Women make splash in Mexico's elections

Mexico is facing a milestone for women as it fields its first female candidate from a major party in the July 1 presidential election. But women are vying to make an impact in local elections as well.

Alejandro Acosta/REUTERS/File
Candidate for congress Natalia Juarez of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) talks to Reuters TV while sitting in front of a campaign poster with a photograph of herself in Guadalajara on May 23.

Mexico may be fielding its first female candidate from a major party for president, a milestone for women in politics here, but there is just as much buzz for female candidates at the local level.

In the conservative city of Guadalajara, one candidate even opted to go topless to get attention for her bid to congress. Even though she's been criticized for objectifying women, she sees it differently. “We had to do something that would have an impact,” says Natalia Juárez of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), as campaigning wrapped up before Sunday's race. Mexicans will vote this weekend for a new president, governors in a handful of states, and a whole new congress.

Ms. Juárez raised eyebrows recently when she disseminated provocative photos during her campaign. The first, a billboard image of the candidate and six other women nude from the waist up, their left hands covering breasts, brought widespread attention. Similarly controversial images followed.

For some women it showed she would be an honest politician, with nothing to hide. But not all of the reaction was positive. Critics from around the world accused her of objectifying women for political gain. But Juárez, a philosophy professor at the University of Guadalajara, shrugs off criticism. Her intention was to fight prejudices and “help demystify the feminine body,” she says.

She acknowledges that disrobing as a campaign tactic is a radical notion for some, but it’s not the only unconventional proposition Juárez advocates. She also supports the legalization of drugs, particularly marijuana, as a way to combat the country’s spiraling drug violence. And she believes it’s time the country focused more attention on the rights of women and gays.

On Wednesday, the last day of campaigning in Mexico, Juárez shook hands with dozens of vendors at a bustling market in the heart of the city. But she spoke little of the more controversial aspects of her campaign. Instead, she distributed yellow backpacks with her party’s logo and took shots at the more powerful political parties, promising to work for progress in her diverse district.

“It’s time for change,” she told Sandra Flores Mendoza, who was selling a variety of fresh produce at the market.

Ms. Flores, who clutched a campaign leaflet of Juárez’s nude photo in her hands, says she plans to vote for the professor.

“Her photo says a lot about her,” says the vendor. “It says she is bold and uninhibited; that can serve her well in Congress. I think she’s a strong candidate who has nothing to hide.”

After chatting with Juárez nearby, vendor Pedro Mejia Rodriguez says he likes what he hears. But he views her use of nudity to try to win votes as immoral.

“People's actions, their work, should speak for themselves," he says. "Is the next step to get naked in Congress?”

Not a chance, Juárez says.

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