Mexico’s Women Are Speaking. Will a Female President Listen?

Women marched to celebrate International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Mexico City on Nov. 25, 2023. Aurea Del Rosario/Associated Press
Women marched to celebrate International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Mexico City on Nov. 25, 2023. Aurea Del Rosario/Associated Press

My mother was born in 1943 in a country where she was not allowed to vote. The Mexican government did not grant women the right to vote in national elections — or the right to hold public office on a national level — until Oct. 17, 1953. Now, almost 71 years later, for the first time two women are leading the race to be Mexico’s next president: Claudia Sheinbaum, who is the front-runner, and Xóchitl Gálvez. It is no small feat for a country with a longstanding and complex relationship with machismo, and where every day some 10 women or girls are killed on average.

And yet this accomplishment has often felt like an afterthought during this historic election. Ms. Sheinbaum, a scientist running on the ticket of the ruling Morena party, and Ms. Gálvez, a businesswoman representing a mix of parties from the political establishment, have nodded at the achievements of feminism and its influence on Mexico’s public life. But they have been cautious about lingering too long on women’s issues in their campaigns, conspicuously tiptoeing around abortion and reproductive rights, seemingly out of deference to conservative voters. Neither candidate has put forth a strong agenda to serve the women who put them where they are today.

For as Mexico descended into its nightmare of generalized violence, from the U.S.-backed war on drugs to the government of Felipe Calderón and the administration of outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, it has been women — their tireless work, infinite rage and deepening sorrow — who have provided a moral compass to this nation. Women’s mobilizations have grown stronger and louder in the face of government indifference and repression, mounting the only serious opposition against the status quo and making women’s issues and gender justice central to any discussion of our shared future.

To be fair, male candidates have not historically been required to present their agenda for women either. They are seldom even asked about it. But women constitute a little over half of the Mexican electorate; it is imperative that Ms. Sheinbaum and Ms. Gálvez discuss their views and positions on issues that will affect women’s bodies, security and everyday life — not because they are women, but because they are presidential candidates, striving to represent all of us in the highest political office in the country.

On June 2, a woman will almost certainly be given a mandate to govern all of us. She will preside over an electorate that is deeply concerned about insecurity and corruption. The security policy of the current administration — known as “Hugs Not Bullets” — has failed to meaningfully de-escalate the violence unleashed by America’s failed drug policy, a fact painfully brought home by the ever-growing number of disappearances and high rates of gender-related violence. A staggering number of victims’ collectives, made up mostly of the mothers, wives, sisters and daughters of the disappeared, travel the nation with little to no funding or institutional support, sometimes unearthing the remains of their loved ones.

The women in my family tell more than the story of suffrage in Mexico. We are also among the countless families seeking justice for their murdered daughters in a country where impunity and corruption regularly obstruct them, particularly in cases of femicide. One among the many pending cases in Mexico today is that of Liliana Rivera Garza, my younger sister, who was killed on July 16, 1990. The man who is presumed to have killed her has never been arrested, despite a warrant.

But this is only part of the picture. The next president of Mexico will also run a country that is home to a vocal and energized women’s movement. In Mexico, femicide is a distinct crime; a specialized prosecutor’s office for the crime of femicide was created in Mexico City in 2019, when Ms. Sheinbaum was mayor. While the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, Mexico’s Supreme Court decriminalized abortion in 2023. There is much work to be done — for economic justice, equal access to education, and labor rights, and against racism and homo- and transphobia. But this young generation of Mexican women has made genuine progress, helping find language that is precise, compassionate and forceful enough to dismantle the narratives that have forcibly silenced them and normalized gender violence for too long.

Their success is part of something bigger. Across Latin America, women have been at the forefront of the fight against military dictatorships in Chile (the arpillera movement, for example) and Argentina (the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo). Today, they are holding states responsible for violence and reclaiming public space to remind us that they — that all of us — have the right to live and thrive in safety. On Nov. 25, 2019, during a celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Chilean feminist collective Las Tesis performed the protest song “Un violador en tu camino” (“A rapist in Your Path”), rallying thousands of us to chant against our governments. The next president of Mexico should be aware that the energy unleashed by these actions, which reverberate in Latin America and beyond, is here to stay.

It is these struggles and demands that have shaped the political arena in which Ms. Sheinbaum and Ms. Gálvez now stand. Will the first female president of Mexico be willing and able to honor such history, acknowledging that women’s equality and gender justice are not peripheral issues but crucial to the country’s future? Will she be ready to face the immense challenge of organized crime, both within and outside the government, to secure a violence-free life for all? Will she preserve and defend the safety of the journalists and activists who risk their lives as they hurl hard questions at power? Unlike former presidents, will she listen?

I believe women are complex human beings “with the full range of saintly and demonic behaviors this entails, including criminal ones”, as Margaret Atwood once wrote. And many female leaders — Margaret Thatcher and Corazón Aquino, to mention just two — demonstrated that a woman running the country does not necessarily translate into support for women. Like all presidents in the past, and in the future, the next leader of Mexico will be judged not by her gender but for the decisions and actions of her government.

My mother’s story is part of one Mexico — the one where women have worked together to lift two female candidates to this moment. My sister Liliana’s story warns of another Mexico, one where violence ends things before they get started. Two years before her death, Liliana exercised her right to vote, on July 6, 1988, and enthusiastically joined the crowds that congregated at the main square in Mexico City afterward. She was ready to defend our emerging democracy and oppose the pervasive electoral fraud that kept the Institutional Revolutionary Party in office at the time.

She, like the countless other victims of violence against women in Mexico, cannot vote this week. We can cast our vote only if we are alive.

Cristina Rivera Garza is the author of Liliana’s Invincible Summer: A Sister’s Search for Justice, which won a Pulitzer Prize this year.

Deja una respuesta

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *