University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Mexico, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.100, Doc. 7 rev. 1 (1998).





609. Over the past few decades, the participation of women in economic activity has increased substantially, a phenomenon that is closely linked to the profound social changes that have occurred in Mexico and other Latin Americans countries. However, a high price has been paid for these changes. Women in our hemisphere have suffered from blatant discrimination being relegated in many cases to work in the home and, in other cases, denied promotion opportunities at work. The Commission has devoted special attention to this issue and even has a hemispheric rapporteur on the question. The subject was examined at great length during the Commission's on-site visit to Mexico, during which it received numerous complaints and reports that revealed the delicate situation of the human rights of women.


A. International law

610. Article 24 of the American Convention on Human Rights provides that: "All persons are equal before the law. As such, they are entitled, without discrimination, to equal protection of the law".

611. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides in its article 26 that:

All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion ...".

612. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women provides as follows in its article 2:

States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women...

613. Also, article 11 (1) of the same instrument provides that:

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular: ... (b) The right to the same employment opportunities, including the application of the same criteria for selection in matters of employment; (c) The right to free choice of profession and employment...

B. National law

614. Article 1 of the Political Constitution of Mexico states that "Every person in the United Mexican States shall enjoy the guarantees granted by this Constitution...".

615. Article 4 of the Constitution provides that:

Men and women are equal before the law ... Every person has the right to decide in a free, responsible and informed manner on the number and spacing of their children.


616. In Mexico, as in other Latin American countries, women historically have not had a high level of participation in the different branches of the economy or in the exercise of public office. Even though this trend has begun to change over the past few years with the increase in the number of posts held by women, the total numbers continue to be low. In 1990, 20 per cent of management and administrative personnel in Mexican companies were women. In 1995, 6.7 per cent State workers were women and only 13.9 per cent of the members of the National Congress were women.(171)

617. The Commission is of the view that it is essential to recognize the work of women as a factor for the development of the economic and political systems of the peoples of the hemisphere. It also believes that this objective can be achieved only through the efforts of women themselves, through study, training and efforts to achieve positions of prominence in the different fields of employment. However, it is essential for the State to create the necessary conditions to facilitate the realization of these objectives and to promote more active participation by women in the country's various political and economic organs. In this connection, the Commission welcomes in particular the creation by the State of the National Program for Women - Alliance for Equality, which will help to promote the orderly structuring of efforts to achieve the full participation of women in the society on a basis of equal opportunity with men.

618. Despite these advances, a number of basic problems still remain to be overcome, one of which is related to the low development indicators for women in comparison with those of men. In this connection, in 1993, 13.6 per cent of the female adult population were illiterate, in comparison with the 8.9 per cent of the male adult population, and the percentage of women studying was 6 per cent lower than that of men. (172) Although the difference in the percentages might not be alarming, these differences must be reduced in order to ensure that opportunities for women are not diminished as a result of their low levels of educational achievement.


619. The hemisphere-wide problem of widespread acts of violence against women led States to support the adoption of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, the "Belém do Pará Convention", which went into effect on 5 March 1995, and to date has been ratified by twenty-seven (27) states. Mexico is among those States that have signed but not ratified the Convention. In this connection, the Commission during its on-site visit to Mexico reiterated to State officials the necessity and importance for the Inter-American system for the protection and promotion of human rights as well as for the Mexican people, of the ratification by Mexico of all the international human rights instruments which it has signed, including the "Belém do Pará Convention".

620. Article 1 of that Convention states that:

For the purposes of this Convention, violence against women means any action or conduct, public or private, based on sex, which causes death, harm or physical, sexual or psychological suffering to women.(173)

621. On this point, the Commission would refer to the initiative of the Office of the Public Prosecutor for the Federal District, to provide for therapy and support centers, and centers for victims of domestic violence to be set up, as part of the specialized agencies of that institution.(174) The State informed the IACHR that agencies specializing in sex crimes had been established, and that programs to care for victims were being implemented in 27 states in Mexico. It further reported that the 1990 reform of the Penal Code for the Federal District included a definition of sexual harassment as a "crime involving not only the conduct of bosses, employers, or supervisors, but also the conduct of any person in a relationship of authority over the victims." In April 1996, authority was also granted to the Office of the Public Prosecutor for the Federal District to offer legal, social, and psychological support to victims of this type of crime.

