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“More Than a Symbolic Victory”: Mexican Women’s Movement Paved Way for Election of 1st Female President

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Image Credit: Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo / Facebook

In a historic election, Claudia Sheinbaum has become the first woman elected president of Mexico. Sheinbaum is a climate scientist, former mayor of Mexico City and close ally of sitting president Andrés Manuel López Obrador. “She owes a lot to women’s movements in Mexico,” says Laura Carlsen, director of MIRA: Feminisms and Democracies. “This is more than a symbolic victory. What it means is that there’s an example for younger women that women can be leaders.” Carlsen says feminist movements are hopeful Sheinbaum’s administration will take on Mexico’s high rates of gender-based violence and femicide. Meanwhile, to the north, President Biden is signing an executive order today that would temporarily shut down the U.S.-Mexico border after asylum requests made by migrants surpass 2,500 a day, and Mexico’s cooperation will be key in enforcing the measure.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! We turn now to major election results out of Mexico, where Claudia Sheinbaum has made history as the country’s first woman and first Jewish person elected president of Mexico. Sheinbaum is a climate scientist, former mayor of Mexico City. She’s a member of the ruling Morena party and a close ally of the Mexican President AMLO, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has been credited with lifting millions of Mexicans out of poverty. Preliminary results show Sheinbaum easily defeated her closest rival, trounced her, Xóchitl Gálvez. Sheinbaum addressed supporters Sunday in Mexico City.

PRESIDENT-ELECT CLAUDIA SHEINBAUM: [translated] I didn’t get here on my own. We, women, all got here together, our female heroes who created the nation, our female ancestors, our mothers, our daughters, our grandmothers. I congratulate all the Mexicans that, by participating in the election, demonstrated that Mexico is a democratic country with peaceful elections.

AMY GOODMAN: Mexico’s election was marred by terrible violence. At least 38 candidates were assassinated during the campaign.

Meanwhile, to the north, President Biden is expected to sign an executive order today that would temporarily shut down the U.S.-Mexico border after asylum requests made by migrants surpass 2,500 a day — Mexico’s cooperation key in enforcing the measure, as migrants blocked from entering the U.S. will be forced to wait in Mexico.

For more, we go to Mexico City, where we’re joined by Laura Carlsen, director of the Mexico City-based international relations think tank MIRA: Feminisms and Democracies.

Laura, welcome back to Democracy Now! The significance of Sheinbaum’s victory, the first woman president, and what this means in Mexico and in terms of U.S.-Mexican relations?

LAURA CARLSEN: The big news, of course, Amy, is that Mexico has its first woman president. After 200 years of democracy and 65 male presidents, the populace elected a woman for the first time, with an overwhelming majority. Now, this is more than a symbolic victory. What it means is that there’s an example for younger women that women can be leaders, that they can gain the support of the population, and they offer greater horizons for younger women as they begin to think about their own futures. It also means — and I’ve been talking to women from other countries, for example, in Chile, with Michelle Bachelet as president, two terms, and also in Honduras, Xiomara Castro — that there’s a number of doors that open for women’s equality and policies that have to do with women’s equality. For one thing, there’s usually greater dialogue. There are more channels of dialogue. For another, there’s the support that women presidents can give each other, especially within this region, in terms of promoting gender equality policies across the region. This could be a path toward greater gender equality, and which is obviously very key to democracy within the region.

Now, in the clip that you played, Claudia Sheinbaum credited women before her with her victory. And it’s very important to recognize this. She owes a lot to women’s movements within Mexico. Women’s movements in Mexico began fighting decades ago for gender parity and equal representation in political positions within the country. And it has not been an easy fight. We’re talking about a country with a traditionally macho culture which has now achieved a landmark in democracy that even the United States has not achieved. They began by requiring quotas in candidacies. They would get a legislation passed, and then the parties would find loopholes. They would have to close up the loopholes. They began to push for laws against political violence and gender-based violence that would disqualify or even threaten women for being women. And little by little, they made this progress, until, also with the support of Claudia Sheinbaum’s party and — the Morena, they achieved parity in the cabinet and within Congress at certain points in the recent history. So, all this was very important for her arriving.

Now, the current government has not had a good relationship with women’s movements. Women’s movements have been dissatisfied particularly with the lack of progress on the key issue of gender violence. We saw massive demonstrations of over a million people throughout Mexico on March 8th, International Women’s Day, protesting against the lack of progress and what they see as relative indifference of the government toward women’s demands to reduce it and protect them. And, in fact, the president has been dismissive and at times even attributed their criticisms to a manipulation of the right wing.

