Academic journal article Georgetown Journal of International Law

Women Workers in Mexico: Using the International Human Rights Framework to Achieve Labor Protection

Academic journal article Georgetown Journal of International Law

Women Workers in Mexico: Using the International Human Rights Framework to Achieve Labor Protection

Article excerpt


Working women around the world are subject to discrimination in the workplace, such as being paid less than men for the same work, sexual harassment, and pregnancy discrimination. (1) Gender discrimination is pervasive in the manufacturing industry, where workers are considered "unskilled" and lack bargaining power with their employers. (2) Factory workers are often unaware of their rights and lack the resources to demand that their rights be respected. (3)

Discrimination against women is pervasive in Mexico's public and private spheres. In 2005, the First National Survey on Discrimination found that 93% of women believed they suffered discrimination. (4) Historically, Mexican women tended to work predominantly in the agricultural sector. Due to increased globalization generally and free trade in particular, however, Mexican women are being displaced from agricultural and informal sectors and forced to take jobs in maquiladoras, factories typically located along the U.S. border where goods are assembled or finished for exportation. (5) Women working in maquiladoras are subjected to sexual harassment by coworkers and supervisors, required to undergo pregnancy testing when applying for work, and forced to endure further pregnancy discrimination after they have been hired. (6)

Mexico is a party to numerous international and regional human rights treaties that demand protection for women workers. (7) In particular, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women ("CEDAW"), the American Charter on Human Rights, and the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation ("NAALC") side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement ("NAFTA") all include provisions regarding gendered labor discrimination. (8) Mexican legislation does guarantee some rights to women, such as equal protection under the law and the right to work. These rights are defined narrowly, however, and domestic legislation is not well enforced. By failing to protect women workers from discrimination, Mexico is not fulfilling its human rights obligations. (9) Mexican women workers can and should demand protection for their human rights under international and regional human rights law.

This paper analyzes the extent to which the Mexican government is fulfilling its obligation under human rights law to protect women from discrimination in the workplace. Part II discusses the history of discrimination against women workers in Mexico and the current human rights violations, particularly sexual harassment in the workplace, discrimination against pregnant workers, and forced pregnancy testing. Part III examines the international and regional human rights framework regarding gendered labor discrimination and the extent of Mexico's success in meeting its human rights obligations. Part IV recommends strategies for using the international and regional human rights mechanisms to achieve better protection for women workers in Mexico.


Discrimination against women is not a new problem. However, awareness about the prevalence of discrimination against women in the workplace is growing. (10) Largely, this is due to the increase in the proportion of Mexican women who work outside the home. (11) A number of factors have contributed to the shifting demographics of working women. This section discusses one major force in that shift, the NAFTA, and the most prevalent forms of discrimination that have emerged.

A. The Role of Women in Mexico

The circumscribed traditional roles of men and women persist in Mexican society. These norms are referred to as marianismo and machismo. (12) Women are held to the ideals of the Virgin Mary, and expected to dedicate themselves to having and raising family. (13) These cultural norms conflict with women participating in the workforce, especially after they have been married and have children. …

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