622. The IACHR acknowledges the positive value of the activities indicated above, as ways of ensuring that persons guilty of said acts of violence are punished. The Commission points out that, in addition to these punitive measures, others directed to preventing these acts of violence should be adopted. In this regard, the Commission has received reports indicating that women are victims of serious abuses committed either by or with the consent of State agents, as in the case of the criminal act of rape, especially when they are being held in detention. There is no denying the importance of tackling the problem from a preventive standpoint, since women who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Mexican security officers are frequently afraid to report it, out of a fear of retaliation against them or their loved ones. Although the government's statistics are not known, the numerous complaints made by human rights organizations confirm what has been reported on the situation.(175)

623. According to one of the reports, on 2 November 1995, at about 6.30 p.m., N.N.,(176) aged 14 years, was walking by the municipal office in the town of Cuetzalán, in the state of Puebla, when she was stopped by four municipal police, including the commander. N.N., who is a resident in the community of San Miguel Tzinacapán, near to Cuetzalán, was forcibly taken inside the police station and led to the bathroom. She was told to undress and when she refused, one of the policemen ripped off her clothing. Two bucketfuls of water were then thrown on her and she was taken to one of the police cells... Three policemen raped N.N. As a result of the attack, the young woman suffered multiple bruises and lacerations. She was threatened with death and retaliation against her family if she told anyone what had happened. N.N. subsequently lodged a complaint with the Office of the Public Prosecutor and a doctor certified that very night that she had been raped. The accused have still not been punished in this case.(177)

624. The Commission has also received other complaints of similar abuses, such as the case of the sisters María Teresa, Cristina and María Méndez Santiz. They reported that on June 8, 1994 they had been illegally detained along with their mother by members of the Federal Army of Mexico in the military checkpoint located on the road leading to the ejido of Jalisco, in the municipality of Altamirano, state of Chiapas, at approximately 2.30 p.m. as they were returning from a neighboring town where they had gone to sell agricultural produce. They stated that after detaining them the military personnel began to harass and torture them to make them confess to membership in the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). The sisters were separated from their mother and taken into a room with wooden walls where they were interrogated. An official subsequently ordered other soldiers to go into the room and tie up the three women and later they raped them. These acts still remain unpunished.(178)

625. Also, women in Mexico are frequently victims of violence within the family or domestic unit and, in many cases, the spouse who is the aggressor remains unpunished. In other cases, the penalties are reduced as a result of a trend towards innovation in the jurisprudence. In this connection, the Commission received information on jurisprudential findings 10/94 and 12/94 of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation in relation to cases of spousal rape, to the effect that the act did not constitute a crime but rather the undue exercise of a right. However, the State observed that this situation has now been resolved, since:

…the reform of the Penal Code for the Federal District in matters of ordinary jurisdiction and for the entire country in federal matters provides for a definition of the crime of rape as a practice that may occur in marriage as well.

626. According to information received from the State, the crime of rape can occur between married persons, and it is described and punished as such. The State cites a series of court decisions handed down along the same lines, and their language is clear: "Although a spouse is entitled to have sexual relations with his or her mate, they may not be obtained by violence;" "the right to carnal relations between persons united in matrimony is not unlimited, since on occasion one of the spouses may object to those relations;" "the legal objective protected is the sexual freedom and consent that spouses agree to when they are united in matrimony, and particularly in the case of the wife cohabiting with her husband, this is not an absolute consent without later freedom of sexual choice."

627. The Commission takes note of the progress achieved by the Mexican State as indicated above, which is of unquestionable importance in protecting the rights of women in that country. It would also refer to other interesting and positive initiatives, such as the information campaign launched by the CNDH in Mexico to convince both victims and perpetrators that the use of violence is an abuse, and that the attributes of masculinity and femininity do not imply domination. As part of this campaign, audiovisual material was published and distributed, including proposals for modifying the laws to protect women and children from violence, to protect families in the case of desertion or abandonment, and to counteract discrimination against women in all areas of life.

