Are Mexico’s women winning with a female president?

2023 10 09 MEXICO ELECTION scaled
FILE PHOTO: Former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum gestures as she speaks on the day she is certified as presidential candidate for the ruling National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party during a ceremony, in Mexico City, Mexico September 10, 2023. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

Mexico is poised to make history by electing its first female president in the upcoming year, as the governing party, Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (MORENA), has selected Claudia Sheinbaum to compete against the opposition’s candidate, Xóchitl Gálvez, who is representing the National Action Party (PAN).

The Arguments

Around four decades ago, at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, two young women were pursuing studies in fields traditionally dominated by men. Physicist Claudia Sheinbaum and computer engineer Xóchitl Gálvez had different academic backgrounds, but their paths eventually led them to careers in academia and business before entering politics. Now they both stand as the top contenders in Mexico’s upcoming presidential election in June 2024, marking a historic race that could lead to Mexico’s first female president.

Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez, born less than a year apart, have witnessed the transformative changes in Mexican politics. Sheinbaum, with Jewish immigrant grandparents, engaged in student movements while pursuing her physics degree and later contributed to reports for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Gálvez highlights her indigenous heritage and childhood in rural poverty, sharing her experience of selling sweets on the street to support her family. She built her own smart-buildings company and a child malnutrition charity from scratch.

Sheinbaum served in the Mexico City cabinet of current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Gálvez ran the indigenous affairs institute in the federal government of President Vicente Fox.

Although both broadly support women’s rights, including abortion rights, their relationships with feminism are nuanced. Sheinbaum represents a party who reduced state childcare programmes and criticised the feminist movement as infiltrated by conservatives. Gálvez stands with a party that opposes abortion rights, demonstrating that having a female candidate does not guarantee feminist thinking.

Feminist thinkers see progress in the Mexican example. Regardless of the election outcome, Mexico’s laws and strong institutional support for gender equality suggest that doors will still be open for the Mexican women, at least for the time being.

The Facts

Having two women as candidates for the next president is the product of decades of work in the politics of Mexico. The candidacies reflect significant progress in female representation in Mexico’s public sector, where women gained the right to vote in 1953. Today, women hold half of the seats in Congress, half of the cabinet positions, the chief justice, the central bank governor, and almost a third of state governorships.

Mexico initiated discussions about political quotas for women in the 1990s, following the lead of numerous other countries. By 2014, the country enshrined ambitious gender parity laws in its constitution, requiring that half of all electoral candidates be women.

Despite significant progress in female representation, women in Mexico still face substantial inequalities and challenges. Gender-motivated violence remains a grave concern, with over 3,700 women murdered in 2022, and a quarter of those cases classified as femicides.

The private sector lags behind the public sector in gender equality, with female participation rates in there workforce below the global average. Feminist activists highlight that few companies are committed to gender equality at the director or board level and they remain skeptical about whether the 2024 presidential race will bring substantive change in economic, social, and violence-related issues.

A third presidential candidate from the Citizens’ Movement party, which features male frontrunners, may emerge. Citizens’ Movement suggested that a male candidate might be closer to the feminist agenda.


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