Mexico is on track to elect its first female president

Mexico is on track to elect its first female president. What will it mean for women?

Mexico will likely see a woman elected as president for the first time when it goes to the polls this Sunday in the largest election in the country’s history.

Two of the leading candidates are women — Claudia Sheinbaum, a former Mexico City Mayor and Senator Xóchitl Gálvez, the candidate for the opposition. 

If Sheinbaum wins, she will not only become Mexico’s first female president, but also the first Jewish head of state. In 2018, she became Mexico City’s first elected female mayor.

Both Gálvez and Sheinbaum are progressive on issues like abortion, women’s rights and the treatment of minorities. In a country where high levels of gender-based violence and traditional gender disparities still exist, many women are looking forward to a new era of government and leadership. 

On June 2, an estimated 100 million Mexicans are expected to cast their ballot at 170,000 polling stations throughout the 32 states of the country. 

According to the National Electoral Institute, over 20,700 congressional and local positions will be decided, including 128 senators and 500 congressional representatives. 

The election will mark the end of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s reign — the outgoing president who has been one of the most popular leaders in the country’s history. 

His protégé, Sheinbaum, will be looking to take his position as the candidate for “Let’s Keep Making History” — the left-leaning coalition led by the Morena party, the current governing party. 

Sheinbaum, who has been leading in the polls for months, promises to continue the work of Lopez Obrador and expand the Morena party’s majority in the legislature by tying herself to her mentor’s policies. They include increasing the number of social programmes and steering the large infrastructure projects, like the controversial Maya Train, which runs through the Yucatan peninsula.

Her coalition partnered with the Green Ecological Party of Mexico (Verde) and the Labour Party (PT) in the hopes of winning the election. 

The 61-year old former scientist will need to step out of the shadow of Lopez Obrador if she is to shift the country towards a more positive direction during this “unprecedented situation”. 

Unlike her mentor, Sheinbaum speaks English — she completed her PhD in environmental engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. She grew up in a politically left-leaning household, where a copy of Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital” was kept in a closet. Sheinbaum became politically active during her university years, where she helped organise a student strike to fight raising university fees.

Meanwhile, her conservative rival, Xochitl Gálvez has been leading the coalition named “Strength and Heart for Mexico”, which is composed of three parties —  the National Action Party (PAN), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD).

Gálvez, a former senator and tech entrepreneur of Otomi Indigenous descent, is heading into the election as a strong critic of the outgoing president. Last year, she filed a complaint with the electoral authority accusing Obrador of breaching Mexico’s impartiality rules after he made a series of verbal attacks against her. 

“What the president wants is for me to quit,” she said at the time. “But he won’t succeed.”

Gálvez, who has been described as having “a playful sense of humor and shrewd political instincts” grew up in poverty. She left her career in the tech sector after taking on the role as the director of the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples in 2003. In 2015, she was elected mayor of Miguel Hidalgo, a borough of Mexico City. Three years later, she was elected to the Senate.

Earlier this year, she toured the US, speaking at public institutions about her plans for her country. At an event hosted by Georgetown Americas Institute, Gálvez said she was “not happy with what is happening in Mexico.”

“To have been born where I was born, to have grown up in violence, in poverty and in the lack of opportunities, I became a strong, courageous woman,” she said.

“To live in Tepatepec and sell jellies and tamales before becoming a successful woman, I say that if you put in a lot of effort, studying and working like this, dreams come true. I never imagined being here where I am.”

She also criticised López Obrador’s ‘Hugs and not bullets’ campaign, calling it “a failure.”

“150,000 people killed under this administration does not speak well of our security policy,” she said. “The health system is devastated, public insurance was ended.” 

Gálvez has promised to reduce violence and corruption, and strengthen state and local police forces. In her final debate last week against Sheinbaum, Gálvez said “‘Hugs for criminals’ are over.” 

“What has been this [current] administration’s strategy? Give the country to organised crime,” she said. 

In Mexico, women grapple with high levels of gender-based violence, with up to ten women murdered each day. In 2022, 3,754 women and girls were murdered, according to data from the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System.

Both Sheinbaum and Gálvez have vowed to fight violence against women. When she was mayor, Sheinbaum boasted about her initiatives for women, including an emergency hotline for women to report violence, centres where victim survivors could access legal and psychological support, increasing street lighting and cameras and a DNA bank to help solve sexual assault crimes.

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