Women’s Communication and Information Service.
Photo: www.cimac.org.mx.

In the 80s, a group of feminist journalists in Mexico started meeting to discuss one simple question: how do you make the media pay attention to what is happening to the majority of the population?

It seemed a straightforward question, unavoidable both from an information point of view and in terms of responsible media practice. However, it represented then, as it does now, an enormous task. That "majority of society"—women—was systematically excluded from mainstream news. Their activities, dreams, and realities remained in the background at best, or appeared in the sentimental "pink press"; in other cases, women were completely invisible. Out of this analysis, the Women’s Communication and Information Service (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer, CIMAC) was born.

From Concern to Action

Mexican society had some important precedents in the effort to make women’s lives and struggles visible. Pioneering feminist, Alaide Fopper, founded Mexico’s Fem magazine in 1976, with the aim of filling the gap in news and reflection about women. The journalists who met to launch CIMAC had extensive reporting experience, and they shared an awareness of the major obstacles they faced on a daily basis as they tried to have their articles published in the male-dominated media.

They also shared a commitment to the Mexican women’s movement and its relentless struggle for women’s rights. Since 1988, CIMAC’s founders started work to "promote a new point of view in the media, one that considered the current situation of women in Mexico and the world, and was always based on the principals of equality, social justice, and democracy." This project has consolidated in the years since CIMAC’s founding.

CIMAC’s collaborators pinpointed various objectives. First, they wanted to show that events that happened to women constitute news. According to CIMAC Director Lucia Lagunes, the founders argued with their media colleagues and bosses that they were "missing a source of information that pertained to no less than the majority of the population—52%." They agreed to create "a form of journalism that looks at the other half of the population."

Lagunes explains that a process of reflection and a personal commitment by the participants began, to write women’s stories and try to have their gender-based articles published in the media outlets where they worked. "Based on this reflection, they began to write—an article, a report, or some other kind of journalism—once a week. They then knocked on doors in the mainstream media, asking them to publish this information … They used their own contacts in newspapers, and the positions they had previously held, to make themselves known as reporters."

One of CIMAC’s first projects was the creation of a supplement in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, called "Double Shift" ("La Doble Jornada" in Spanish). A second was to create an archive of historical documents relating to women’s struggles and experiences, located in a documentation center for journalists. In 1998, the center known as Women’s Communication and Information, A.C. was formally established.

New Ways of Organizing

Participants in this new journalistic endeavor used their own experience as the basis for analysis and changing both the male-dominated media in Mexico and their own forms of organizing. Lagunes described the process in this way: "When you create power structures, you lose the vision of what unites you and you start to compete for the structures themselves. Many women had participated in trade-union organizations. Many had taken part in a wave of initiatives to create ‘mixed’ (men and women) organizations of democratic journalists that worked for freedom of expression, the defense of journalists’ rights, etc.

"All these organizations had a classic vertical structure, with presidents, secretaries, treasurers, and other formal posts. CIMAC’s participants saw that these organizations had started out as a force because of the commitment of the members, and had later becomes weakened when the commitment was redirected to the apparatus of the organization, and not its vision. We didn’t want that to happen to us."

Accordingly, they decided that the new network would not have this traditional structure. Rather, all the women would be part of the network, without representatives, spokespeople, or title-holders. They decided to allow men to participate, as they clearly understood the need to make alliances between women and men. This was particularly important since men have editorial decision-making power in most media outlets—as editors, heads of departments, and owners.

CIMAC took as its starting point the calendar related to women’s rights, by promoting coverage of International Women’s Day and other important dates in the history of the feminist movement.

The project started without any need for infrastructure, seeking a way to integrate women’s issues into the daily work of the members without creating extra work. "One of the marvelous things is that they didn’t worry about whether they had desks or drawers or not, or if they had an office to work in, because as reporters they were always out on the street. This was one of the lessons they learned."

Lagunes points out that the women reporters sought to integrate women’s issues into their reporting without creating a new area. "We had to produce stories without it becoming a double workload for us. If I’m looking at workers’ news, how do I start looking at the women in that story? If your beat is education, how do you consider the women involved? We women are everywhere—that is something we emphasize in CIMAC. You don’t need to work as a journalist to take on this issue. If you’re always asking yourself where the women are, you will find the other story, hidden behind the one that everyone sees."

