Women are Shaking Up the System in Mexico’s Elections

Four years ago, the Mexican government approved a new political reforms package that requires each party to have at least 50 percent of their candidates be female. As a result, over 3,000 women are running for office in this year’s elections—the largest in the nation’s history.

A sign for María de Jesús Patricio’s campaign at a signature collection event. (Wikimedia)

The elections on July 1 holdremarkable weight in deciding the fate of the country. Thirty out of 32 states are holding local elections on the same day as the general; by Monday, the whole Congress will be replaced, thousands of representative seats will be filled and hundreds of mayoral races will change leadership across the country. Major issues on the table include U.S./Mexico relations, the efficacy of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the future of energy and security.

Many women are poised to win in local positions.According to NPR, the next mayor of Mexico City will almost certainly be a woman; out of the seven candidates, five are female, with one leading in the polls by 20 points. But it is the quest for the presidency has been largely symbolic for women candidates during this election cycle.

Candidate Margarita Zavala is the nation’s former first lady; her husband ran under the National Action Party (PAN) and held the office from 2006 to 2012.Her candidacy highlights the difficulties that women face in Mexican elections: in addition to running as a woman, she was running as an independent, which was historically not allowed. Mexico had previously been run by several high powered parties, and this election cycle is the first time that independent candidates have been able to run for president.

Zavala began her candidacy with PAN but eventually separated to run as an independent—but she will not be on the ballot because she did not attain the minimum number of votes necessary. Hers is a fate shared by the equally groundbreaking candidate María Jesús Patricio Martínez.

Patricio is an indigenous woman from the Nahua people in western Mexico and a healer in her community—and her campaign centers the waysthat indigenous people have long suffered at the hands of the Mexican government.“The government isn’t interested in supporting indigenous people—it sees us as people who get in the way,” she said to The Guardian. “The political class only see the earth and our natural resources as means of making money, not things that benefit the community and need protecting.”

Last year, the New York Times reported on the change of tactics of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), a rebel group of indigenous people from rural Mexico who rose up in 1994 and threatened the Mexican establishment with armed revolution.In August, Subcommander Marcos, leader of the EZLN, announced in a powerful, heartbreaking moment that Mexico was tired of violence and must seek other ways to create change. Marcos and the EZLN decided to put their energy and resources into a different cause: the candidacy of the first indigenous woman to run for president.

Patricio’s campaign was meant to disrupt the traditional ways that Mexican elections have run by shining a spotlight on the neglect and abuse of indigenous populations in Mexico—she walked so that others in the future may run. The whole process of becoming a candidate was a gargantuan task, and her presence forced the public to pay attention to the damage done to indigenous communities.

Despite the volume of female candidates on the ballot this year, other gender-based barriers have also persisted, including cultural attitudes that hold them back. Mayka Ortega Egiluz, a local legislature candidate in Oaxaca, told NPR that the imbalance is clear. “For now, in my Mexican system,” she said, “we women will continue to work three times as hard as men.”

Regardless of the outcomes, Mexico’s elections have shined new light on gender and racial inequities across the country—and opened the floodgates for new opportunities for female leadership moving forward.


Rosalind Jones is a writer and global feminist thinker with a focus on international women's liberation. Her goal is to use her writing and language skills to elevate the voices of gender equality advocates in all corners of the world. She is an Occidental College graduate with a degree Diplomacy and World Affairs and a contributor to Ms.