Mexico's first female presidential candidate: not 'different' enough
Josefina Vazquez Mota is presenting herself as a female presidential candidate in machista Mexico, but she hasn't gained significant female backing ahead of July vote.
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But unlike Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff or former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, who have stood for women's equality, Vazquez Mota has cast herself as a traditional woman who happens to be a politician, and so far, analysts say the message has not resonated. This isn’t the only reason Vazquez Mota is lagging in the race, but it has cost her potential votes among women who crave a female head of state in Mexico as in other Latin America countries.Skip to next paragraph
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“A woman candidate who talked about women's rights would have my vote just for being a woman,” says Ontiberos. “She is not offering anything different than the policies of her party.”
Vazquez Mota hails from the nation's most conservative party, and shares its stances and conservatism, says Magda Hinojosa, an expert on women in politics in Latin America at Arizona State University. “It's a difficult line to toe, drawing attention to yourself because you are a woman without taking a stance for women.”
Vazquez Mota has certainly underlined the machista culture that still runs through politics here. In one of PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto's gaffes early on in the campaign, he was unable to say how much a kilo of corn tortillas, a staple in Mexico, cost. When called out, he retorted that he was not the “lady of the house,” which the Vazquez Mota campaign immediately denounced.
But even though she once argued for female independence in the book that catapulted her into the national spotlight, provocatively titled “God Please Make Me a Widow,” in large part she has avoided making gender part of the campaign, using it only to emphasize her domestic credentials as a working mother.
“But we don't need a mother,” says Ivonne Acuña, a specialist in gender and politics at the Iberamerican University in Mexico City. “In presenting the image of her being a mother, she is falling back into tradition.”
One of her television spots has shown her saying she may wear skirts but would govern wearing pants, something Ms. Acuña considers a retro comment that sends the wrong message that politics is still a men's club.
Women only earned the right to vote in Mexico in 1953, but they are well-represented in Congress – far ahead of the US – thanks to quota laws that mandate certain levels of participation of women in politics. Mexico saw its first female governor in 1979, and only a handful have won the top state job since.
And Mexico continues to lag behind others in the region in terms of gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2011 Global Gender Gap Report. Mexico places 89th – one of the lowest rankings in Latin America – scoring higher only than El Salvador, Belize, Suriname, and Guatemala. Its ranking is dragged down by economic issues such as labor force participation and wage equality.
It is these stubborn gender disparities that have drawn some to Vazquez Mota. Mari Gutierrez, for example, who works in a storefront in the city of San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas state, says Vazquez Mota has her vote. “Women rob less than men, or not at all. I trust a woman more than a man,” she says.
A poll by the firm Mitofsky in Mexico City shows more women than men say they will vote for Vazquez Mota. However, the largest percentage of female votes is going to Peña Nieto, according to Mitofsky.
Acuña says that Vazquez Mota is not behind because of her gender. It is perhaps not a comfort for the candidate but definitely a positive point for the country. Even if she finishes far behind in the race, it's been an important chapter for Mexico. “Symbolically this was very important, it sends the message that other women can reach that high too,” Acuña says.
“The fact that we have a female candidate,” agrees Villanueva, “shows how far we have come.”
Making a Difference