Lagunes gives this specific example: "In a strike, where all the men are on the picket line, nobody is working for money. So who keeps the family going? The women, although their role is invisible. It is the women who wash clothes, take in laundry, sell Jello on the street—all so that the men can continue their protest and the family can survive."

Today, CIMAC has four main work areas. The first is the news agency that produces and publishes articles from a gender perspective. They also continue to run the documentation center, providing historical documents of women’s struggles in Mexico. The center aims to recover women’s past contributions and knowledge, and offer valuable background information to male and female reporters.

Their third area is the maintenance of permanent communication with the mainstream media, including developing a daily mechanism to keep the media informed on women’s issues. CIMAC has learned how to convince mainstream outlets of the importance of including women and issues related to them in their coverage, encouraging them to recognize feminists as valuable contacts on issues such as violence against women, women’s healthcare, etc. CIMAC has a press office that works to open up this dialogue with all media outlets.

The fourth area is the construction of alliances. The women journalists collaborating in this project realized early on that they "couldn’t do it alone."

National and International Networks

One of the first steps taken to ensure the creation of a broad support base for CIMAC’s work was the creation of the National Network of Women Journalists (Red Nacional de Periodistas, RNP) in 1995. "The whole vision of CIMAC is to be able to participate in the mass media, and to democratize the content that excludes half of the population," states Lagunes. To create the Network, CIMAC began to share their proposal with male and female journalists across Mexico. CIMAC organized a gathering of women journalists and politicians to discuss the issue of women in the media and the situation women were living. A pioneer of this process was Sara Lovera, a well-known reporter with many years of experience and a strong understanding of and commitment to feminism.

CIMAC also participated in the creation of networks of journalists in certain Mexican states, as well as four international journalists’ networks: the Network of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, the Trinational Journalists’ Network: Mexico, United States, and Canada, the Latin American Network of Journalists; and the International Network of Journalists with a Vision of Gender. The RNP is on the board of the International Network. CIMAC also collaborates with the Latin American Women’s News Service (Servicios de Noticias de la Mujer de América Latina y el Caribe, SEMLAC).

Based on the Mexican experience, networks of journalists working from a gender perspective have been created elsewhere in Latin America: Guatemala (1988), the Dominican Republic (2001), Nicaragua (2003), Argentina (2006), Peru (2008), and Colombia (currently being established).

The Beijing +5 meeting of the UN General Assembly, "Women 2000: Gender, Equality, Development, and Peace for the Twenty-First Century," recognized the importance of establishing local, national, and international women’s media networks, stating that these have "contributed to global information dissemination, exchange of views, and support to women’s groups active in media work." A proposal was also made at the meeting to create, promote, and access networks, using new information and communication technologies.

The Main Achievements

CIMAC’s Greatest Achievements

  1. Creating the news agency dealing with issues in women’s lives.
  2. Establishing the center of documentation on women in Mexico.
  3. Forming the National Network of Women Journalists.
  4. Participating in regional and international networks.
  5. Publishing articles with a gender perspective in newspapers, magazines, radio, and television.
  6. Maintaining its own web site, www.cimacnoticias.com, and distributing articles to more than 300 web pages.
  7. Promoting permanent communication mechanisms to assist in the nationwide defense of women’s human rights.
  8. Conducting a nationwide evaluation of the labor conditions of women journalists.
  9. Holding more than 300 workshops for journalists in Mexico.
  10. Winning numerous prizes, among them the 2007 National Prize for News Journalism for an article on women who are victims of rape by soldiers in Coahuila; the 2007 Hermilo Galindo Prize from the Mexico City Human Rights Commission; and the 2001 Best News Web Site, from Yahoo Mexico.

Over the last 20 years, CIMAC and the RNP have succeeded in opening permanent spaces in print, radio, internet, and television news services. Beyond their own organizations, such as CIMAC, Lagunes points out that the women journalists have managed to make the media outlets themselves more open. "They know that if they want, they can use CIMAC [and its information]. The point isn’t to have everything linked to CIMAC, but that CIMAC participate in defining the news agenda."

