Will female victories in Mexico translate into gender equality?

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North America will soon have its first ever female president.

In Mexico’s largest ever election, more than 33 million people voted for Claudia Sheinbaum, according to preliminary results from Mexico’s National Electoral Institute. She won 59.3% of ballots – the highest percentage vote share for a president in Mexico’s democratic history – with a wider margin than the one registered in 2018, and millions more votes than President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Sheinbaum emerged victorious in an election that saw two strong female candidates contending for Mexico’s top job. The second-placed, opposition candidate, Xóchitl Gálvez, has conceded defeat having taken 27.9% of the vote. That means nine out of ten Mexicans voted for a woman on 2 June.

Mexican women won the right to vote in 1953. Only eight female candidates have participated in a presidential election. Many other countries across Latin America have had female presidents – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panamá. In the Global Gender Gap Index 2023, Mexico ranks 33rd – behind other Latin American nations such as Nicaragua, Chile and Costa Rica.

In a country in which sexist attitudes and patriarchal social norms remain ingrained, this victory is an important symbol and a significant step forward. Mexico’s new president will be governing more Spanish-speaking women than any other leader in the world.

Also elected on 2 June were four female governors – out of a total of nine governorships open at this election – including Mexico City’s mayor, one of the country’s most important posts. Today, almost half of Mexico’s 32 governors (13) are women.

Other key institutions in Mexico are also currently led by women: the Senate, the Supreme Court, the National Electoral Institute, and the Central Bank. The country ranks third among Latin American nations with the most women (44%) in the national cabinet.

Looking ahead, Mexican society will hopefully become more gender conscious with time. The country already leads the world in gender parity law, and promotes various programmes addressing gender discrimination; but there is optimism that Sheinbaum’s landslide will be a catalyst, finally dissolving deep-seated political and social cultures that erect obstacles for women wishing to run for elected positions.

Most crucially, it is clear that the new president must effectively address gender-based violence against women and girls, including the staggering and increasing rate of femicide.

The 2024 election results will also effect a significant shake-up in the balance of Mexico’s political system.

Moving down preliminary results in legislative politics, with Sheinbaum’s Morena as by far the largest force in Congress, it appears that the Green Party, a Morena ally, may be set to achieve second-place.

The PAN, one of the parties in Gálvez’ electoral coalition, consequently looks set to be the third-largest.

In fourth would be Movimiento Ciudadano (MC), whose candidate Jorge Álvarez Máynez is projected to have received 10% of votes in the presidential race.

It would therefore beat the PRI, another Gálvez coalition partner and a force that dominated Mexican politics for over 70 years in the 20th century, into fifth.

MC also managed to retain its governorship in Jalisco by less than three percent against Morena, but could not win strategic municipalities in Nuevo León, including the mayoralty of Monterrey.

The PRD, another party in Gálvez’ electoral coalition, may fall under the 3% threshold in three federal elections, leaving it on the verge of losing its party registration.

Overall, preliminary results show that the winning coalition has achieved a greatly desired two-thirds majority the lower house – meaning it can unilaterally approve reforms to Mexico’s constitution.

In February, President López Obrador controversially presented a package of 18 constitutional bills and two legal reform initiatives to Congress.

These would also need to be ratified by at least 17 out of 32 state legislatures. Morena will govern in 23 states.

If enacted, these would affect the judiciary, with Supreme Court justices to be elected by popular vote under the proposals; the National Guard, to be assigned to the Ministry of National Defence; autonomous regulatory bodies, to be abolished; and Mexico’s political-electoral system.

Under Mexico’s split electoral apparatus, in which some seats are allocated via a first-past-the-post system and others by proportional representation, the winning coalition is set to be over-represented in Congress by 16%, relative to its vote share.

If a proposal by López Obrador to abolish plurinominal representatives – those elected to Congress via proportional representation – is enacted, that over-representation would increase further, undermining a system that has historically enabled representation of diverse figures and political minorities.

In these circumstances, it remains to be seen how political pluralism in Mexico is maintained in the years ahead.

Sheinbaum’s victory came on a platform of continuity of President López Obrador’s agenda.

While her predecessor’s popularity has remained high, many question if Sheinbaum will be her own person as president.

Her campaign has principally promised to maintain policies of social programmes and wage growth.

Some of the challenges ahead for the new government will centre on public security, violent crime and drug-trafficking, public health, water and energy shortages and increasing environmental concerns, among others. Given her scientific background, Sheinbaum may dedicate more government focus to sustainability and the environment.

Economically, Mexico faces a budget deficit equivalent to 5.9% percent of GDP, and challenging financial outlooks for state oil company Pemex and the Federal Electricity Commission. In 2026, Sheinbaum’s government will need to negotiate the first mandatory review of the USMCA trade agreement; and it must continue to navigate complexities of the US-China-Mexico triangle.

With a strong supporting majority in Congress, Mexicans will want to see a marked improvement in their living standards, as well as a true independent and feminist agenda with better policies for women.

This decisive vote for their new Presidenta marks a major milestone – and sets the country’s political and economic course for the coming years. We will see in 2030 if female leadership could translate hopes for gender equality into reality.

Susana Berruecos

Susana joined Canning House in 2023 as its Head of Policy and Public Affairs, and is a Research Associate at the University of Oxford. She has over 25 years of international affairs experience, including at the Mexican Senate and in a number of financial institutions. Susana received her PhD from the London School of Economics in 2010.

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