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Mexico’s political parties did the minimum to meet gender parity rules. Female candidates scored big anyway.

Parties met ‘gender parity in everything’ mandates but picked men to run in the most politically relevant races

Norma Hernandez, candidate for mayor of Chilpancingo, and Evelyn Salgado, running for governor in the state of Guerrero, celebrate with supporters on Election Day, June 6. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)
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On June 6, voters in Mexico elected six female governors. That’s a breakthrough: Until these results, only nine women had been governors in Mexico since women got the vote in 1953.

These new female governors are the latest evidence of Mexico’s progress toward “parity in everything,” a 2019 constitutional reform requiring gender balance for all elected and appointed posts in the legislative, executive and judicial branches at the federal, state and municipal level. Yet Mexico’s political parties remain old boys’ clubs.

Here’s what you need to know about female politicians’ latest successes in Mexico.

Fighting for gender parity in Mexico

Argentina adopted the modern era’s first gender quota law in 1991, requiring each political party’s nominees for legislative office had to be at least 30 percent women. When parties control candidate nominations, as they do in most countries, gender quotas are a popular way to boost women’s political representation. Today, more than 75 countries have gender quotas in some form. But no country has implemented gender parity as thoroughly as Mexico.

Mexico adopted its 30 percent quota law in 2003. That didn’t guarantee that women would actually reach office, however. Female members of political parties had to pressure Congress to ensure that reality matched the law.

They won three key victories. In 2011, the electoral court struck down some loopholes, eliminating party leaders’ ability to do things like nominate insincere female candidates — women who resigned immediately after winning, to be replaced by a male substitute. In 2014, Congress reformed the constitution, adding gender parity for the federal and state legislative elections. Finally, in 2019, they won parity in everything.

Beginning in this past election, federal rules required each political party to nominate at least seven women for the 15 gubernatorial races in contention. The parties complied with this minimum but dodged in other ways. They informally coordinated to designate certain states for women, mostly nominating women to compete among each other in the least important states. Parties also largely put women on the ballot in the states they expected to lose.

Parity in the governors’ races

Governors carry significant political weight in Mexico. They make important political decisions, receive national media attention and position themselves for presidential runs. They cannot stand for reelection. Candidates are chosen by party leaders, not by voters in an open primary, making the governorships plum prizes that parties distribute to favored politicians.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador — AMLO, as he is known — is a polarizing figure. Despite that, the parties worked together to fight women’s inclusion in the governors’ races. In November 2019, male senators heading the congressional delegations of both AMLO’s Morena party and an opposition party filed a legal proceeding before Mexico’s electoral court, attempting to block gender parity in the governors’ races. Women made up 48.2 percent of the lower house and 49.2 percent of the Senate, but some male colleagues still thought they could not or should not be governors.

The electoral court disagreed, ruling in women’s favor. The June 6 elections shattered records for the number of female candidates. Over 20,000 offices — including the lower house of Congress, the state legislatures and the municipal governments — were on the ballot. Women represented 51.5 percent of all candidates. Fifty-seven women entered the gubernatorial races. Women made up 42.9 percent of all gubernatorial candidates, with at least one woman running in each state.

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Women and AMLO

With López Obrador midway through his six-year presidential term, observers expected the elections to serve as a referendum on his performance — not necessarily on whether voters believed women could lead their state.

But AMLO’s Morena held the governor’s office only in Baja California. Here, Morena nominated Marina del Pilar Ávila Olmeda, a 35-year-old lawyer, former congresswoman and mayor of Mexicali, an economic hub along the U.S.-Mexican border. To oppose her, one alliance chose a former Miss Universe and political newcomer, María Guadalupe “Lupita” Jones Garay, rather than one of several experienced congresswomen. Ávila Olmeda won handily, and the gamble that Jones’s name would sway voters failed.

In Guerrero, an economically important state, Morena was the party that chose a woman for her name rather than her résumé. Morena at first picked Félix Salgado Macedonio, known as “El Toro” (the bull). When two women accused him of rape, AMLO refused to withdraw his support. Salgado Macedonio continued campaigning until electoral officials removed him for spending irregularities.

To replace him, the party chose his daughter, Evelyn Cecia Salgado Pineda, who campaigned as “La Torita” (the little bull). This nickname even appeared on the ballot, and her father often joined her at campaign events.

The parties chose female candidates for the least powerful states

Salgado Pineda’s victory in Guerrero breaks one glass ceiling, but Morena chose her only under duress. In other powerful states, most major parties’ candidates — and victors — were men.

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The major parties ran women in Mexico’s two smallest and least populous states. In Colima and Tlaxcala, Morena candidates Indira Vizcaíno Silva and Lorena Cuéllar Cisneros triumphed, respectively. Both are experienced politicians.

Incumbent parties also rarely chose women when they believed the party had the advantage. In Campeche, the incumbent party chose a man. With 92 percent of the votes counted, it appears he narrowly lost to Morena’s female candidate, Layda Elena Sansores. One exception was Chihuahua, where the incumbent National Action Party picked María Eugenia Campos Galván. She won even though the sitting governor opposed her, as he had supported a male candidate for the nomination. Sansores and Campos also have extensive political résumés.

Women broke new ground

Women largely triumphed in the states outside Mexico’s power centers. Salgado Pineda notwithstanding, the women ran and won on their merits. Five of the six represent Morena, a tidy victory for AMLO, even as activists question his commitment to gender equality.

Even though the parties resisted, these are important milestones. In less than 20 years, Mexico went from having a 30 percent gender quota for female congressional candidates to “parity in everything.” These electoral gains send critical signals about women’s abilities to govern, even though hurdles remain for achieving gender parity.

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Jennifer M. Piscopo (@jennpiscopo) is an associate professor of politics at Occidental College whose research focuses on women, politics and elections.

Lorena Vázquez Correa (@lorenavazcorrea) is a researcher in the Belisario Domínguez Institute in the Mexican Senate whose research focuses on legislative politics, women and women’s policy interests.