Meet the women leading the race for president

Will grant,Mexico and Central America correspondent

Reuters Xóchitl Gálvez (left) and Claudia SheinbaumReuters

Opinion polls put Xóchitl Gálvez and Claudia Sheinbaum ahead of their opponents

When Claudia Sheinbaum, the front-runner in Mexico’s presidential election, arrived for a rally in a crowded park in the colonial city of Orizaba, the crowd began chanting “Presidenta!”

Those in attendance were convinced that that was what she was about to become: Mexico’s first female president.

Polls suggest they may be right.

With its closest rival, Xóchitl Gálvez, also a woman and the only man in the presidential race coming in third, Mexico is almost certain to break centuries of male dominance over with the highest position in the country.

EPA Presidential candidate of the political coalition Fuerza y ​​Corazón por México Xóchitl Gálvez participates in a campaign event in Mérida, Mexico, May 28, 2024.EPA

Xóchitl Gálvez is the candidate for the coalition of opposition parties

In fluent English, Ms. Sheinbaum, a member of the ruling Morena party, said the fact that both leading candidates were women was a sign that Mexican society was finally evolving.

“It’s a symbol of Mexico. I think it’s also a symbol of the world,” she told the BBC.

“Mexico is known as machines country for many years. But Mexicans are now governed by many women and that is a change,” the former Mexico City mayor said, referring to gender parity in the cabinet and the large number of women serving as state governors.

“I see young girls excited that a woman will become president. And it changes the culture of women and men.”

Getty ImagesClaudia Sheinbaumbeautiful images

Claudia Sheinbaum wants to become the first female president in Mexican history

Mexico is a country where an average of about 11 women are murdered every day, and Ms. Sheinbaum is quick to admit that more needs to be done to reduce violence against women.

That is easier said than done.

Veracruz is one of the five states with the worst genocide against women in the country.

Just days before the candidate’s visit to the eastern state, the body of 23-year-old Isamar Galindo was found with his hands tied, tortured, wrapped in a blanket and dumped in a canal.

“Profound cultural changes don’t happen overnight,” Ms. Sheinbaum said of the deep-seated problems of masculinity and gender-based violence in Mexican society.

Throughout the campaign, her message remained the same. If elected, she said, she would continue the political and social process launched by her mentor, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Their supporters call this “Mexico’s Fourth Transformation”, comparing it to other key moments in Mexican history including independence and the Mexican Revolution.

Mr. López Obrador – commonly known by his initials Amlo – has introduced a series of social development measures to reduce poverty including student subsidies and universal pensions.

These programs are so popular that opposing candidates are trying to promise they won’t eliminate them.

Getty Images Sheinbaum and Amlo dolls in Mexicobeautiful images

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or Amlo, is Ms. Sheinbaum’s mentor

In rallies and speeches, Ms. Sheinbaum has been careful to praise Amlo and his policies.

In return, his support could give her a huge advantage in the elections – perhaps the presidency itself.

Opponents, especially her main rival, Xóchitl Gálvez, say President López Obrador is a populist and sees Ms. Sheinbaum as merely his puppet, unable to escape her excessive personality. his level. The former environmental scientist rejects this description:

“I feel sure of myself. I don’t care what they say.”

“Of course I am in the same movement as López Obrador. We fought together for more than 20 years for the government we have, for the opportunities and rights we won for the Mexican people.”

“I will live in a different time in history but I will rule with the same principles and that is good for the Mexican people.”

The BBC requested an interview with Ms Gálvez but she refused.

During the election campaign, Ms. Gálvez, who is running for the conservative opposition coalition, accused the government of widespread cronyism and abuse of power.

She also criticized social spending during President López Obrador’s six years in power as mismanaged and unevenly distributed.

In the most recent televised debate, she said: “In the face of the government’s failed social policies, Mexicans’ monthly budgets are spread too thin. There are 9 million people in extreme poverty,” she said in the most recent televised debate, while promising to reduce the pension age from 65 to 60.

Away from the noise of the campaign, high in the mountains of Veracruz, conditions are ideal for growing some of the best coffee in the world.

Coffee beans are at the heart of tight-knit rural communities like Ixhuatlán del Café, home to a women’s coffee cooperative called FemCafe.

In most Mexican agricultural cooperatives, women are not allowed to vote or hold decision-making roles. But at FemCafe, the entire business, from bean to cup, is in the hands of women.

Gisela Illescas

Gisela Illescas says women have little influence on Mexican agriculture

“It’s about acknowledging structural inequality – that women have less access to land than men,” said Gisela Illescas, founder of the cooperative.

“Even though women have always been involved in coffee production, we have been rendered invisible, denied the power to influence the overall direction or day-to-day operations of production.”

In addition to producing their own brand, FemCafe members also run a small cafe in town. Gisela Illescas offers some advice for the next president:

“Not just being a woman but also being gender conscious, that’s a very different thing. For example, the Ministry of Agriculture has never been led by a woman. And the perspective of women in that role will create a difference.” Huge difference for rural areas,” she said.

During Claudia Sheinbaum’s demonstration in Orizaba, the crowd’s other main chant was “la Primera!”, which means “the first time.”

In fact, other countries in Latin America have previously had female presidents – including Brazil, Chile and Argentina – but women in leadership positions in Mexico are vitally important and long overdue.

However, the more complex task lies in eradicating decades of sexism, inequality and gender-based violence in a deeply patriarchal society.


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