexican political life through the right to vote and be elected.
Despite the inclusion of women in the Mexican political life came relatively late when compared to other countries such as Germany (1918), Australia (1902), Bolivia (1958), Canada (1917), Ecuador (1929), United States (1920), Finland (1906), Ireland (1918), Mongolia (1924) and Puerto Rico (1929), these changes were a significant step towards gender equality in Mexican institutions, but at the same time, they presented the actual and unequal realities between men and women in need of tangible changes in the years to come.
Since 1953, several efforts to recognize and draw attention to women’s leadership, rights and contributions to society have been made in many arenas. However, in political terms, Mexican culture continues to conceive and sometimes define women as incapable of dealing with public affairs. Mexican society continues to position men as the dominant entity in the exercise of politics, as reflected in the limited inclusion of women in the diplomatic-consular branch of the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other diplomatic missions abroad.
In general terms, contemporary diplomacy has been perceived for many years as a male-dominated institution, which is characterized by its frequent encounters and power struggle among its actors. For this reason, it was thought that diplomacy –and several other institutions- were not a suitable place for women to explore or even understand. Not very different from what I was told during my young years. As an example of this, the Mexican government and other diplomatic missions around the world, initially admitted women as mere housekeeping managers, responsible for cleaning, cooking and other general administrative tasks that did not encourage their professional development or construct a diplomatic career.
Inside and outside Mexico, when men were absent from diplomatic missions due health problems, death or political reasons, women (diplomats’ wives) were in charge of leading the work of these institutions without official recognition. They performed their good offices and applied their academic, political, cultural, social and economic knowledge with other missions and states. They even celebrated agreements and assisted other diplomatic efforts, such as the case of widow Marguerite Wolters who had to perform the diplomatic duties of the British Consulate at Tripoli when her husband Richard Wolters died in 1771.
At the end of the 19th century, laws that regulated the Mexican diplomatic service strictly denied the right of women to represent their country in foreign offices and missions. However, people with nationalities other than Mexican were allowed to become cultural aggregates and deputy consuls, which fully highlighted the unequal opportunities between women and men.
Also during this period, ambassadors started to realize about the abilities, knowledge, linguistic variety and executive practices that women managed appropriately, and for this reason, in 1923, women started to become rapporteurs and translators in foreign offices and international conferences. Although they took direct part in international conferences and applied many of their knowledge, they continued to be employees and non-professionals in diplomatic affairs. At the same time, payment was no way near to what men earned, even though staff was highly needed due to the Second World War.
The number of women recruited and employed by the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs was increasing, but the Foreign Service Organic Act of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps, mentioned in their entrance guidelines that individuals were required ‘to be single or married to a Mexican woman’, which explicitly favoured males.
Although civil and political changes in Mexican law since 1953 were finally defeated in 1982 and women were fully allowed to participate in the Foreign Service without legal barriers, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other Mexican missions abroad continue to undermined women’s rights.
Since the creation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the 1850s, only two women have been designated as head of this office: ambassadors Rosario Green Macías (former and first female to be elected as UN Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs) and Patricia Espinosa Cantellano. Of the 75 embassies that the Mexican government has abroad, only 9 have women ambassadors, which is equivalent to just fewer than 30% of the civil servants in this area. Women ministers occupy the 21% (compared to 79% of men); counsellors 25% (compared to 75% of men), first secretaries 24% (compared to 76% of men), second secretaries the 25% (compared to 75% of men), third secretaries as 38% (compared to 62% of men) and diplomatic aggregates 25% (compared to 75% of men).
Among the many reasons that make Mexican women lack political opportunities in diplomatic affairs, are the numerous disparities and inadequate economic, social and cultural policies implemented by the government. Roots to this significant problem can be tracked in basic familiar and institutional education, in which women are constantly taught to be politically indifferent.
In a demanding and globalized world, countries such as Mexico need to provide gender-based policies and overcome inequalities. The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue to be a man’s office until real economic, social and especially cultural reforms are adequately implemented. Education will play an important role in shaping the population’s perspectives towards the role of women in diplomatic and even security issues around the globe. Women have been capable of dealing with these issues in the past and will certainly represent a cornerstone for peace and development in Mexico’s future.
For us Mexican women interested in international affairs and diplomacy, we must still face cultural judgements and punishments, that include discrimination, sexual violence and a significant lack of credibility. We will not be able to create a balanced number between men and women in the Mexican Foreign Service until society understands that the art of diplomacy among nations can be appropriately performed by both sexes.
By Karol Alejandra Arámbula Carrillo (GUADALAJARA, MEXICO)