Women are Front and Center in Mexican Politics. What Can the U.S. Learn?

Although there is still a long way to go to achieve substantive gender parity in public life, Mexico’s progress can and should be a valuable lesson to the U.S.

President-elect of Mexico Claudia Sheinbaum speaks during a press conference at Palacio Nacional on June 10, 2024 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

On June 2, over 60 percent of registered Mexican voters went to the polls for a monumental election, with over 20,000 public offices up for grabs at the federal and local levels. This election was historic, as a woman was elected to hold the highest office in Mexico for the first time. This comes more than 70 years after women gained the right to vote and stand for election. Over the past few years, women in Mexico have gone from being fringe operatives in the political arena to taking center stage. Still, this transformation took time and deliberate action to achieve.

While gender quotas have been used in Mexico since the early 2000s, they were not enough to achieve equality. In 2014, Mexico transitioned from relying on its gender quota system to a “gender parity system,” which mandates equal opportunity based on gender in candidate lists for local and national offices. This transition did not occur naturally; it resulted from consistent, permanent debate at all levels by activists, institutions, academics and women in politics who worked together across party lines to close the political gender gap.

The Impact of Gender Quotas in Mexico

Mexico’s 2002 first legislative quota passed by Congress required that 30 percent of candidates be women, with specific penalties for parties in cases of non-compliance. In 2008, the gender quota was raised to 40 percent, but parties were exempt from complying in cases where candidates were selected in democratic primaries. Six years later, in 2014, gender parity mandates were enshrined in Mexico’s constitution, marking the highest protection standard for women’s political rights. The impact of these hard-fought efforts has been undeniable; women’s participation in Congress has steadily increased with every reform.

Addressing Violence Against Women

Women soon realized, however, that gender parity as an election mandate did not guarantee representation across the broader public administration. In response, women legislators, comprising nearly 50 percent of Congress, worked with feminist activists and organizations to push for a “parity in everything” mandate in 2019. One year later, political violence against women was legally recognized as an offense in a reform that included a broad catalog covering 22 different conducts, including withholding information, intimidation, assault and harassment, both online and in-person.

Women in the 2024 Elections

In 2024, women vying for political office at all levels of government have become the norm. This year, the top two contenders for the presidency, who pulled nearly 90 percent of the vote, were women from minority groups. One was a former Mexico City mayor of Jewish descent, and the other a former senator with Indigenous roots. The “parity in everything” mandate has also affected unitary offices like governorships. Parties were required to register women candidates in at least five of the nine states holding governor races. As a result, 55 percent of all candidates for governor were women, and two states, Morelos and Guanajuato, held all-women races

Women candidates for both chambers of Congress also outnumbered male candidates, totaling 57 percent, according to data from Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE), Mexico’s national independent elections agency database. However, wider opportunities to participate as candidates do not serve as a fix-all. Women often remain underfunded in election campaigns. In recognition of this, the women-led INE and electoral court approved a second-generation quota, further leveling the playing field for women by ensuring that parties comply with the conditions that require its women candidates to receive at least 50 percent of parties’ public financing for campaigns and 50 percent of parties’ advertising time.

Presidential candidate Xóchitl Gálvez of ‘Fuerza y Corazón por México’ coalition speaks, during the 2024 closing campaign event at Arena Monterrey on May 29, 2024 in Monterrey, Mexico. (Photo by Medios y Media/Getty Images)

Ongoing Challenges

Despite these substantial gains for women in politics in Mexico, there is still a long way to go. Sexism and the reproduction of gender stereotypes both in the public conversation and in media coverage remain widespread. Throughout the campaign, the ruling party’s presidential candidate, Claudia Sheinbaum, was often referred to as President López Obrador’s puppet. Among opposition leaders and in public opinion, Sheinbaum, who has a PhD in energy engineering, and a political career of over 20 years, has been perceived as inferior to Obrador in her decision-making.

Furthering gender stereotypes, President López Obrador stated in one of his daily press conferences that powerful men imposed opposition candidate Xóchitl Gálvez. Gálvez responded to these attacks by saying that, unlike Sheinbaum, men did not have to tell her what to do. Demeaning references to both candidates’ physical appearance were also standard. Gálvez, for instance, faced widespread criticism over her teeth and weight.

Furthermore, despite the general presence of women in races across the country, it must also be recognized that the women’s agenda was painfully absent, particularly from the presidential campaigns. The narrative of “the first woman president” overpowered much of any substantive discussion on women’s rights and the national emergency posed by violence against women and girls. Even in the first presidential debate organized by INE, where violence against women was one of the discussion topics, candidates failed to effectively address the issue, with Sheinbaum lying about having reduced femicides by 30 percent during her tenure as Mexico City mayor and her zero tolerance policy. The single male presidential candidate, Jorge Álvarez Máynez, proposed establishing a national caregiving system to lower women’s unequal burdens and recognized feminism as the most important social movement of our time during the debate.

In a country where between seven to ten women are victims of femicide every day, and dozens of others face sexual violence and even disappear, Mexico’s first woman president must recognize the historic and heroic efforts of her predecessor. Likewise, she must build bridges with existing feminist groups, with whom she has had a tense relationship since her days as Mexico City mayor. For instance, the use of tear gas against feminist protestors in the Mexican capital city, which Sheinbaum has continuously denied, has sparked outrage among feminist groups and has led to serious questioning of her commitment to feminist issues. She has also supported other policies enacted by the president that hurt women the most, like the elimination of public daycare facilities for children, which benefitted working mothers with no access to the national social security system.

With the U.S. presidential elections scheduled for later this year, it’s shockingly disappointing to compare the two neighboring countries. Mexico has finally its first woman president, and the United States will elect yet another man this fall.

Although there is still a long way to go to achieve substantive gender parity in public life, Mexico’s progress can and should be a valuable lesson to the U.S. Mexico has accomplished what the U.S. has not, including its first woman president and gender-balanced national and local legislatures. The U.S. must recognize Mexico’s work to remove systemic barriers that women face when running. Solutions to the barriers women face include implementing a proportional voting system, applying and enforcing gender quotas and recognizing political violence against women as a criminal offense. Many American politicians are unwilling even to place these issues atop their agendas.

Read more:

About and

Georgina De La Fuente is a democratic and electoral governance specialist based in Mexico City.
Fatma Tawfik is a research associate at RepresentWomen.