Women in Mexico

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Women in Mexico
Merchant woman in guanajuato.jpg
A female Mexican vendor
Gender Inequality Index
Value 0.382 (2012)
Rank 72nd
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 50 (2010)
Women in parliament 36.0% (2012)
Females over 25 with secondary education 51.2% (2010)
Women in labour force 44.3 (2011)
Global Gender Gap Index[1]
Value 0.6917 (2013)
Rank 68th out of 136

Women in Mexico are constantly changing. Women had been previously defined by the marianismo ideal, which is a targeted belief that women should be submissive towards men as well as nurturers and dependent. Great strides have been accomplished by Mexican women towards gaining rights politically.

In 1953, women won the right to have a vote in politics. Women also were unable to work outside the home and currently women can now be seen working in factories, portable food carts, and even owning their own business. “In 1910, women only made up 14% of workforce by 2008 they were 38%”.[2]

Mexican women face discrimination and at times harassment from the machismo population. Although women in Mexico are making big advancements they are still faced with the traditional expectations of being the head of the household. Researcher Margarita Valdés noted that while there are few inequalities enforced by law or policy in Mexico, there are gender inequalities perpetuated by social structures and Mexican cultural expectations that limit the capabilities of Mexican women.[3]

As of 2014, Mexico has the 16th highest rate of homicides committed against women in the world.[4]


Pre-Columbian societies[edit]


The Mayan civilization was initially established during the Pre-Classic period (c. 2000 BC to AD 250), according to the Mesoamerican chronology, many Maya cities reached their highest state of development during the Classic period (c. AD 250 to 900), and continued throughout the Post-Classic period until the arrival of the Spanish. Women within the 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 [5]

Although the majority of these women had few political responsibilities, they were vital to the political fabric of the state.[dubious ][5] Elite women enjoyed a high status within their society and were sometimes rulers of city states.[5] Among a handful of female rulers were Lady Ahpo-Katum of Piedras Negras and Lady Apho-He of Palenque.[5] Although women had little political influence, Maya 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.[5]

In regards to inheritance, women could not possess of inherit land. They owned what could be termed feminine goods which included household objects, domestic animals, beehives, and their own clothing.[5] Women could bequeath their property but it was gender specific and was usually not of much value.[5]


Aztec refers to certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica from the 1300 A.D. to 1500 A.D. Women within the Aztec society were groomed from birth to be housewives. Each girl was given small spindles and shuttles to symbolize her future role in household production.[5] Her umbilical cord was buried near the fireplace of her house in the hope that she would be a good housewife.[5]

Growing up, unmarried girls were expected to be virgins and were closely chaperoned to ensure their virginity stayed intact until their marriage.[5] Girls were married soon after hitting puberty [5] as marriage was the ideal state for women. It is estimated that as many as ninety-five percent of women were married.[5] Couples were expected to stay together, however Aztec society did recognize divorce.[5]

Similar to Mayan society, Aztec noblewomen had little choice in their marriage as it was a matter of state policy to create alliances.[5] 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 so usage rights.[6] Property given to children was much freeing where it could be bequeathed or sold.[6]


Hernán Cortés and La Malinche meet Moctezuma II in Tenochtitlan, November 8, 1519.

When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico, they needed help to conquer the land. Although often overlooked in the history conquest, women facilitated in 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 Hernan Cortes during the conquest period of Mexico was Doña Marina, or Malinche, who knew both the Nahuatl and Mayan language and later learned Spanish.[7]

Born a Nahua, or an Aztec, Marina was sold into slavery by her own people to the Mayans and eventually was given to Cortes as a tribute payment. To Cortes, Doña Marina was a valuable asset in overthrowing the Aztec kings and Tenochtitlán, and was always seen at his side, even during battles with the Aztecs and Mayans.[8]

Malinche had become the translator and the mistress of Hernan Cortes. No matter how useful Doña Marina was to Cortes, 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.[9]

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.[10] Since the 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. Conquistadors were quick to convert the women and distribute them amongst themselves.[11]

Colonial era[edit]

The women of colonial Mexico adopted Spanish clothing due to the influx of Spaniards into the region. The division of social classes was prominent and was seen through the attire worn by individuals. Elite and upper class women could afford expensive attire imported from Spain. Due to the strong caste system, women were required to dress in accordance with their level of wealth of caste. The six caste colonial Mexico included Europeans, creoles, mulattos, mestizos, Indians and blacks.[12] Regardless of the social status of Indian women, she would dress in compliance with Indian customs. However wealth females were able to purchase superior materials for clothing.