Lagunes thinks that the advances in changing the culture of politics and information are as important as CIMAC’s specific achievements as an organization. "We can’t take our work in providing information out of context and separate it from the feminist movement. It is a parallel process that accompanies the feminist movement and its demands for women’s rights. Ours is a professional task, but the other task is to make it politically correct to speak about gender. Feminism is another matter—it is still very difficult to use the word "feminism."

CIMAC reports that it has carried out more than 100 actions on media strategy and grassroots communication, counting consultations for a wide range of organizations and institutions, production of related materials, and workshops. It has given more than 300 workshops for journalists in Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean on non-sexist journalism, citizenship, sexual and reproductive rights, public population policy, violence and human rights, journalistic research, speech, radio, content analysis, and gender and self-esteem."

In addition to the networks mentioned above, women journalists have created media with a gender perspective in the media outlets where they work—of their own initiative, and often as volunteers. At one time, there were 40 regional supplements on women’s issues in Mexico, in the states of Tabasco, Oaxaca, and Baja California, among others.

The Greatest Challenges

The Biggest Challenges

  1. Making the mass media pay attention to women’s issues.
  2. Facing repression.
  3. The concentration of media ownership.
  4. Making women’s issues visible to the public.
  5. Consolidating the project and providing capacity-building for CIMAC’s members.
  6. Establishing connections with media outlets to continue revealing women’s role in society.
  7. Broadening capacity-building to include advertising and audiovisual work, etc., and offering members opportunities to participate in accredited training and workshops.
  8. Creating alliances with universities to teach subjects and create special courses related to gender.
  9. Creating a directory of government dependencies that work in gender-related fields.
  10. Conducting fundraising workshops to strengthen journalists’ networks throughout Mexico’s states.
  11. Eradicating stereotypes of what it is to be a "woman" or a "man."
  12. Eliminating the misogynist and sexist vision of women that is prevalent in the mass media.
  13. Ending the ongoing victimization of women in the media, cultural patterns of inequality, and resistance to change.
  14. Finding funding to create a Network of Women Correspondents.
  15. Creating a culture of gender equity in all sectors of society.

Despite its many achievements, CIMAC faces many challenges, largely because of the scope and difficulty of its project (see box). The primary aim of the organization continues to be a challenge—"demonstrating that what happens to women constitutes news."

"We have to change the public viewpoint. Not only in the media, since that’s just a reflection of the historical moment our societies are passing through. But the media can also be at the cutting edge of social transformations. Currently, they uphold the idea that the history of humanity is told by what is done by men in power structures, both in terms of recognized positions of power and power over information. It’s very difficult to get them to broaden this perspective. If you focus your attention on power structures, you leave out women and the citizenry in general."

Another challenge is the concentration of the media in Mexico, where a limited number of people are the owners of multiple outlets. "This concentration creates powerful economic, political, and ideological interests," says Lagunes. "It is very difficult to challenge them."

Another serious problem is the vulnerability suffered by Mexican journalists because of widespread violence in Mexico. Lagunes explains, "Psychologically, the attacks affect us. We ask ourselves, ‘How far will I go with this investigation?’" One of the best-known cases is that of Lydia Cacho, a reporter who wrote about pedophile networks and was subsequently harassed and detained. In a context of growing violence due to drug trafficking and organized crime, women receive threats not only against themselves, but also against their children, as an intimidation tactic.

At the third Gathering of the National Network of Women Journalists, renowned Mexican feminist Marta Lamas emphasized the power of the word in the struggle for freedom.

"It would seem that the only freedom possible, within the framework of social restrictions inevitably imposed by any culture, is the freedom of expression. Words know no borders, limits, or brakes; they express any form of transgression; they overcome any prohibition, cross borders, and are capable of delving into the unsuspected nooks and crannies of the subconscious."

For further information on the 2008 Gathering, see http://www.cimacnoticias.com/site/08092910-Red-Nacional-de-Per.34987.0.html.

1 Comment

  • Ryan
    Posted May 17, 2012 1:02 am 0Likes


    I am a PoliSci undergraduate in San Francisco and wanted to thank you so much for your great profile of the incredible CIMAC organization, it is difficult to find information about, and by the org in english. It was an invaluable resource for my paper on CIMAC for my US-Mexico relations class at SFSU.


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