Why Mexico may elect a female president before the United States

MEXICO CITY — Mexico is poised to elect its first female president today, a historic leap in a country long known for its machismo — and a big moment for all of North America.

From the beginning of the presidential race, the only competitive candidates have been two women: front-runner Claudia Sheinbaum, a climate scientist from the ruling Morena party, and Xóchitl Gálvez, a former senator and entrepreneur representing a coalition of opposition parties.


The milestone is a reflection of the country’s complex relationship to women, who face rampant violence and rank sexism, yet are also revered as matriarchs and trusted in positions of authority.

How the country got here before the United States, its biggest trading partner, has much to do with policies that forced open doors for women at every level of government, experts say.

Pushed by feminist activists, Mexico, over the past few decades, has adopted increasingly broad laws encouraging more representation of women in politics. Then, in 2019, it took the remarkable step of making gender parity in all three branches of government a constitutional requirement.

Today, half of the country’s legislature is made up of women, compared with less than 30% of the U.S. Congress. The chief justice of the Mexican Supreme Court, the leaders of both houses of Congress and the Central Bank governor are all women. So are the ministers of the interior, education, economy, public security and foreign relations.

Now, a woman is set to become the most powerful person in the country.

Alma Lilia Tapia, a spokesperson for a group of families searching for their missing loved ones in Guanajuato state, said she believed that both female contenders would pay more attention to the pleas of the families of Mexico’s nearly 100,000 disappeared, compared with their male predecessors.

Although it’s not clear how much change will come, there could be something transformational about a woman occupying a position of maximum authority in a country where presidents enjoy broad power and, often, wide respect.

“Men will always be in the background, but the leadership of a woman president in power is fundamental,” said Mónica Tapia, who leads a group that trains women for political leadership in Mexico. It tells Mexican women, she said, “that your family can’t tell you where a woman’s place is — whether it’s in the kitchen or with the family — it’s wherever you choose.”

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