Around the world, women and girls are leading innovative, community-based solutions to the poverty, violence, health disparities, and a lack of leadership opportunities they face. At the forefront are women’s foundations, each one listening, resourcing, and following the lead of community.
While our programming is Minnesota-specific, our mission transcends state and national borders. We actively look for opportunities to connect our work with that of other women’s foundations in the U.S. and internationally. The movement to achieve gender and racial equity is global, and there is a place and role for our leadership to partner, resource, and champion our sister funds.
This month, we profile Fondo Semillas, which translates to Seeds Fund, headquartered in Mexico City, Mexico. Staffed with a team of 26, the nonprofit mobilizes resources and supports women’s organizations and groups to achieve gender equality in Mexico.
Recently, we spoke with Fondo Semillas about its work in Mexico to change the present and future for the country’s women, girls, and families.
Fondo Semillas celebrates 30 years in 2020. How did the organization get started?
Fondo Semillas was born as an idea long before it was established as a women’s fund in 1990. Its origins stretch back to the 1968 student movement in Mexico City that represented a breakthrough for young Mexican women. The mobilization of thousands of students raised the need to shape a new way of looking at the world, one where women themselves questioned the inequality they faced in relation to men.
Over the next 12 years, the feminist movement continued to gain strength in Mexico. By 1980, it had generated strong alliances with other Latin American countries around a common goal: boost the development of women’s organizations to advance a more just and equal society. Funding was key. Without financial support, there was no possibility of sustaining work, activism, and what was necessary to achieve change. At that time in Mexico, there was no institution that met this need.
In the late-1980s, Lucero González (founder, Fondo Semillas) received a grant from the Global Fund for Women to launch the Mexican Society for the Rights of Women AC in 1990, today known as Fondo Semillas. To date, Fondo Semillas has supported more than 600 women’s organizations across Mexico, directly benefiting more than 685,000 women and indirectly 2.5 million women, girls, boys, and men.
How are you funded?
As a nonprofit organization, we rely on donations from individuals, institutions, corporations in Mexico and internationally. And through resource mobilization – amplifying opportunities for greater funding – we promote a peer-to-peer relationship between our grantees and donors.
What are your key program areas?
Body, Land, Work, and Identities.
The body is women’s first space of self-determination and an essential element of gender equality. Through our Body program, we support organizations that help women maintain freedom over their bodies.
For example, women who want to be mothers. It is a woman’s choice and right to decide when and how to get pregnant, and to have access to quality physical and emotional care during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum period. Reproductive freedom also means that maternity should not be a punishment. Women must have the freedom to decide whether to continue a pregnancy to term and have access to legal, safe termination.
We also work to eradicate cultural violence surrounding women’s bodies, including sexual harassment, rape, diverse expressions of gender-based violence, and femicides.
Through this program, we focus on women’s relationship with nature and their role as defenders of indigenous territory and culture. As often the primary steward of land and agricultural production, women hold great potential to respond to the effects of climate change and trigger innovative strategies for sustainable community development.
In Mexico, natural resources generate economic, political, cultural, and social value, and women must be able to access this value. Environmental degradation and land exploitation are consequences of the same system that discriminates, oppresses, and exploits women. Through an ecofeminist lens, we support efforts working to change a system that exploits land and territories.
Across Mexico, gender-based job segregation often relegates women to domestic labor in the private sector to care for families. Although more and more women are in the paid labor force, millions of women have little choice but to work in industries where their labor rights are violated, including domestic, maquila (factory), agricultural, or sex workers. In these contexts, women constantly face exploitation, violence, and discrimination.
Through our Work program, we support women’s self-sufficiency through education about their labor rights and guarantees to safe working conditions. Our goal: a world where women are ensured access to economic opportunity, leadership, and political power, and increasing numbers of men engage in unpaid tasks and caregiving.
In Mexico, being female is dangerous. It exposes women to discrimination, inequality, and violence. In response to the country’s socioeconomic and political decomposition, new forms of violence have arisen, including threats to human rights defenders’ safety, forced disappearances, and the struggle of mothers and sisters searching for missing family members. We award grants to collectives who fight for women’s right to be respected in full recognition of their different identities and ensure safe, free lives.