There’s an expectation that the relationship will be different with Claudia Sheinbaum. The current government does have feminists who are involved in it. There’s an expectation that feminists will join this government, as well, and that there may be new policies to direct the issue of violence, of gender-based violence. Femicide in Mexico is very high. It’s kind of hard to pin down the numbers, because it has a different legal definition in different entities. One of the things that she’s proposing is that there be a federal definition of “femicide” and that it be a crime that’s prioritized for prosecution, contributing with groups of lawyers for women who denounce crimes of gender-based violence. There’s a series of proposals, most of which are fairly similar to what’s been put — been in place before. So, women are looking to see a more aggressive policy. However, there is an expectation that there will be some changes here, and particularly in the tone.

Claudia Sheinbaum is a very different type of politician from Andrés Manuel López Obrador. He was obviously the wind in her political sails to be able to achieve a victory which is a 30-point margin. It’s greater than even most of the polls assumed. She’s winning, by the latest figures, which is over 95% of the vote counted, by 59% to 28% to her closest rival, another woman candidate, which is interesting, from the right, Xóchitl Gálvez, as you mentioned. And so, his popularity, which has been consistently above 60% throughout his six-year period, significantly contributed to her win, as well as the popularity of his programs. These programs, which are called the Fourth Transformation, which means the fourth moment of significant change in the history of Mexico, from independence, the reform and the revolution, giving it this historic dimension, are really based on social programs where a majority of Mexican families are receiving benefits from the government. And that was reflected, as well, in the vote. So, she has promised to continue with that.

And one of the big debates is: How much will she create her own mark on this presidency? Mexican presidents typically have a great deal of power, which means that former presidents typically fade into the background. But there is some question about how much she’ll be able to do that. She has, of course, insinuated that this kind of a question is sexist, which you could definitely see it that way, and has said that she has a commitment, because there’s a public mandate to continue with these policies, but that she will indeed be her own person.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Laura, I wanted to ask you, in terms of Sheinbaum’s policies toward the United States, and, of course, the very hot-button issue of immigration. We’re hearing that President Biden is about to issue an executive order that will effectively begin to close down the border for migrants or people seeking asylum from through Mexico into the United States. Your sense of how Sheinbaum will be — attempt to deal with the Biden administration, or whichever administration takes office next January, in terms of immigration?

LAURA CARLSEN: This is a critical issue. And so far what she’s repeated is the slogan “cooperation with respect.” The current government has walked a fine line in its relationship with both the presidency of Donald Trump and the presidency of Joe Biden, and particularly, of course, on the issue of immigration. Claudia Sheinbaum has not defined a very detailed plan for what Mexico will do with immigration. And so far what that policy has been is to toe the line of U.S. anti-immigrant policies that are focused on containing immigrant flows. There’s a lot of talk of going to the causes, creating jobs that would enable people to remain in their home countries, particularly in Mexico and Central America. And what we haven’t seen, the investment that would correspond to really making that kind of a policy work. She has said that she will emphasize that. She has said that she will respect human rights. But we see a huge participation of the National Guard in immigration control, which has led to massive violations of immigrant rights here in Mexico. And she has certainly not said that that will stop.

With the closure of the right to request asylum in the United States, Mexico has to receive these thousands of people. It is very likely that Claudia Sheinbaum will agree to receiving these people. Mexico has refused to be a third safe country, which is a formal agreement saying that everyone who wants to request asylum has to do it in the first safe country they pass through. But they have agreed to a number of programs that require them to receive people who are technically waiting to go through a legal process in the United States. It will be a constant negotiation. It’s a very tricky negotiation. There’s always a sore point of national sovereignty involved, that Mexican governments, both López Obrador and now Claudia Sheinbaum, will defend. But they also know that they cannot anger the United States, at the risk of economic repercussions.

If it’s Donald Trump, that risk is even greater. And she will have the additional factor that he’s a misogynist. It will not be easy for a woman president to deal with Donald Trump. We’ve already seen his relationship with Angela Merkel, for example, in Germany. So, the challenges are great.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Laura, and ask you to stay with us, because we’re going to do an interview with you in Spanish after the show and post it at on our Spanish website. Laura Carlsen, director of the Mexico City-based international relations think tank MIRA: Feminisms and Democracies, speaking to us from Mexico City.

Next up, we go to the head of Save the Children US about Israel’s war on Gaza that’s killed 15,000 children. Back in 20 seconds.


AMY GOODMAN: “Compañera Presidenta” by Mexican musician Vivir Quintana. The song was released last week in honor of the first woman president of Mexico.

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