University of Western Ontario - Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Paul Tarc


In a globalizing world, Mexico’s higher education system is undergoing significant transformations. One of the more hopeful, positive transformations is the emergence or strengthening of gender equity policies in many education institutions. The equity-oriented policies, packaged in transnational policy spheres, are interpreted and set in motion based on the interplay of national, local and institutional contexts. While this emergent equity-friendly policy environment represents a positive movement for equity, its manifestations and effects remain understudied.

Considering that there is at least a policy environment supportive of gender equity, this study examines how gender equity plays out at the ground level. It examines the gender-equity policy environment—its manifestation and effects—in one graduate research department in the most prestigious Polytechnic University in Mexico. Through site observations and interviews with students, professors, and administrators, this research illuminates how gender equity is taken up and experienced by women in this male-dominated environment.

The research finds that gender equity has indeed made an intervention at the symbolic or discursive level of the institution. Also there are concrete manifestations, such as the presence of a gender equity office and the hiring of the institution’s first female director. In general, gender equity provoked interest and anxiety in most of the participants interviewed. In interviews and at a public symposium of gender equity, some dominant scripts were repeated that tended to rationalize male dominance, but there were also more transgressive scripts and acknowledgments of the depth of inequity around gender and other social difference in Mexico.

Aligned with past research findings and institutional mantras, gender equity was often conceived in terms of ‘access’ and fair admission policies by administration and professors. Women graduate students reported much more directly about the ongoing discrimination within the program that ranged from being seen as less capable than males to more overt sexual harassment and bullying. Further, women who attempted to use the gender equity office to make a complaint were quite cynical about the apparent lack of any action. Finally, this study offers recommendations for the gender program, the Centre of Technology and members of the centre.