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More Women Running For Office In Mexico

Jun 24, 2018
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

So back here in Mexico, not only are Mexicans picking a new president next Sunday. They're also replacing every single member of Congress, thousands of state representatives and hundreds of new mayors. And this looks to be shaping up to be the year of the woman here. Sound familiar? More than 3,000 women are taking advantage of a new affirmative action law. And they're vying for office. Here's our Carrie Kahn.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: I'm not going out on a limb making this electoral prediction. The next mayor of Mexico City is going to be a woman. Of the seven candidates running, five are women. And one is currently leading the polls by as much as 20 points.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Chanting in Spanish).

KAHN: At a recent campaign stop at a Mexico City park, supporters cheer on Claudia Sheinbaum. She's running on the MORENA party ticket. The party's presidential hopeful Andrés Manuel López Obrador is dominating the polls, too.

CLAUDIA SHEINBAUM: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: But Sheinbaum is no paper candidate. She holds degrees in physics and energy science and was recently a councilwoman of one of Mexico City's largest neighborhoods. Despite her impressive resume, she tells the crowd that looks can be deceiving.

SHEINBAUM: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Just because I might look like a skinny scientist," she tells the crowd, "doesn't mean I'm not going to crack down on crime here. I will," she reassures them. Sheinbaum supporter Zoyla Zamudio (ph) says she's thrilled so many women are getting into politics and breaking old stereotypes.

ZOYLA ZAMUDIO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We are no longer just housewives who stay at home and wash and iron," says Zamudio, who is 86.

ZAMUDIO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Sheinbaum is a very qualified woman," she says. "She knows a lot of things." And she chuckles, "I'm sure she knows how to wash and iron, too." Breaking through Mexico's male-dominated political system has not been easy. Mexican women were late in getting the vote, more than 30 years after U.S. suffrage. The only female to qualify for this year's presidential ballot dropped out last month. And fewer than a fifth of the country's mayors are women. But Dania Ravel Cuevas of the National Electoral Institute says this election may break some of those glass ceilings.

DANIA RAVEL CUEVAS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We have an unprecedented number of women competing," she says. That's thanks to a 4-year-old law requiring each political party make sure half of all their candidates are female. Political science professor Ivonne Acuna Murillo of the Iberoamericana University says the law is working. More than 40 percent of the lower house of Congress is now female. But she says resistance to the gender parity law remains fierce. A common complaint she hears is it's hard to find qualified women to run for office.

IVONNE ACUNA MURILLO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: She insists, "The same can be said for the male candidates and even those already occupying offices."

ACUNA MURILLO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Many parties scoff at the law, too," she says. "On paper, they comply but then put women in races they can't win. They don't provide equal resources and, in some cases, have forced a female winner to resign so a man can take the seat." This year in Oaxaca state, 17 male candidates falsely declared themselves transgender in order to comply with the 50 percent requirement. Election officials disqualified them. However, Mayka Ortega Eguiluz, a local legislative candidate for the ruling PRI party, says the parity law worked for her.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Chanting in Spanish).

KAHN: She and her supporters walk precincts in Ciudad Sahagun in central Hidalgo state. Ortega says she worked in local politics for 20 years but was never given the chance to run for office.

MAYKA ORTEGA EGILUZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Once the law passed," she says, "everyone was frantically looking around asking, where are all the women?" She says some men don't take her ideas seriously. And she can't be too aggressive or risk being labeled trouble.

ORTEGA EGILUZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: She says, "So for now in my Mexican system, we women will continue to work three times as hard as men." Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.