News & Current Affairs

Mexico Set for First Female President in 2024 Elections

By Azeezat Okunlola | Sep 8, 2023
Mexico is set to have its first female president next year, after the governing Morena party and the opposition coalition both chose women as their candidates.
On Wednesday, MORENA officials announced that Claudia Sheinbaum, 61, the former mayor of Mexico City, had defeated five men to win the party's nomination. If the leftist candidate wins the election in June, she will make history as the first Jewish president of Mexico.
Her victory occurred days after the opposition coalition, the Broad Front for Mexico, nominated Xóchitl Gálvez, a 60-year-old business executive and senator of Indigenous descent, as its candidate.
"This is a feminist's dream," said Maricruz Ocampo, a women's rights activist in Querétaro, the country's central city. The 2024 race, she said, “is going to signify a turn in the way that we see women in politics.”
The contest highlights the rapid ascent of women to political power over the past few years. Women now make up 50 per cent of the Mexican Congress. The supreme court in Mexico is headed by a woman. Both houses of Congress are now led by women. Since 2021, when Mexico became the world's first gender-balanced nation, women have made up half of the legislature.
In a country where women didn't even have the right to vote until 1953, the progress is remarkable. Also women in Mexican politics are breaking barriers at an even faster rate than their U.S. counterparts. There has never been a female president of the United States. Women make up 28 per cent of Congress, which is a record high for the United States but still far below the global average.
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Mexico has the fourth highest percentage of women serving in national legislatures. The USA comes in at number 71, below even Iraq.
Rapid gender equality advancement in Mexico can be traced back to the country's evolution from an authoritarian to a multiparty democracy. Politicians in the 1990s rewrote laws to make elections more fair after the Institutional Revolutionary Party had dominated for decades, and advocates for women's rights jumped on the opportunity.
Professor of gender and politics at the University of London, Jennifer Piscopo, who has researched Mexican politics, said that the Mexican government insisted that "democracy is not just about elections, but the kind of equality we deliver to our citizens."
Female activists successfully persuaded male lawmakers to establish quotas for women in the House and Senate. Gradually, these quotas were increased, and in 2019, Mexico adopted a constitutional amendment mandating gender parity "in everything," including all elections for public office and all appointments to positions of authority in the judicial and executive branches.
Political scientist, Federico Estévez, said "we started getting used to the idea" of women in power as more of them entered elected positions.
According to the latest polls, Sheinbaum is the leading contender for president. She received her PhD in environmental engineering and grew up in the nation's capital, the daughter of progressive academics. When Andrés Manuel López Obrador was mayor of Mexico City from 2000 to 2005, he appointed her to the position of environment secretary, cementing her status as a protege of the popular president. In 2018, Sheinbaum ran for mayor and won; she resigned in June to run for president.
Gálvez's story of rising to success on one's own merits has caused a stir in the competition as well. She helped support her family in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo by selling tamales and Jello cups when she was a young girl. When conservative President Vicente Fox appointed her to the position of commissioner for Indigenous affairs in 2003, she had already graduated from college, majored in computer science, and was running her own firm. She advanced through the ranks to become Mexico City's borough president and then a senator.
Citizens' Movement, the third largest political party in Mexico, has not yet picked a candidate. The Green Party and the Workers' Party, both relatively minor parties, are widely predicted to form an alliance with MORENA.
A senator who ran for president in 2006 with a small party, Patricia Mercado, claims that Sheinbaum and Gálvez are benefiting in part from Mexicans' frustration with politics as usual.
“Citizens who face a lot of problems in their daily lives need new actors,” she said. “Among those new actors are women.”
During the campaign, both candidates have emphasized the fact that they are women.
#EsTiempodeMujeres, which Sheinbaum has taken up as her own, roughly means "Now is the time for women."
Gálvez has used her own experiences to highlight the bias and violence against women. She went against her father's abuse and continued her education. She claims she fought off a rapist when she was 17 using a soldering iron.
Recently, López Obrador accused Gálvez of sexism for calling her a puppet of powerful men. She was successful in having the electoral court order an end to it. In an interview, she was direct when asked about stopping Mexico's armed gangs.
“You need ovaries,” she said on the news show “Entre Todos.” “Not just balls.”
A small number of women have run for president in the past, but they have all been soundly defeated. More than ever before, it seems likely that Mexico's next president will be a woman, thanks to the fact that MORENA and the Broad Front alliance, which includes parties from the left and right, have commanding leads over smaller parties.
However, that may not be enough to end men's historical preponderance in political office.
González claims that since the ex-mayor doesn't have a strong political base herself and is more likely than other candidates to maintain his programs, López Obrador has tried to rally his large following and political machine behind her in the primary.
“He chose her because she’s dependent on him,” González said. Meanwhile, she noted, the three parties in the opposition alliance are led by men.
Many advocates claim that women's lives haven't improved noticeably despite the rise of women in political leadership roles.
There have been some noticeable shifts, however: In 2022, a law was passed at the behest of female legislators that required domestic workers to be covered by social security. According to Rebeca Ramos, director of the Information Group on Reproductive Choice, abortion has been decriminalized in 12 of the 32 states due in part to the increased representation of women in local legislatures and governorships. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled to remove criminal penalties for the practice in all federally funded hospitals.