Partial Progress

By Leigh Morrow

Meet Claudia Sheinbaum, Mexico City’s first elected female mayor and the new face of female politics in Mexico (a profile of Sheinbaum appears elsewhere in this issue). 

“What happened in Mexico City is the result of a movement during the last 20 years, led by feminists and women in politics,” said Ximena Andion, executive director of the Simone de Beauvoir Leadership Institute in Mexico City.  Women now make up half of Mexico’s congress, but before you applaud, this is 15 years after gender quotas were introduced in Mexico.

Yet, Claudia Sheinbaum does mark a big change in politics.  She is the first elected woman, and the first of Jewish faith, to serve as Mayor of Mexico City. The 56-year-old scientist and environmentalist rode to power on the same anti-establishment wave that elected the new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.  Mexico now has the fourth highest percentage of female congresswomen worldwide. They take up half the seats in both chambers of the house, a big advance for a traditionally male-dominated nation. “Mexico City’s constitution goes even further, because it extends [gender] parity to the executive branch and the judicial branch,” says Andion. “That was unprecedented in Mexico.”

The constitution will go into effect this September and includes the right to abortion and same-sex marriage. It also mandates that half of the positions in Mexico City’s 22-person cabinet go to women. Andion says that instead of tokenizing women, Sheinbaum has named them to roles typically given to men. The Finance Secretary, for example, is Luz Elena González Escobar, an economist with expertise in public administration.

But women’s political progress is no silver bullet for helping Mexican women feel safe.  In 2019, a group called the Political Co-ordination Council, comprised of men, decides most of the real decisions for the nation. Any real power in Congress and Senate lies with them.

Less than a quarter of all local mayors in Mexico are women, and only 3 of the 32 state governors are female. The playing field is still stacked against Mexican women, and female politicians face particular inequalities, according to Andion: “They question their space, they question their private lives, they question the way their dress, and not the way they act as politicians.  So they are not measured the same way men are in Mexican politics” she states.

But that disparity does not exist solely in the political realm.  Few women in Mexico are treated equally, period.  Discrimination against and inequality of Mexican women are day-to-day issues. Many women cannot find work or achieve financial independence because there is a possibility they may become pregnant. In some rural Mexican communities, women are not allowed to vote or must vote in accord with their husbands. The most glaring inequality is in women’s safety. 

Every day nine women are murdered in Mexico.  Nine.

New kidnapping attempts in the Mexico City subway are causing even more alarm among women, who fear for their lives on their daily commute.  

Mexico City has become so violent for women that the public transit system was named the second most dangerous for women among the 15 biggest cities in the world. Authorities have recently announced plans to tackle what has been revealed as a string of harassments on the public transport system. Some victims have reported a man pretending to know them and who then threatens to kill them, if they raise any alarm, before trying to force them into a vehicle.

In early December 2016, while riding her motorcycle near Mexico City, Ana Gabriela Guevara, a Mexican senator and former Olympic medalist, was hit by a car. When she protested about the collision, the four men from the car got out and brutally beat her. Guevara claimed that during the assault, the men “insulted her for being a woman and a motorcyclist.”

Unfortunately, this event is one of many reflecting the chauvinistic character of Mexican society, the inferior status faced by women and the violence they endure. The Gender Violence Against Women Alert (AVGM) allows authorities at all levels to issue.  By 2016, alerts had been issued to indicate that particular places represented a high risk of violence against women, including municipalities in the states of Mexico, Michoacán, Chiapas, Nuevo León, Veracruz, Sinaloa, Colima, San Luis Potosí, Guerrero and Quintana Roo (the alert for Michoacán was lifted in 2017).  

Although femicide is noted as being on the rise in a number of states, official reports from across the country suggest the number of victims is still relatively low.  According to Mexican women’s groups, the reasons that femicide results appear to be low – especially in recent years, which witnessed thousands of murders across Mexico – are under-reporting and the lack of media coverage that these crimes received; often, femicide is only brought to light as a result of pressure from citizen organizations.

Failures on the part of recent governments, as well as sparse data relating to the full scope of attacks across the country, have led some victims to start reporting. Recent grassroots efforts, in particular street marches with thousands of protesters like the one in Mexico City on February 2, accompany alongside news earlier this year that 128 women who had experienced domestic abuse would receive panic alarms with GPS trackers. 

According to Claudia Sheinbaum, mobile help centers are to be set up in the metro stations at Coyoacán, Mixcoac, Martín Carrera, Tacubaya and UAM Iztapalapa as a result of the attempted kidnappings. It has been a key priority for the new government to instill a greater level of safety across the city amid allegations that former authorities have failed massively to protect such human rights.

Will Sheinbaum, who has pledged to increase the number of prosecutors handling femicide and domestic violence cases to achieve a greater conviction rate, make it easier for women to report violence against them?

Maybe, I certainly hope so, but for millions of Mexican women, the road to equality will be long and deeply rutted, and may take a lifetime.  Even #metoomx has gone quiet.  

Leigh Morrow is a Vancouver writer and co-author of Just Push Play- on Midlife.  She owns and operates Casa Mihale, a vacation rental in the coastal village of San Agustinillo, Mexico (