The first woman elected to lead Mexico faces pressing gender-related issues

June 3, 2024  -MEXICO CITY (AP) — Claudia Sheinbaum’s name will go down in Mexican history.

The governing party candidate won Mexico’s presidential election on Sunday, a turning point in a mostly conservative nation that for more than two centuries has been exclusively ruled by men.

Elsewhere in Latin America, women have led countries including Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Guyana, Nicaragua, Honduras, Ecuador, El Salvador, Panama, Haiti and Costa Rica.

Mexican women won the right to vote in 1953. No law prevented female candidates from holding office, but sexism and “macho” culture continue to permeate the country of 129 million people.

An Indigenous woman votes during general elections in Zinacantan, Mexico, Sunday, June 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Luis Etzin)

Prior to the current presidential race, during which Sheinbaum maintained a comfortable lead against opposition candidate Xóchitl Gálvez, only two women had officially sought Mexico’s presidency. Both failed.

In her bid to replace outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Sheinbaum struggled to construct an image of her own, leaving many wondering whether she can escape the shadow of her mentor.

Women currently lead some key Mexican institutions, such as the Senate, the Supreme Court and the National Electoral Institute. Mexico ranks third among Latin American nations with the most women in the national Cabinet — 44% — and has 10 female governors among its 32 states.

In some Indigenous villages, though, men still hold the power.

Among the issues that Mexican women face are femicide, or women killed because of their gender, a gender employment gap and inadequate policies guaranteeing sexual and reproductive rights. Sheinbaum, 61, will need to address these after she takes office on Oct. 1.

Here’s a look at the issues.

Demonstrations on International Women’s Day on March 8 are painful reminders that many Mexican women disappear or are killed on a daily basis.

According to U.N. Women, up to 10 women are victims of femicide each day in Mexico. The number totaled 3,000 in 2023.

Thousands more have disappeared. In many cases, it is their mothers, feeling abandoned by the government, who have taken on the task of searching for them.

Most femicides go unpunished due to Mexico’s inefficient justice system, which frequently dismisses reported crimes or fails to properly investigate and prosecute them.

According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, more than 40% of Mexican women who are 15 years old or older say they have been victims of some sort of violence in their lives.

During her campaign, Sheinbaum said she would replicate measures against gender-based violence that were implemented when she was mayor of the capital. They include the creation of an anti-femicide prosecutor’s office and legislation that would force offenders to leave their homes.

“We transform, we are warriors who open paths for other women,” Sheinbaum said.

In spite of this, Sheinbaum has been criticized by feminists and activists arguing that her government lacked gender-related policies. Excessive use of force against women during demonstrations has been flagged as well.

SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS

FILE - A woman holds a banner reading in Spanish, "Legal, safe, and free abortion" as abortion rights protesters demonstrate in front of the National Congress on the "Day for Decriminalization of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean," in Mexico City, Sept. 28, 2020. Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in 2023 that national laws prohibiting abortions are unconstitutional and violate women’s rights, but further state-by-state legal work is pending to remove all penalties. Sheinbaum did not address the topic during her campaign. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

A woman holds a banner reading in Spanish, “Legal, safe, and free abortion” as abortion rights protesters demonstrate in front of the National Congress on the “Day for Decriminalization of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean,” in Mexico City, Sept. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

Teenage pregnancy in Mexico has raised concern.

According to official figures from 2021, the latest available, there were 147,279 births among adolescents between 15 and 19 years old, and 3,019 among girls under 15.

Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in 2023 that national laws prohibiting abortions are unconstitutional and violate women’s rights, but further state-by-state legal work is pending to remove all penalties.

Twelve of Mexico’s 32 states have decriminalized abortion, most of them in the past five years. A few more states allow abortion if the mother’s life is in danger, and it is legal nationwide if the pregnancy is the result of rape.

In most states where it has been decriminalized, advocates say they face persistent challenges in making abortion safe, accessible and government funded.

Sheinbaum did not address the topic during her campaign.

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