Increase in Women Elected to Congress in July Improves Mexico's Gender-Equity Ratio

Article excerpt

Most media focus in the aftermath of the July 1 elections in Mexico has been on the presidential race and the controversies surrounding the election of Enrique Pena Nieto as Mexico's new chief executive. The center-left coalition has questioned the methods by which Pena Nieto's Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) obtained votes and has challenged the validity of the election (SourceMex, July 18, 2012).

But other important trends from the election have been overshadowed by the controversy, including advances in gender representation in the Mexican Congress. This was the first election since the major political parties and the electoral court (Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federacion, TEPJF) reached an agreement to increase the number of women legislators in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate to 40% of the total. Under the accord, each of the three major parties had to designate at least 120 women candidates for the Chamber of Deputies and 26 for the Senate. The parties fell short by a few percentage points, reaching a ratio of only 37% for the 2012-2015 session of the Chamber of Deputies and 33% for the 2012-2018 session of the Senate.

Political parties fall just short of 40% target in lower house

Although legislators failed to achieve their goal, the results were a major advance from the last Congress. A total of 183 women will serve in the lower house in 2012-2015. This compares with 131, or 26%, for 2009-2012. The total includes both legislators elected through a direct vote in one of country's 300 districts and the at-large representatives selected based on the percentage of votes received by each party. Members of the Chamber of Deputies are elected for a single three-year term.

The results were not as close to the target in the Senate, where 42 of the 128 candidates who will serve in the upper house are women, about 33% of the total number. The new senators will serve a six-year term from 2012 until 2018. Still, the results are an improvement from 2006-2012, when only 29 women served in the Mexican Senate.

Although the parties fell short of the targets, the Centro de Estudios para el Adelanto de las Mujeres y la Equidad de Genero (CEAMEG) and others lauded the advances in the past election. But the organization noted that the parties would not have moved in the direction of gender equity without the intervention of the TEPJF in November 2011. "It has been demonstrated that when one is forced to comply with the sprit and the letter of the law, extraordinary results are attained," CEAMEG said in a report examining the results of the 2012 federal elections.

Ruth Zavaleta, a former PRD deputy who served as president of the Chamber of Deputies in 2007-2008, said the increased numbers are important because women legislators will now have the opportunity to serve in important leadership positions, such as chairs of the finance, interior, and justice committees, whereas they were previously relegated to committees that dealt primarily with social issues.

Zavaleta said the challenge of the new bloc of women legislators is to demonstrate that they can be as effective in Congress as their male counterparts.

"The quotas are not sufficient," said the ex-legislator, who currently heads the TEPJF division that deals with gender equity. "The women have to be assertive in their decision making and make themselves more visible to the population. In that manner, they will be able to combat the male-dominated culture."

"I am convinced that now is the time to open the door to legislation and public policies that take into account the realities that Mexican women face," former PRI federal Deputy Claudia Ruiz Massieu wrote in a guest column in the Mexico City daily newspaper El Universal. "We have to develop innovative and efficient ways to end the burden of gender inequality in our country."

In addition to the TEPJF, the Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE) also became involved in promoting gender equity in the recent elections. …