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LATIN AMERICA | 03-06-2024 13:30

Claudia Sheinbaum victory: a win for Mexican women?

Some in Mexico fear the historic change at the very top will be little more than symbolic when it comes to women's advancement.

"Mexico is no longer written with 'M' for 'machismo' ... it is written with 'M' for madre ["mother"] and 'M' for mujer ["woman"]," said Claudia Sheinbaum a year ago.

Elected on Sunday as the first female president in the history of Mexico by a devastating majority, she promises to combat the high numbers of gender violence and help women "live without fear."

Nearly two decades after its then-president Vicente Fox described women as "two-legged washing machines," Mexico has elected a woman to lead a country with a long history of gender-based bigotry and violence.

The new leader, Claudia Sheinbaum, rails against the stereotype that a woman is "prettier when she keeps her mouth shut."

But with few concrete policy proposals, some fear the historic change at the very top will be little more than symbolic when it comes to women's advancement.

"The notion that because the president is a woman that something is necessarily going to change, that is not correct," said anthropologist Matthew Gutmann of Brown University. "Symbolically it means a lot, but politically not necessarily."

The world's most populous Spanish-speaking country has a mixed record when it comes to women's rights.

It is one of the few countries in the world with more women than men in Congress under a gender parity law, and one of a handful in Latin America that allows elective abortion. More than half of the students at the prestigious National University of Mexico (UNAM) are women. 

The governor of the Central Bank and president of the Supreme Court are women, as was Sheinbaum's main election rival: entrepreneur Xóchitl Gálvez. 

"As a fighter for women, in feminism for 60 years, imagine, this is the dream come true," said  Senator Olga Sánchez Cordero. "What does this victory mean to me? It means that I can now die peacefully," said the former Supreme Court minister.

On the other side of the coin, the UN says seven out of ten Mexican women and girls older than 15 have experienced violence, including sexual harassment and abuse.

And the number of femicides is staggering in a country where about 10 women or girls are murdered each day.

"Our society is violent, sexist, misogynistic," said Lol-Kin Castaneda, 48. "Mexico can't stand any more violence."

 

'You are not alone'

Sheinbaum, in closing her campaign, had addressed Mexican women directly.

"It's time for women and transformation... That means to live without fear and free from violence," she said.

"I say to the young women, to all the women of Mexico – colleagues, friends, sisters, daughters, mothers and grandmothers – you are not alone."

Sheinbaum has said she would consider replicating some of the measures implemented on her watch as mayor of Mexico City, such as the appointment of a prosecutor dedicated to femicides and a law to eject domestic abusers from the family home.

"I don't think misogynists will change just because there is a female president, but we could have more rights and training to defend ourselves from misogynists, from an abusive man," Norma Teófilo, a 20-year-old saleswoman, said after voting for Sheinbaum.

Pamela Starr, an expert in Mexico from the University of Southern California, told AFP Sheinbaum's electoral success was not "because people want a woman president necessarily," but rather that a majority of voters trust outgoing President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, her mentor.

"I think that the biggest significance is that you'll have somebody who is sensitive to the needs of women," said Starr.

Daniela Pérez, a 30-year-old logistics manager who voted for Gálvez, noted that neither candidate had a specifically feminist policy platform.

"One would think that being women they would have solidarity, but that is not always the case," she said.

 

'Political gender violence'

Sociologist Zeida Rodríguez of the University of Guadalajara told AFP that Sheinbaum's victory would hopefully contribute to Mexican "men starting to view it as normal that women are in charge."

But she pointed out Sheinbaum would likely deal with something she calls "political gender violence" – when powerful women are held to a higher standard and criticised more harshly than their male peers.

Rodríguez believes the advancement of women's rights in recent decades "has exacerbated, not diminished, sexist expression."

Starr said a specific test for Sheinbaum would be her relationship with Donald Trump, if he wins the US presidency in November.

"Trump tends to denigrate women, so I suspect he will test Sheinbaum to see how strong she is," the analyst said.

"I think he'll assume that he can push her around and she's going to have to have a very strong backbone to prevent that."

Latin America is a continent with a history of powerful female leaders: Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina, among others.

"Claudia represents thousands of women in her aspiration to make this country better," voter María Patricia Juárez, a 64-year-old former trade unionist, told AFP.

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by Laura Bonilla, AFP

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