by Gloria Careaga*
Differently from other Mexican states, Mexico City, the Federal District of the Republic, did not have its own Constitution until February 5th, 2017. But now after an intense year of work, a Constitution of Mexico City has been approved. Since the installation of the Draft Working Group in February 2016, the constitutional revision began envisioning progress in the protection of human rights of the entire population.
The majority of the 28 members of the Working Group were highly qualified people, with a clear trajectory of engagements in democratic struggles. Several of them sustained close links with the groups or movements to which they belong as to gather information, hold consultations, and jointly prepare proposals for inclusion in the text being debated. The process was designed to be highly participatory and included a digital platform to ensure citizenship participation, feature that has attracted the attention of the global media.
The text prepared by the Group, presented in September to guide the elaboration of the Constitution, sustained the work of the Constituent Assembly, formed by 100 members. Although in the early days a big bet was made that the debates would be more open to wide citizenship participation, at the end of the day the political parties have defined the majority of the Assembly members.
If, on the one hand, questions have been raised regarding the profile of some of its members, on the other, prominent defenders of human rights defenders and feminist have been also included. Furthermore, the hard work of social movements over the past decades has sensitized key actors of the Mexican political system in relation to issues that would trigger controversies in the Constitutional debate. A strong feature of the New Constitution is the full recognition of social, cultural and sexual diversity in our City: indigenous and Afro-descendants, youth, people with disabilities, women and LGBT people were able to raise their demands and be recognized in the final text.
In relation to sexuality and rights, the Constitution prohibits “all forms of discrimination, whether formal or de facto, which violates human dignity or that aims at or result in denial, exclusion, distinction, impairment, impediment or restriction of the rights of persons, groups and communities” “. It also mentions “gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, sexual characteristics ” as key factors to be considered under this prohibition. The text also confirms the right to sexual rights of the entire population when it affirms that:
“Everyone has the right to sexuality; to decide on matters related to sexuality and with whom to exercise it; to the exercise of sexuality in a free, responsible and informed manner, without discrimination, with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sexual characteristics, without coercion or violence; as well as [the right to] education in sexuality and access to comprehensive health services, with complete, scientific, non-stereotyped, diverse and secular information, and in relation to this right progressive autonomy of children and adolescents is to be respected. “
With regard to the rights of LGBTI persons, in particular, the New Constitution recognizes and protects:
- The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transvestite, transsexual and intersex persons to live a life free of violence and discrimination.
- The multiple forms of family, including the families of LGBTI couples, with or without children, whose unions are defined as civil marriage, but also in those cases defined as concubine or any other form of civil union.
- It also recommends authorities to establish public policies and adopt the necessary measures for the identification and eradication of behaviors and attitudes that imply exclusion or discrimination based on sexual orientation, sexual preference, gender identity, gender expression or sexual characteristics.
However, the process of debating and approving this new Bill of Rights was not exactly smooth. In Mexico, sexuality remains a dimension of people’s lives that is neither widely debated nor as studied as it should be. In addition, the elaboration of the new Constitution was marked by the intervention and protest of conservative groups that, last since year, have been opposing the approval of the presidential proposal of equal marriage legislation for the whole country.
And, indeed, some representatives of the National Front for the Family were present at the Constitutional Assembly to contest all proposals aimed at expanding rights in the realm of gender and sexuality. As we do know, these groups — while using equal marriage policies as their entry point – are, in fact, unleashing a wider attack on what they depict as “gender ideology” as to hinder the advancement of women’s rights – in particular the right to abortion -, the rights of the LGBT population and the right to sexuality education. These attacks also aim at discrediting the theoretical frameworks on gender and sexuality that contribute to critically analyze the sources and effects of oppression and discrimination that affect the lives of the groups and individuals claiming these rights. The presence of a new Evangelical Party, named Encuentro Social (Social Encounter), in the Assembly is a also strong sign that conservative forces have widened their space of influence and are pressuring to reopen discussions around human rights, gender and sexuality, which we considered to be overcome.
Nevertheless, despite harsh debates and often laughable arguments raised by these conservative actors, the new Constitution of the Mexico City has sustained the achievements we have attained over the years and, in fact, has expanded rights in few fundamental areas, for those who inhabit or transit in the territory defined as the Federal District of Mexico. The text defines Mexico City as a sanctuary for migrants and it explicitly recognizes freedom, personal autonomy and self-determination, sexual and reproductive rights, egalitarian marriage, the rights of diverse families, the rights of indigenous peoples and communities, the right to therapeutic use of marijuana and to dignified death, and the right to social protest and free association. Likewise, the rights to sustainable development, to defend human rights, to health care, to water without privatization and many other economic, social, cultural and political entitlements have been also recognized.
The newly approved Mexico City Magna Carta reflects the diversity and plurality of the society and translates historical demands into principles, rights and fundamental freedoms. It is a Constitution that advances much in premises of inclusion and the recognition of difference as an intrinsic value to sustain equality and democratic coexistence. This is, no doubt, significant progress towards the full exercise of rights, dignity, and freedom and the strengthening of democracy and a secular state in Mexico City. The task ahead is to ensure participation in the elaboration of ordinary laws that will derive from these constitutional definitions and in effort to adjust existing public policies to the rights agenda approved in the text. The new Magna Carta implies both opportunities and challenges. Its fulfilment is guaranteed, in the text itself, by a number of mechanisms of citizen participation, which will require from us high levels of mobilization and, above all, a constant exercise of coordination and political organizing across institutions and movements.
To read more about the Mexico City Constitutional Process
To read the Mexico City Constitution Constitución Política de la Ciudad de México (in Spanish)
* Gloria Careaga is a member of the SPW Steering Committee and the founder of Fundación Arco Iris por la Diversidade Sexual.