Toluca Exchange Establishes Supportive Bond between Women in Two Countries
In late October, Women’s Policy Forum led a delegation of 17 women to Toluca, Mexico to meet with like-minded women. The group discussed how to improve health, education and business opportunities for women in both countries. Over a four-day period in Toluca, the capital of Mexico Province, the Texas ambassadors basked in the culture and physical beauty of one of Mexico’s oldest cities while learning the challenges of growing up female south of the border.
Five women in the Forum’s Toluca delegation spoke to members and guests at the Feb. 10 luncheon meeting, describing in succession the city’s ambiance, women’s rights in both countries, political realities, and commitments to future meetings with the sister group in Mexico. Toluca is a Fort Worth Sister City. The Fort Worth Sister Cities organization helped facilitate the trip.
First, co-chair Ann Rice described the journey from Dallas/Fort Worth to Toluca and the history of the destination city. Located about 40 miles north of Mexico City at 9,000 feet above sea level, Toluca’s history dates back to 7th century BC when the Mayans and Aztecs established civilizations in the region. Nestled in a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains, Toluca is one of the most important cities in the country of Mexico. Education is a priority with 574 schools and 8,300 teachers located in the city. Most people, unless they are well to do, leave school after sixth grade. Hosts of the conference were prominent politicians, academics, and business leaders who were concerned about the status of women in Mexico.
Patricia Aldridge followed Rice with a description of the conference’s focus and content. The goal for those organizing the conference was to learn from each other how to command respect, equal pay and political power. “We came away with much more than we gave,” she said. “We discovered immediately that violence against women was the number one problem facing the female population in Mexico.”
Forty-six percent of women over the age of 15 have experienced some form of violence, usually from a family member. Because women do not work outside the home and are not usually educated beyond elementary school, most abuse goes unreported and unpunished. In particular, violence against elderly women is most shocking. Widows who own property may be murdered so that relatives can inherit property.
Next, Mary Ann Means-Dufrene explained the role of women and society in Mexico. Because of allegations of lack of support for women, the Mexican government requires that 40 percent of its elected legislators be female. “This was mind-bending,” she said. “The United States cannot begin to match that commitment.”
Because women in Mexico aren’t economically independent, they refuse to report crimes for fear of being removed from their homes. “Clearly, more economic opportunity for women is key to solving this problem,” Means-Dufrene said.
Cindy Johnson spoke at the Toluca conference about the history of the women’s movement and next steps. “We are currently in the third wave of the women’s movement, when lifestyle, political and employment choices are expanding,” she said. “Mexico is struggling with the second wave or the right to vote and work.”
Women in both countries long to make a difference for themselves and their children. “We agreed to stand together to try to improve the climate for women. It was a profound moment,” Johnson said. Women’s Policy Forum and the delegation in Mexico will continue to stay in touch through electronic communications, social media, and telephone conversations leading up to another conference in Fort Worth in 2017.
Judy Harman, who co-chaired the Toluca Exchange with Rice, described the atmosphere as collaborative and supportive. “These were highly educated women who brought every resource to bear to make this conference a success. We have a big challenge in front of us to match their commitment.”
Culturally, Mexico and the U.S. are at different stages of evolution toward equality. Harman said: “The women in the room in Toluca were highly educated, privileged, and eager to move their country forward. However, most people in Mexico average a salary of $3 per day. There is a huge difference between the women we met and the women on the street.”
In follow-up questions, the class structure, which is highly stratified, was addressed. Mexico’s middle class is still developing, where the U.S. has an established tradition of upward mobility. Improving women's status and opportunities is an important tool for moving the families in Mexico out of poverty.