Mauro Antonio Vargas Urías
Ashoka Fellow since 2019   |   Mexico

Mauro Antonio Vargas Urías

Mauro is inspiring a cultural shift towards gender equity and the inclusion of gender perspectives in laws, workplace programs, and school curricula throughout Mexico, through impactful collaborations…
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This description of Mauro Antonio Vargas Urías's work was prepared when Mauro Antonio Vargas Urías was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2019.


Mauro is inspiring a cultural shift towards gender equity and the inclusion of gender perspectives in laws, workplace programs, and school curricula throughout Mexico, through impactful collaborations across sectors and within various government bodies.

The New Idea

Mauro’s approach seeks to make men protagonists of positive change in gender attitudes, thereby correcting the shortcomings of interventions that perpetuate a binary reality in which women are victims and men are aggressors. He fills an important gap found across diverse sectors by prioritizing working with and for men, emphasizing the ways in which changing their behavior can contribute to a safer, more equitable and prosperous society for themselves and for all Mexicans. He is inspiring systems-level change at the municipal, state, and federal levels, by working with various government ministries to craft and implement gender-sensitive policies that challenge traditional machista ideals and gender-based violence to promote a more egalitarian society. He has presented one of his key publications to Congress, a study titled: “Sum Up for Equality: Proposals for the Public Agenda to Implicate Men in Gender Equality,” which seeks to make certain gender equity practices obligatory for all institutions, companies, and other organizations. He has inspired a key reform in human trafficking law, which tightens accountability measures for all individuals who directly or indirectly sustain this harmful crime. In addition to government bodies, Mauro also works directly with businesses to improve their protocols and policies on issues like paternity leave and sexual harassment and generate more gender-sensitive public campaigns. Mauro has identified the importance of working directly with men to attack and eradicate the root causes of machismo and its subsequent problems. Toward these ends, he complements his top-down policy changes with a bottom-up approach that consists of a reeducation program for men who have exercised violent behaviors.

Beyond his work with government bodies and individual men, Mauro also employs a transversal strategy to tackle cross-sectorial problems abetted by machista ideals, such as human trafficking, adolescent pregnancy, absent fatherhood, egalitarian relationships between girls and boys, prevention of HIV, and more. A data-driven approach allows Mauro to design, apply, and evaluate solutions to such issues through a gender-sensitive lens, and the resultant research also informs his public policy work, the methods he implements in companies, organizations and schools, and the open-source manuals he creates to improve their gender sensitivity.

The open-source nature of Mauro’s model and his intersectoral partnerships aid the replication of Mauro’s model. For example, in collaboration with the Secretariat of Health and the Mexican National Commission for the Prevention and Eradication of Violence Against Women, Mauro designed a program for survivors of violence that includes both support for the victims as well as reeducation for the aggressors. Working with the Secretariat of Public Education has allowed Mauro to integrate a gender-sensitive curriculum into various schools. This dispersion accelerates a widespread multiplication of Mauro’s impact.

The Problem

In Mexico, a deeply rooted culture of machismo is one of the principal causes of inequalities and injustices across societies. This notion of traditional masculinity imposes a heavy cultural burden on men to act in accordance with certain social codes dictating that they should be strong, competitive, dominating, heterosexual, authoritarian, and emotionally controlled. Sensitivity, affection, and vulnerability are considered signs of weakness that illicit contempt.

The consequences of machismo translate into mistreatment of women and children, primarily. According to official statistics, 63 of every 100 women in Mexico have experienced at least one act of violence - emotional, physical, sexual, economic, or otherwise. 47% of women have suffered aggressions at the hands of their husband or partner, and 45% of women have been assaulted at least once by someone other than their partner. Gender inequality impacts women in the forms of a wage gap, higher poverty rates, and violence endured both in public and private spaces. The macho model further harms women and children in that men who subscribe to its ideals often refuse to use contraception, spread sexually transmitted infections due to their resistance to preventative measures, offer little support in the event of pregnancy, and participate minimally or not at all in raising children.

Although women suffer the most obvious consequences of gender inequality, gender norms derived from macho ideals also have grave impacts on men. Such norms activate male violence with consequences that include injuries and deaths from fights, accidents, and wars; high stress levels due to involvement in criminal networks; frustrations rooted in competitiveness; and attacks against those who are considered “less man” such as gay men, children, the elderly, or those who are otherwise seen as timid, clumsy, or cowardly.

Government and society have placed little importance on interventions targeted at men. Instead, Mexican society, and particularly the public sector, has equated a “gender perspective” with one that only visibilizes women, without taking into account that the construction of maleness is just as relevant and significant to a truly integral gender perspective. Current interventions focus on educating women about their rights, attending to victims, and sanctioning men. But a purely punitive view toward men reduces them to the role of aggressors without seeking to transform the damaging ideals of masculinity that produce violence in the first place. This short-sighted approach greatly limits the possibility of achieving true gender equality.

