Four months before the presidential election in Mexico, the three main political parties have already chosen their candidates.
Josefina Vazquez Mota was recently elected as the presidential candidate for the right-wing party, Partido Acción Nacional (PAN). She is now running against Enrique Peña Nieto, from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, from the leftist Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD).
This is not the first time that a woman is contending in the presidential race. Among her predecessors are Patricia Mercado (México Posible, 2008), Rosario Ibarra de Piedra (PRT, 1982, 1988) Cecilia Soto (Labor Party, 1994) y Marcela Lombardo (PPS, 1994).
In fact, Vazquez Mota owes her nomination to all of the women –most of them from the left– that have fought for the recognition of their rights. But unlike her predecessors, Vazquez Mota is the only female presidential contender that comes from a party currently in power. And that can make the difference, if only for the amount of support that the party’s political machine would give her.
Regardless of the final result of the election on July 1, it is always surprising to hear people asking if the country is prepared to have a woman as president. In several interviews that Vazquez Mota has given to media members after her nomination, the gender question has always jumped up in different ways.
Just the question by itself reveals the country’s political backwardness and the still-prevailing macho culture that dominates the political arena.
Step by step, little by little, Mexican women have gained political spaces since 1953, when they gained the right to vote. Currently, women hold 27.8 percent of the seats in the national congress and 23.6 percent of the total number of legislators at the state level. Although they are still a minority in the legislative power, their power and influence is increasing.
In contrast, the number of women heading state governments is still far from being equitable to the opposite sex. Of the 31 Mexican states, only six have been ruled by women, two of them from the leftist party PRD and four from the PRI.
When these women were elected, the topic about their capacity to rule didn’t seem to come up as an “issue”. When they were chosen as their parties’ candidates for those positions, what weighted was their ability to negotiate, their political knowledge, their preparedness, their connections and their academic background. Other factors were their understanding of the social and economic problems of their states, their stances on certain issues and their abilities to build a strong team of women and men to help them govern.
Although their gender probably was not an issue, they did find resistance and skepticism. Amalia Garcia, former governor of Zacatecas, former Senator and former president of the PRD said in an interview “There were always obtacles, resistance, a machista culture. That is part of our society…but our decision was not to give up”.
Women have also gained political spaces in LatinAmerican countries, where some of them have become heads of state. Cristina Fernandez in Argentina, Michelle Bachelet in Chile and Bilma Rouseff in Brazil are the most recent examples of women leading their countries.
Josefina Vazquez Mota is a strong candidate. She has been a lawmaker and a public official during the administration of former president Vicente Fox. In theory, she has the same possibilities of becoming president that Peña Nieto or López Obrador do.
But unlike them, she has to convince voters that she is “capable” of doing so. While her contenders don’t have to worry about their gender, she will have to consider this issue as part of her political campaign. She will need to address the issue of being a woman and convince people that she can be president, as if just being a man made someone immediately capable of being president.
Vazquez Mota is including issues of gender equality in her campaign and paradoxically, some women and feminist supporters are skeptical about her real stance on these issues. Some have argued that when she was a public official she never showed concern about gender equality or women rights. This particular point is relevant because just for being female, her statements about women’s issues would receive more attention from feminists groups than the male candidates’ statements on the same topics.
Summarizing, it is not going to be easy for her to conquer the votes needed to gain the election. Now, she is second on the electoral preferences, following Peña Nieto, who according to recent polls, is leading the race with 40 percent of the electoral preference. Vazquez Mota has a little bit more than four months to change the trend if she wants to become president.
Hopefully in this election, the questions about the capabilities of all of the candidates will be more important than gender or physical looks. In the case of Vazquez Mota, for example, the voters’ questions should be more around her voting records as a lawmaker, the congruency of those records with her political statements, her actions as a former education minister, among others. And the same kind of issues should be considered to measure the other candidates’ abilities.