The importance placed on 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 remain 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 a witness. Women rarely were able to defend their purity and had to rely on men from the community.[13]

Regardless of social class, women in the eighteenth century Mexico City usually married for the first time between the ages of 17 and 27, averaging to 20.5 years of age. Furthermore, women were inclined to marry individuals belonging to the same social group as their fathers.[14]

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, however, education was 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.[15]

Mexican War of Independence[edit]

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.[16] Women continued to occupy domestic service positions although economic instability led to many households ending employment of domestic servants.[16]

Mexican Revolution[edit]

The Mexican revolution began 1910 with an uprising led by Francisco I. Madero against the longstanding Porfirio Diaz and 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 attributed 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.[16]

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.[16] Women involved in the revolution were just as laden if not more so than men were carrying food, cooking supplies, and bedding.[16] 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.[16] Many women picked up arms and joined in combat alongside men, often when a male comrade, their husband or brother had fallen.[16]

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.[16] 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.[16]

Contemporary issues[edit]

Further information: Gender inequality in Mexico
A Mayan family by the roadside, 2012.

Violence against women[edit]

As of 2014, Mexico has the 16th highest rate of homicides committed against women in the world.[4] This rate has been on the rise since 2007.[4]

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 contingent on the "chastity" of the victim" and "those who do report them are generally met with suspicion, apathy, and disrespect."[17]

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."[18]

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.[19]

In Mexico city, the area of Iztapalapa has the highest rates of rape, violence against women, and domestic violence in the capital.[20]

Gender violence is more prevalent in regions along the Mexico-US border and in areas of high drug trading activity and drug violence.[21] 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.[22]


Contraception is 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.[23]

“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 25% only 44% of those use birth control and their fertility rate, 4.7%, is almost twice that of urban women.” .[23] 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 never 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.[24] 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.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013". World Economic Forum. pp. 12–13. 
  2. ^ Mexican women - then and now. (n.d.). - International Viewpoint. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article1922
  3. ^ Valdés, Margarita M. (1995). Nussbaum M. e Glover J., ed. Inequality in capabilities between men and women in Mexico. pp. 426–433. 
  4. ^ a b c "Femicide and Impunity in Mexico: A context of structural and generalized violence". Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Socolow, S. M. (2000). The women of colonial Latin America. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  6. ^ a b Kellogg, Susan. (1986). Aztec Inheritance in Sixteenth-Century Mexico City: Colonial Patterns, Prehispanic Influences. Duke University Press.
  7. ^ Alves, A. A. (1996). Brutality and benevolence: Human ethology, culture, and the birth of Mexico. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. Pg 71
  8. ^ Alves, A. A. (1996). Brutality and benevolence: Human ethology, culture, and the birth of Mexico. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. Pg 71
  9. ^ Alves, A. A. (1996). Brutality and benevolence: Human ethology, culture, and the birth of Mexico. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. Pg 72
  10. ^ Tuñón, J. (1999). Women in Mexico: A past unveiled. Austin: University of Texas Press, Institute of Latin American Studies, p 16.
  11. ^ Alves, A. A. (1996). Brutality and benevolence: Human ethology, culture, and the birth of Mexico. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.74
  12. ^ Ilarione, ., Miller, R. R., & Orr, W. J. (2000). Daily life in colonial Mexico: The journey of Friar Ilarione da Bergamo, 1761-1768. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, p 92.
  13. ^ Martínez, M. E. (2008). Genealogical fictions: Limpieza de sangre, religion, and gender in colonial Mexico. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, p 174
  14. ^ Socolow, S. M. (2000). The women of colonial Latin America. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, p 61
  15. ^ Socolow, S. M. (2000). The women of colonial Latin America. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, p 166
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i O’Connor, Erin E. (2014). Mothers Making Latin America. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  17. ^ Human Rights Watch. "World Report 2013: Mexico". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  18. ^ Finkler, Kaja (1997). "Gender, domestic violence and sickness in Mexico.". Social Science & Medicine 45 (8): 1147–1160. doi:10.1016/s0277-9536(97)00023-3. 
  19. ^ "Health Profile: Mexico". United States Agency for International Development (June 2008). Accessed September 7, 2008.  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  20. ^ Ríos, Fernando (October 8, 2010). "Tiene Iztapalapa el más alto índice de violencia hacia las mujeres" [Iztapalapa has the highest rate of violence against women]. El Sol de México (in Spanish) (Mexico City). Retrieved March 3, 2011. 
  21. ^ Wright, Melissa W. (March 2011). "Necropolitics, Narcopolitics, and Femicide: Gendered Violence on the Mexico-U.S. Border". Signs 36 (3): 707–731. doi:10.1086/657496. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
  22. ^ "Mexico: Justice fails in Ciudad Juarez and the city of Chihuahua". Amnesty International. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  23. ^ a b Birth Control & Mexico. (n.d.). .. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.d.umn.edu/~lars1521/BC&Mexico.htm
  24. ^ <MEXFAM. 2000. Encuesta genre joven.Fundación Mexicana para la Paneación Familiar. México.
  25. ^ Welti, Carlos (2002). Adolescents in Latin America: Facing the Future with Skepticism. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 289-290. ISBN 9780521006057. 

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