The Strategy

By activating men into protagonists of positive change with regard to gender relations, Mauro works to change discriminatory cultural norms that oppress women across all sectors, in order to uplift society overall. His strategy begins with bottom-up reeducation workshops, which seek to root out gender-based violence and change cultural norms, beginning with men who have embodied the harmful effects of machismo through their own violent behavior. Within the reeducation model, men meet for weekly sessions in safe and amicable spaces over the course of 12 months, either one-on-one with a GENDES facilitator or in a group setting, to improve their relationships. Program themes include construction of masculine identities, sexual and reproductive health, identification and prevention of gender-based violence, expression of masculinity in adolescence, the sharing of financial responsibilities in relationships, situational leadership, diversity of sexual orientations, responsible paternity, and public policy for gender equality. Mauro’s reeducation program has directly impacted 8,600 men, 60% of whom have concluded the program and maintained the positive behavioral changes they achieved throughout the weekly group sessions. Other organizations have started to replicate the GENDES reeducation model in the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Tlaxcala, Puebla, Sinaloa, and Baja California Sur, as well as in other countries such as Panama, Uruguay, and soon Bolivia, Colombia and Spain.

The GENDES workshops have granted Mauro great credibility as a nationally recognized expert on gender relations, a reputation that lays the groundwork for and propels his public policy work. In 2008, the Secretariat of Health invited Mauro to research and then design a program to attend to victims of violence. GENDES trained states across Mexico in the methods of this program, which continues operating and being updated today. A similar model is also operated by Mexican National Commission for the Prevention and Eradication of Violence Against Women in Jalisco, San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo, Guanajuato, Quintana Roo, and Guerrero. Thanks to its partnership with the Secretariat of Public Education, GENDES has worked with more than 110 schools of different levels in different states, reaching more than 6,300 children and adolescents, and also professors. As a result of one of Mauro’s investigations on human trafficking, he inspired a key change in Mexico’s General Law on Preventing, Treating, and Sanctioning Human Trafficking for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation. Realizing that the existing laws dealt only with victims and not with aggressors, Mauro integrated preventative protocols into the law that hold responsible those directly or indirectly involved in trafficking, such as taxi drivers, hotel employees, and corrupt public officials. Mauro’s recently developed proposal “Sum Up for Equality: Proposals for the Public Agenda to Implicate Men in Gender Equality” has been presented in ten states as well as Mexico’s Congress. Mauro has also participated in various working tables to integrate themes of intersectionality and gender identity in public policy, which have resulted in including those topics in the recently published Federal Development Plan. The government of Puebla has already committed to integrating these themes, and the municipality of Tlaxiaco in Oaxaca is also seeking to pilot a program centered on those subjects.

Mauro’s top-down work also encompasses companies. For instance, Mauro has worked with businesses such as Uber, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Tecate, and the Federal Institution of Telecommunications to improve their protocols on paternity leave and management of sexual harassment, and to improve their gender sensitivity in general. For example, the beer company Tecate has improved its representation of women and promoted images of more positive expressions of masculinity in its marketing campaigns. In the future, Mauro hopes to continue fortifying gender-sensitive policies in workplaces, through his consulting services, informational talks, and company trainings.

GENDES is working with a broad range of institutions and organizations by promoting alternative forms to the traditional macho model and providing validated theoretical- methodological tools that serve to strengthen equality. GENDES conducts trainings on these subjects through workshops, forums, and diploma courses. GENDES has directly reached 3,327 people working in 19 Mexican states and 6 countries. Notably, the GENDES methodology is duly documented in an open-source format online and in print publications, such that it can be freely used by schools, universities, and other organizations to replicate GENDES’ impact. Mauro also plans to develop online versions of his workshops to further maximize his reach.

In the future, Mauro will continue to develop research-based advocacy arguments on the role of men in social phenomena, from a gender-sensitive perspective. In parallel, Mauro will generate specific proposals to promote the incorporation of masculinities at different levels of government. Mauro also plans to leverage his network of professionals throughout Mexico and abroad that have been trained by GENDES in working with men as well as other partners and other networks such as Men Engage Mexico, to form important nodes for the activation of public policy strategies at various levels of politics.

The Person

Mauro was born and raised in the small town of Ensenada in Baja California. Though tranquil, the local environment was heavily macho, and Mauro never felt content with passively observing the social inequalities and injustices that divided his society, both in the private and the public spheres. Mauro witnessed firsthand the effects of macho culture within his own home, where his mother suffered violence at the hands of his abusive stepfather.

Against the will of his family, who believed that one should only study to be able to maximize earnings, Mauro chose to pursue sociology at Mexico City’s Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). During his studies, a course about women’s social problems profoundly impacted his career trajectory. He initially enrolled in the course to change its contents, believing at the time that “we men also have problems”. But it was he himself that changed, as the course opened his eyes to the reality of machismo and the far-reaching damages it causes. Mauro grew to resonate on a personal level with the violence suffered by women, as he too suffered discrimination, in his case for his sexual orientation.

After university, Mauro attempted to found GENDES for the first time, but the effort faltered due to his lack of experience. Unwavering in his passions, he continued exploring his commitment to gender equality in a variety of roles with NGOs and institutes across Mexico. While working for Sin Fronteras (Without Borders), a civil society organization that advocates for the rights of migrants and refugees, Mauro tried again to pilot a project focused on masculinities with his own resources. Again he failed, and was left feeling unfulfilled in his limited ability to tackle the challenges of gender inequality. Around that time, he was invited to San Francisco, California to train to become a group facilitator for a program that counsels men who have exercised gender-based violence in practicing healthier, violence-free relationships. This program broadened Mauro’s knowledge of strategies for combating gender inequality, providing the final push to refine earlier attempts and implement his vision for GENDES in a stable and successful way. At the same time, he knew he needed to pursue an impact beyond the San Francisco program’s emphasis on changes at the individual level, and this conviction has guided him in crafting and implementing the holistic program of mindset shifts and policy reform that is GENDES.

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