628. In addition, the Commission has received information on violence against women in health establishments. A complaint was received that intra-uterine devices were inserted into Dora Luz Pérez Santos and Ana Laura Sánchez Montiel even though they explicitly refused to authorize the insertion. This practice must be strictly investigated by the competent authorities and, if the allegations are true, corrected and punished in accordance with the law.(179)

629. The Commission has already condemned in Chapter IV of this report the practice of torture and has called attention to events that take place during the time that persons are detained in the Public Prosecutor's Office. The IACHR reiterates its condemnation of those State officials who abuse their office and authority to commit the crime of rape or sexual abuse by threatening and terrorizing women to prevent them from lodging complaints. The State of Mexico should provide all the guarantees and security necessary to enable women victims of such crimes to lodge their complaints freely and without fear, and should carry out investigations aimed at ascertaining the facts and bringing the guilty to justice. The Commission also wishes to express its condemnation of those persons who abuse their office by seeking to obtain sexual favors from their subordinates. With respect to the latter practice, in 1990, penalties equivalent to 30 days of the minimum wage or eight months of prison were introduced into the Penal Code for the Federal District for those guilty of such crimes. Despite this, the Commission is of the view that the Code should provide more severe penalties for crimes of violence against the physical and moral integrity of women.


630. Despite the fact that throughout Mexico as a whole women's participation in economic activity has increased substantially, in the case of the northern border region this increased participation in labor markets seems to be not only more marked but also has specific characteristics which make it qualitatively different. This peculiarity of the northern border areas is due to, among other factors, the greater degree of urbanization, higher levels of school enrolment, high migration rates, etc., and in general, to the different social and economic characteristics of the population, which permit more women to enter the labor market.(180)

631. In this regard, according to information received by the Commission, a key aspect of women's employment in northern border areas is its relative concentration in the sector of in-bond assembly plants, which gives a special character to the labor dynamic in this sector of economic activity.(181)

632. The maquiladoras, or factories for the processing of finished goods for export, which are located throughout the United States/Mexico border region, contribute some US$29 billion to Mexico's export earnings, and 500,000 jobs. At least half of the Mexicans who work in this sector, mainly in assembly plants, are women who earn wages that are sufficient to maintain themselves and their families and higher than the wages which they would otherwise earn in any other sector in northern Mexico.(182)

633. These women workers are regular victims of a form of discrimination which affects exclusively women: the assembly plants require them to submit to pregnancy tests as a condition of employment and deny them work if the result is positive. In some cases, if a woman becomes pregnant shortly after she begins to work in the plant, she may be mistreated and forced to leave her job for that reason. This discriminatory treatment in companies in the maquiladora sector targets women and thus violates international human rights norms and workers' rights. Despite its international and domestic legal obligation to guarantee the protection of these women workers, the Mexican State has done very little to recognize or redress these violations of the rights of women to non-discriminatory treatment and to privacy. Moreover, the fact that the Mexican State has done nothing to put an end to discrimination in the maquiladoras is a violation of the right of women to decide freely the number and spacing of their children. Indeed, the Mexican officials responsible for monitoring compliance with and implementation of the Federal Labor Law of Mexico - which expressly prohibits gender-based discrimination - are inconsistent in their condemnation of this type of discriminatory practice. They consider themselves incapable of implementing the law, and one official considers discrimination based on pregnancy reasonable or legitimate.(183)

634. The situation is made even worse by the unhygienic working conditions in which women are often required to work. They may be exposed to chemical substances and solvents without any type of protection in the dark warehouse-type buildings where they are subjected to noise, heat and a punishing pace of work, as well as to the stress of repetitive movements.(184) It should be noted that these working conditions seem to be the same for men and women alike. However, they should be improved and corrected in order to provide every worker -female or male - with a healthy working environment.

635. Sexual harassment by male co-workers, supervisors and foremen or managers takes places to varying degrees and with different consequences and there is little which the female worker can do legally, despite the fact that sexual harassment has been characterized as a crime.(185) The main problem here is the fear on the part of a woman that she might lose her job if she complains. Working in the maquiladoras represents for these women, because of their low educational levels, one of the best work options available to them. The fear of losing a secure monthly income generally leads them to tolerate abuses.

