Mexico elects its first female president: What does it mean?

Can a female presidency catalyse tangible change for Mexican women and alone dismantle the deep-seated structures perpetuating gender inequities?

As night fell upon the Zócalo, the pulsating heart of Mexico City, the Mexican flag danced in the breeze, casting a symbolic glow over the historic square. In this fleeting moment, media outlets burst with breaking news: Mexico's historic moment ushering in an era governed by a woman.

Claudia Sheinbaum, a 61-year-old scientist, emerged victorious to claim the mantle of Mexico's inaugural female president. Her landslide triumph, commanding nearly 59% of the votes and surpassing her nearest contender, Xóchitl Gálvez, by a remarkable 31-point margin, signified more than just a political victory. It represented a seismic shift in Mexico's narrative. Sheinbaum shattered the glass ceiling, catapulting her as Mexico's first female head of state and the eighth woman president in Latin America.

Born to scientist parents of Jewish heritage, Sheinbaum's journey was a defiance of gender norms from the outset. Faced with the choice between ballet and physics, she defied convention, opting for a career in science amidst a backdrop of pronounced gender disparities in scientific domains. Her academic trajectory at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and Stanford University in the US was punctuated by activism, with Sheinbaum emerging as a prominent figure in student movements during the 1980s.

However, Sheinbaum's ascendancy is more than a personal triumph; it symbolises a significant stride towards gender equity in a nation grappling with entrenched machismo and pervasive gender-based violence. Mexico's alarming status as the fourth most perilous country for women globally, where 10 women fall victim to fatal violence daily, underscores the urgency of a female president’s victory in challenging systemic inequities.

Her triumph is the culmination of decades of activism by women in Mexico, especially feminist movements advocating for women's rights and pushing for equality across various sectors, including politics. A notable milestone in this journey was the implementation of the parity law, which requires presidential tickets to include both a man and a woman, paving the way for more female candidates to emerge as front-runners.

Yet, amidst the jubilation, there looms a sobering reality. Beyond the spectres of corruption and immigration, the harrowing crisis of missing women and endemic gender-based violence persist as formidable challenges demanding urgent redress. The question remains: Can a female presidency catalyse tangible change for Mexican women and alone dismantle the deep-seated structures perpetuating gender inequities?

Tadi Angeles, a Mexican immigrant residing in New York, typifies the ambivalence pervading the discourse. While she acknowledges the symbolic significance of Sheinbaum's presidency as a "positive step," she remains skeptical of substantive change given the enduring violence under current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). "If she continues AMLO's policies, nothing will really change," Angeles laments, echoing the sentiments of many mexicans. “I hope she creates her own government plan, demonstrates real independence, and works for the advancement of women's rights," she asserts. 

Conversely, Sofia Prado, a 23-year-old political science student from Mexico City, radiates optimism. Viewing Sheinbaum's presidency as a harbinger of cultural transformation, Sofia envisions a Mexico where entrenched norms yield to the ascendance of women in positions of power. 

"In Mexico, initiating a cultural shift to overhaul entrenched norms is crucial," Sofia asserts, buoyed by the prospect of Sheinbaum charting a new course.

Indeed, Sheinbaum herself is cognisant of the weight of expectation upon her shoulders. With an unwavering resolve to "send a clear message that women have a legitimate place in the highest spheres of political decision-making," Sheinbaum espouses a vision of transformative leadership transcending mere symbolism to dismantle gender barriers.

Sheinbaum has pledged to promote science and development, women's rights, education, a robust healthcare system, housing, and what she terms "the rights for the Mexican people." Among her proposals for women, Sheinbaum has highlighted the creation of a national care system, combating gender violence, and providing economic support. Notably, her program "The Aggressor Leaves the House" aims to allow women victims of violence to remain in their homes rather than seeking refuge in social shelters.

As Mexico embarks on this new era with its first female president at the helm, the significance of this moment cannot be overstated. Claudia Sheinbaum's presidency represents not only a historic milestone but also a pivotal opportunity for progress. However, it's essential to recognise that the journey ahead is not without its challenges. As Mexico navigates this pivotal moment in its history, the stakes are undeniably high. The success of Sheinbaum's presidency will ultimately be measured by its ability to deliver meaningful change and create a more inclusive and equitable society for all Mexicans.