Last weekend Mexican presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota officially launched her election campaign, as did the other two primary contenders, Enrique Peña Nieto and Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The media have focused on whether Peña Nieto can convince voters that he represents a new Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, the governing party for 70 years until the election of Vicente Fox in 2000), and if López Obrador (of the Partido Revolucionario Democrático—PRD) can make a comeback after narrowly losing the 2006 election. As for Vázquez Mota, the candidate of the incumbent Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN), one central question has been whether she can become the country’s first female president.
The Vázquez Mota candidacy is a symbolic victory for feminists. Globally, women are disproportionately less represented in politics (making up only 17.2 percent of national legislatures), and only a handful of world leaders are women. Mexico in particular is known for a deeply-rooted culture of machismo, which pervades politics and business as much as it does society at large. Only 6 percent of Mexico’s mayors are women, although 25 percent of its national legislators are (thanks to a law that requires at least 40 percent of a party’s candidates to be women). No major company is led by a female CEO. Only one, Grupo Modelo, has a female board chair—and that because her father passed it on to her when he died without a male heir in 1995.
Vázquez Mota, in contrast, has risen to the candidacy on her own merits; the 51-year-old mother of three is a trained economist, former congresswoman and ex-cabinet minister (in each of the last two administrations). While Vázquez Mota has embraced her gender head-on since Day 1 (in accepting PAN’s official nomination, she declared, “I will be the first woman president of Mexico”), it remains to be seen whether the candidate of the socially conservative, Catholic PAN will campaign—and potentially govern—with a large focus on women’s issues.