636. In connection with these abuses, the Commission received in various hearings held during its on-site visit to Mexico information on the cases of Alejandra Vega Quiñones, who was allegedly fired from her job for becoming pregnant, and Luz Elena Corona, who suffered a miscarriage, allegedly as a result of the failure of the company to comply with the health and safety standards established to protect pregnant women on the job.

637. In this regard, the Commission states that the State of Mexico has an obligation to ensure that the norms which are applicable at both the national and international levels are fully respected, and thus prevent this type of abuse from occurring. Strict supervision by the State through its authorized agencies, proper application of the law and an effective system of administration of justice could attenuate these abuses and end the discrimination to which some women in the northern border areas of Mexico are subject.


638. In light of the situation reviewed above, the IACHR makes the following recommendations to the Mexican State:

639. To ensure strict compliance by employers with national and international norms relating to employment in order to prevent the occurrence of discrimination against women in hiring and to promote a wholesome working environment which would provide greater safety for women and enhance their on-the-job performance.

640. To take all necessary steps to ratify the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women - the "Belem do Pará Convention", and to make its internal law compatible with that international instrument.

641. To investigate and punish those officials who use their positions to sexually abuse women who have been detained in State offices.

642. To adopt such urgent and effective measures of a juridical, educational and cultural nature as required to put an end to domestic violence against women, a serious problem that affects Mexican society.

643. To adopt the measures required to ensure an effective investigation of the crimes of violence against the physical and moral integrity of women, and to ensure that the responsible parties are punished in accordance with the law, so as to combat the impunity in this area.

644. To create the conditions necessary for the equal development of women within public and private institutions in Mexico by assigning a significantly larger amount of resources to the relevant State entities; and to promote initiatives for such development with the participation of nongovernmental organizations and other private entities.




171. UNDP - Human Development Report 1996.

172. UNDP - Human Development Report, 1996.

173. Article 2 states that:

…violence against women shall mean physical, sexual or psychological violence:

a) which takes place within the family or domestic unit or in any other interpersonal relationship, where the aggressor shares or has shared the same home as the woman and which includes, inter alia, rape, ill-treatment and sexual abuse;

b) which takes place in the community and is perpetrated by any person and which includes, inter alia, rape, sexual abuse, torture, trafficking in persons, forced prostitution, kidnapping and sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as in educational institutions, health establishments or any other place, and

c) which is perpetrated or tolerated by the State or its agents, wherever it occurs.

174. Also, Aguascalientes, Colima, Chiapas, Estado de México, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Morelos, Nuevo León, Oaxaca and Tamaulipas have centers for receivin claims or Prosecutor offices.

175. 174 The Mexican Association against Violence Towards Women, A.C. (COVAC), indicates that the number of persons reporting daily to the Association has grown every year. In 1991, it attended to 334 cases, in 1992 it had 491 cases, and in 1993 it handled 711 cases.

176. 175 This person's identity is in the files of the IACHR, but it is not revealed here because she is a minor.

177. Amnesty International, Human rights violations against women in Mexico. p. 4.

178. This case is currently being reviewed by the Commission, which will make a decision on it at the appropriate time.

179. Pursuant to Article 67 of the General Health Law, "persons who practice sterilization without the consent of the patient or exert pressure on the patient to accept it shall be punished according to the provisions of this law, regardless of any criminal liability incurred."

180. Mujeres, Migración y Maquila en la Frontera Norte (Women, migration and in-bond assembly plants in the northern border regions), Colegio de la Frontera Norte, p. 133.

181. Idem

182. Human Rights Watch/Americas, Discriminación Sexual en el Sector de Maquiladoras de Mexico, p.2.

183. Ibid.

184. Factor X Group, La Violación de los Derechos de las Humanas en la Frontera Norte de Mexico: Derechos a la Salud y a un Medio Ambiente Sano. Caso de la Mujer - (Human Rights Violations in the Northern Border areas of Mexico: The right to health and to a healthy environment. The case of women) p.3.

185. Idem.


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