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Claudia Sheinbaum has already made history — there will be pressure on her to make more

by Maher Sattar June 10, 2024

This Q&A was republished from a Fuller Project newsletter on June 10, 2024. Subscribe here.

Mexico has elected its first woman president. It’s a campaign we’ve followed with great interest. 

In our Full Story column with Foreign Policylast June, we asked “do gender quotas in elections work?”, exploring why they were effective in some contexts and not in others. One after another, the experts agreed: when it came to gender quotas, Mexico was a star.

Jennifer Piscopo, co-editor of “The Impact of Gender Quotas” and one of the leading authorities on the topic, told The Fuller Project that the election of Mexico’s first woman president is the “logical conclusion” of the country’s success with gender quotas in politics. But she warns that Claudia Sheinbaum, like many women trailblazers, risks being held to a different standard than her male predecessors — especially when it comes to tackling cartel violence. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Last time we spoke, you talked about how Mexico is one of your favorite examples of the implementation of gender quotas. How do you feel now?

I’m glad that Mexico continues to be an example. To elect the first woman president is to have taken the development of gender quotas and gender parity in the country to a really logical conclusion, right? 

Of course, the presidency is a unitary office. It isn’t something you can divide 50/50. It’s not like a set of governorships, where you can, as they do in Mexico, have to have women and men competing in equal numbers. You can’t do that for something like the presidency. 

So it’s not the case that a woman was elected president in Mexico because gender quotas or gender parity applied to that office. But it is certainly the case that the decades-long effort to bring more women into elected office in Mexico created a really large pool of talented and qualified women who can hold the highest office in the land, and normalized the idea of women holding important political office, both for voters but also for political parties.

Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez have very different politics. Women candidates can often get stereotyped or viewed through a reductive lens. Was this election different?

In some ways, you didn’t see a lot of the classic gender stereotyping. I think there’s a few reasons for that. 

Both of the women candidates had extensive political resumes. And they also both had professional backgrounds in fields that we traditionally associate with men. Claudia Sheinbaum has her doctorate in a STEM field, she has her doctorate in energy engineering. Xóchitl Gálvez was a tech entrepreneur, she had founded a tech startup that was really well known in the Mexican business scene.

And I think because these two front runners were women, that also neutralized the gender conversation a little bit because no one party could really try to run on the platform of vote for us, we’re going to elect the first woman president. 

But I think one stereotype that has persisted, that we’re still even talking about, right, is this idea that because now the president-elect is a woman, that there should be some sort of change — some sort of policy change that she will bring forward as a woman. 

There’s the pressure to have a historic presidency?

There is so often when there is a woman running, especially for Chief Executive Office. This is because women traditionally have not held this position. They do tap into ideas about novelty, or change, or freshness, or a new approach. 

We didn’t see that so much in the race, because it was between two women. But now that we have a woman president-elect, I’m getting a lot of questions about: “Well, is she going to govern differently? Is she going to behave differently? Is she going to have a novel or different take on policy because she’s a woman?” So I think in that sense, we’re still having some of those more traditional gendered conversations, some gendered expectations. 

And we have to be careful of those, right? Because if we expect women to bring some kind of fresh approach to politics and then it turns out, as it usually does, that women are strategic political actors constrained by the context — just the way all men chief executives have been before them — there’s often a disproportionate disappointment that occurs. So I’m now in the position of alerting people to the potential dangers of that. 

It does seem a little typical that the first woman president would be taking over after the country’s most violent election ever.

Yeah, no problem, smooth sailing, right? Not a big deal at all [laughs]. Just be successful where no other president has been successful yet.

It’s definitely been a cloud in this election cycle. And it will be the number one policy priority for the president-elect — is there a way that hasn’t been tried yet to address organized crime?

There’s been 24 years of men presidents, they’ve each had a different strategy for fighting the cartels. None of them have worked. So now you have a woman coming in, people are looking for something different.

But I think the question is, is there actually something different? And would it work? And if she doesn’t succeed where her four male predecessors failed, will that be read in gendered terms or not? I do think that’s something for us to keep in mind going forward.

What about pushback? Do you see any backlash on the gender quotas?

You know, we haven’t seen any rollbacks. What we’re seeing at the federal level, outside of the presidency, is even more and more innovation around representation and diversity. 

They added candidate quotas for Afro-Mexicans, LGBTQI+ Mexicans, Mexicans with disabilities, Indigenous peoples.

And what they did was they intertwined these measures with gender parity. So for instance, every party had to put forward 30 candidates who were Indigenous, and then 15 of those candidates had to be Indigenous men and 15 of those candidates had to be Indigenous women. 

They even did this for Mexicans living abroad. And so Mexico will have its first senator, who’s a woman, who will represent Mexicans in the United States in the Mexican Senate. So it’s very, very fascinating for those of us who study political representation.

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