1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Gender and Development (2000 - 2009)

The Complexities of the Mexican Secular State and the Rights of Women (Draft)



Over the last decades, the subject of gender equity has been constructed as an unprecedented political battlefield in Mexico. While the feminist movement has put the issue of women’s human rights on the table, conservative sectors allied with the Catholic Church have defended their conception of the family as central to society and to actions by the State.

The agenda of the conservative Catholic hierarchy, particularly since 1995, reflects an attempt to question women’s sexual and reproductive rights, in response to efforts by a number of governmental sectors to implement a range of measures to bring the country into compliance with international commitments made by the government at the world conferences in Cairo and Beijing. Actions by these sectors, however, have gone against mainstream conservative trends within other governmental entities, including the current national executive branch. The political turbulence provoked by this controversy has manifested itself through intense public debate about the secular nature of the Mexican State in the present-day context. In Mexico, the secular State—with separation between church and State—forms the legal and political backdrop for the Catholic hierarchy’s recent attempts to influence public policy on women’s autonomy. This interaction between religion and politics, with regard to gender equity, intersects strikingly with the issue of women’s sexual and reproductive rights. The present study describes and analyses the interplay between religion and politics in modern-day Mexico, with a particular focus on the struggle for gender equity.

In order to explore the complexities of this relationship, the present work offers a qualitative analysis of recent developments in Mexico with regard to public debate, changes in the law, and implementation of government policies involving the three dimensions of religion, politics and gender equity. Examples include the 2004 inclusion of the emergency contraceptive pill in public health services and the 2008 decriminalisation of abortion in Mexico City.

These particular events have been selected for the clarity with which they high-light the interaction between politics, religion and gender equity. In addition to a press-based analysis carried out as part of this study, interviews with thirteen political actors crucial to these events were also included. Interpretation of the resulting material shows that women’s sexuality and reproduction have been constructed as a field of bio-political action, within the context of an intense ideological and democratic struggle to define the characteristics of today’s secular State.