The women who rule Mexico City

The inner-city barrios of Mexico City have had female leaders for decades, write Feike de Jong and Gustavo Graf on In the media, Mexico City’s most important people often appear to be white, male politicians and businessmen. But on the city’s crowded streets, it’s women of color who run things.

(PHOTOS: Gustavo Graf)

There are no public numbers on the leadership of the myriad street vendor organizations, self-produced housing developments, and indigenous groups in the metro of 21.2 million. But Alejandra Barrios, perhaps the most influential street vendor in Mexico City, estimates that of the approximately 100 organizations in the city’s central areas, 80 percent are led by women.

Members of Mexico City’s much-maligned “informal economy”—key to Mexico’s political stability—depend on these organizations to represent them and intermediate with city authorities in order get permissions for selling merchandise on the street or occupying land for housing—services the formal economy can’t fully deliver. Many of these organizations are in the hands of families, and when a father or brother falls aside, mothers and sisters often fill their shoes.

According to Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Geografia(INEGI), the informal economy accounted for 23.7 percent of Mexico’s GDP in 2014. Markets found in neighborhoods like Tepito and La Merced serve as wholesale suppliers of clothes, compact, electronics and other trinkets to street markets throughout Mexico’s central region.

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