Mexico: Why Sheinbaum's Historic Election May Not Translate To Gender Equality

Author: Jennifer Castañeda-Navarrete

(MENAFN- The Conversation) Claudia Sheinbaum has made history. On June 2, she became the first woman to be elected as president of Mexico. Nearly 36 million Mexicans cast their votes for Sheinbaum, more than double the number received by her closest rival and fellow woman candidate, Xóchitl Gálvez.

Over the past two decades, Political reforms mandating gender parity in executive, legislative and judicial offices have strengthened women's political representation in Mexico. These reforms paved the way for this historic election.

But, despite this achievement, women from indigenous, Afro-descendent and working-class backgrounds remain underrepresented in political positions, while gender disparities have seen little improvement in other areas.

For example, gender imbalances persist in the distribution of care and domestic work, as well as participation in paid work. And gender-based violence is on the rise . In fact, ten women are now murdered in Mexico on average every day, with a third of these cases classified as femicide (where women are killed because of their gender).

Read more: Femicide: many countries around the world are making the killing of women a specific crime – here's why it's needed

Sheinbaum has made some promising proposals to advance gender equality in Mexico. However, she lacks a comprehensive approach for addressing gender-based violence and a clear strategy for funding a much-needed national care system.

She has also fallen short of outlining steps to tackle Mexico's male chauvinist gender norms and has given little attention to the longstanding disparities faced by Mexico's indigenous and Afro-descendent women.

Women protesting over femicides that occurred in Atizapán, Mexico, in May 2021. Sashenka Gutierrez / EPA

In her plan, 100 Pasos para la Transformación (100 Steps to Transformation), Sheinbaum adopts a human rights-based approach to gender equality. This means that policy in this area will be supported by legal protections for women's rights.

This approach aligns with the views of Olga Sánchez Cordero , a prominent feminist and former jurist and senator who in 2018 became the first woman to serve as Mexico's minister of the interior. Sánchez Cordero collaborated closely with Sheinbaum to develop the proposals on women's rights within the plan, and has been mentioned as a possible minister for women's affairs.

Some of the plan's most promising measures include the creation of public centres for early education and the extension of parental leave. These measures aim to alleviate the care burden on women, who in Mexico dedicate two-and-a-half times more of their time on unpaid domestic and care work compared to men. The plan also proposes legal reforms to safeguard women's sexual and reproductive rights and tackle discrimination against LGBTQ+ communities.

In terms of political participation, the plan aims to promote gender-balanced cabinets and enhance women's representation in the public prosecution service. And it seeks to improve rights to land for rural women, who comprise less than a third of communal landowners.

The plan also sets several goals to achieve by 2030. Among the most notable are reducing the number of femicides by 30%, reducing the gender pay gap to zero, and achieving gender parity of 50% in mayoralties.

The weak spots

Violence against women is one of the most urgent problems that Sheinbaum will face. Femicide represents the most extreme form of violence faced by women in Mexico. But it is by no means the only one. In 2021, over 70% of women in Mexico reported experiencing some form of violence during their lives – a situation that has deteriorated over the past decade.

Gender-based violence in Mexico is widespread and complex. So it is surprising that strategies for addressing gender norms in everyday life are absent from the plan. Sheinbaum's proposals to tackle violence against women focus almost entirely on strengthening the justice delivery system.

One specific measure she has proposed to protect survivors of gender-based violence is particularly worrying. According to Sheinbaum's plan:“Initiatives will be sent to Congress to guarantee shelters, but above all, to require aggressors to leave the home, allowing women to remain with their children.”

Encouraging survivors to stay in their homes, where abusers could return, endangers the physical safety and wellbeing of women and children and risks re-victimisation.

Women participate in a march on International Women's Day in Guadalajara, Mexico, in March 2024. Francisco Guasco / EPA

It's not just violence that women in Mexico have to contend with. Alongside addressing the gendered division of care work, investment in care infrastructure and services is needed to support the participation of women in paid employment and entrepreneurship activities.

But decades of underinvestment mean that Sheinbaum will inherit weakened health and care systems. To address this, she has prioritised the establishment of a national care system , which has already been outlined in a law approved by the current administration.

This law establishes the right to care as a state responsibility and mandates the provision of training and decent work conditions for paid carers. It also sets quality standards for service delivery, creates a register for service providers and promotes the involvement of both women and men in care-giving roles.

Time will tell whether the necessary budget will be allocated for this initiative and for improving the overall health system.

Gender equality is not merely a“women's issue”, it is a matter that requires coordination across ministries and policy areas, from health and care to industry and innovation.

When she takes office in October, Sheinbaum has a unique opportunity to advance gender equality in Mexico. She will be backed by an overwhelming majority in Congress, which should give her space to pursue a feminist political agenda should she wish.

This majority will be crucial for progressing the most contentious areas, such as women's sexual and reproductive rights, and ensuring that the necessary funds are allocated for gender equality.

The Conversation


The Conversation

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