Among these identities, women play key roles in the health and prosperity of their families and communities. After earthquakes devastated southern Mexico in 2017, we launched Women Rebuilding Their Communities.
We awarded grants to 24 collectives in Mexico City (2), Guerrero (1), Morelos (4), Oaxaca (13), and Puebla (4) to address the short- and long-term needs of the structural, social, physical, and emotional health and well-being of the community.
Key projects: building of dry latrines and the installation of water filters, ovens, and smokeless stoves; reactivation of the economy of women who make corn chips, bread, and tortillas; training in trades and crafts, like bricklaying and leather sandal-making; and workshops for psychological and emotional support to ease fear and regenerate the social fabric of communities.
What are the most pressing issues for women and girls in Mexico?
- Violence: Mexico is experiencing a humanitarian crisis: waves of violence caused largely by organized crime. In this context, femicides have increased. Every day, nine women are murdered because of misogynistic violence. It is important to highlight that, even though femicides continue to occur in the domestic sphere, the same context of violence has led to the increase of women murders in the streets: women’s bodies have become disputed territories between cartels.
- Abortion: Another pressing issue in Mexico is abortion. This issue is living a very important momentum so women can decide on their bodies and be able to access the interruption of pregnancy in the first three months. In Mexico City, this is a right already guaranteed for women. Outside of Mexico City, however, this is not the case. Not only is abortion illegal (except in cases of rape and when the mother’s life is endangered), it is highly stigmatized by the conservative culture of these areas. It results in the criminalization and stigmatization of women and girls who try to exercise the right to decide over their own bodies.
- Sexual Abuse: According to research, Mexico has one of the highest rates of child sexual abuse. Correlated are high rates of pregnancy in girls and teenagers due to rape. In these cases, lack of education, opportunities, and safe homes make girls and teenagers very vulnerable to abuse.
- Migration: The flux of migrant women and girls in transit through Mexico to cross the U.S. border has increased dramatically and will continue to increase. Many unable to cross the border are exposed to violence, as the Mexican government does not have the capacity to respond efficiently to this humanitarian crisis. In addition, organized crime has targeted vulnerable migrant women and girls into human trafficking. There are many cases of Honduran girls who arrive pregnant to Mexico or become pregnant because they are raped in the transit, and, despite being minors, are separated from their families.
How are you making a difference?
What makes Fondo Semillas unique as a women’s fund is its capacity to invest in social change, not only by means of economic resources, but also by strengthening the abilities of its grantee partners to achieve a greater level of equality between women and men.
Rather than providing short-term cures for the conditions of injustice and inequality that women endure, Fondo Semillas works to modify these conditions through deep-rooted structural change. Women identify their needs, organize themselves, and propose solutions. Fondo Semillas provides support with financial resources, capacity building and training, connecting grantees to other donors, and opening doors to new strategic opportunities.
We seek to strengthen the feminist movement because we know that change is structural. And we know that social change and gender equality happen in four ways:
1. Increasing knowledge of human rights among women and the organizations we work with;
2. Increasing women’s access to resources and services;
3. Fostering cultural change and the elimination of prejudices; and
4. Improving legal and public policy frameworks.
This is the vision we offer to the organizations we support and what drives our capacity-building and grantmaking.
What are your greatest challenges and opportunities?
Fondo Semillas currently supports only organizations located in Mexico. However, the conflicts and problems must be addressed regionally in order to provide comprehensive solutions. One of our challenges is to find a way to partner with organizations from Central America and the United States to have a larger impact on issues, such as migratory transit.
Where there is challenge, there is also an opportunity to build a movement and not only focus on and fund isolated projects. The challenge and the opportunity are to integrate the issues and the regions.
Why do partnerships like these matter?
When we partner, we can build movements and have greater impact toward common goals. We are a member of the Latin American Women’s Funds Alliance. Through the Alliance, we carry out projects that promote women’s rights regionally, addressing different issues, including LBTQ rights, land and territory defense, and more. Laura García, executive director of Fondo Semillas, is a trustee of the Women’s Funding Network, of which the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, too.
What are your greatest hopes for women and girls?
That human rights are guaranteed for every woman and girl in Mexico. We dream of a country where all women, indigenous, mestiza, black, young, migrant, lesbian, mothers, and students can make their own decisions and have access to health services, a decent job, justice, and happiness.