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Why Mexico Electing First Woman President Doesn’t ‘Automatically Translate Into Hope’

Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo was elected Sunday in a historic victory considered a ‘significant advance’ for Mexico democracy but for feminist groups, she has much to prove

Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo celebrates her preisdental victory in Mexico. Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy
Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo celebrates her preisdental victory in Mexico. Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy

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International media outlets reported celebrations Sunday as Mexico elected its first woman president in Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, but the mood on the ground was far more mixed.

The ascension of Sheinbaum is indeed historic, and has also been lauded as an indication that Mexico’s young electoral democracy – the nation endured one-party rule for 70 years until the year 2000 – is alive and kicking. The 61-year-old will hold office for the Morena party that was founded by outgoing president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known by his initials as AMLO.

Her victory was also, seemingly a win for the climate, with reports focussing on Sheinbaum’s background as a climate scientist and member of the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won a Nobel Prize.

Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo’s supporters celebrate her victory in what was a historic moment for Mexico. Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy

“Having a woman as head of the presidency is undoubtedly a significant advance in the historical demands for women’s representation in public office and positions of power,” Daira Arana, an international policy and security specialist and principal of the Mexico-based Global Thought consultancy, told Byline Times.

“One of the demands of feminist movements is that these women, through their positions, break the power pacts that violate people’s rights”, instead advancing policies that “promote care and peace”.


President-elect declared ´you are not alone´to female victims of gendered violence with an accused rapist on stage next to her

For Yolitzin Jaimes, spokesperson for CONAFEM – Colectivo Feminista Nacional Ningún Agresor en el poder, the ´No Abuser in Power´ National Feminist Collective – president-elect Sheinbaum has not taken any such actions in the past.

Sheinbaum was mayor of Mexico City 2018-2023, during which time the capital saw historic numbers of feminist collectives and protesters take to the streets to protest the country’s shocking levels of gender-based violence and the indifference and inaction of government at all levels.

Instead of supporting the activists, says Jaimes, “Sheinbaum´s police gassed us and kettled us.”

Further, “The Mexico City public prosecutor’s office opened investigation files against my feminist colleagues, accusing us of damage to public property, which I call political persecution.”

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Particularly for feminists in Jaimes´ home state of Guerrero, Sheinbaum´s alliance within the Morena party with former candidate for governor of Guerrero, Felix Macedonio Salgado, is also evidence that she has no intention of breaking “the patriarchal pact”, where those in power overlook men’s violence and discrimination against women; instead elevating them to leadership positions and blocking processes for justice and accountability.

Ahead of the 2021 gubernatorial elections for which he would be a candidate, Salgado´s campaign was hit with accusations of sexual violence and rape by five women dating back as far as 1998. Following pressure from CONAFEM and other feminist collectives across the country, Salgado withdrew. Morena replaced him as candidate with his daughter, Evelyn Salgado Pineda, who became the first woman governor of Guerrero state. 

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Sheinbaum has stood by Salgado, with feminist groups noting in particular that she appeared with him in at her closing campaign rally on May 31 in which she declared to Mexican women that “you are not alone”.

“Putting him on the stage with her was an act that I consider an affront to all the victims of sexual aggression in the country,” said Jaimes.

Salgado was elected a senator for Morena in Sunday´s elections.



Sheinbaum Supported ‘Macho Austerity’ Budget Cuts That Eeduced Womens Independence

As an AMLO loyalist, Mexican feminists also observe that Sheinbaum takes up office with “the baggage of #AusteridadMachista”, Dr Cecilia Farfán-Méndez told Byline Times.

The hashtag #AusteridadMachista – macho austerity – “was used by civil society organizations to oppose budget cuts in areas that are known to be essential for preventing gender based violence or assisting women in escaping situations of violence”, explained Dr Farfán-Méndez, the Head of Security Research Programs at the Center for US-Mexican Studies, University of California San Diego.

“These budget cuts include areas like subsidised child care, which contributes to women having greater participation in the workforce and therefore reducing dependence on the partner’s income.”


Mexico’s Crisis of Gender-Based Violence vs Sheinbaum´s Party Platform

‘Women in Mexico live in a violent environment”, said María Calderón, a lawyer and research analyst with the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, a US-based think tank.

“There has been a strong wave of violence” against women during the AMLO administration, continued Calderón, citing the figure that “11 women a day are murdered for gender-related reasons in Mexico” released in 2022 by the National Citizen Observatory on Femicide.

Sheinbaum, the lawyer added, has had very little to say on the matter or the many brigades of mothers searching for their disappeared children. More than 115,000 people are registered as disappeared in Mexico, an issue that got international attention when 43 students disappeared from the Ayotzinapa teacher´s college in 2014. Upon assuming office in 2018, AMLO vowed to resolve the case, but leaves the presidency with no resolution in sight for the families of the missing young men.

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These matters are “not among her priorities”, said Calderón, adding that she expects the president-elect to stick closely to the programme already laid out by AMLO and the Morena party which has not included concrete plans to address gender-based violence and forced disappearance. It focuses on the militarisation of public security and civil functions, which should be cause for concern for feminists. 

Other critics have also pointed out that climate scientist Sheinbaum has, at least up until now, been a loyal supporter of pet projects of AMLO´s such as the Tren Maya, judged in 2023 by an international tribunal of experts as causing environmental and human damage to the extent of ecocide and ethnocide.

However, Jaimes noted, “to be able to say ‘Presidenta’, woman president, for the first time” generates a tremendous feeling that “recalls the Mexican suffragettes who fought for all of our political and electoral rights”.

But, the accomplished feminist activist added, “it does not automatically translate into hope”.


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