Mexicans Hesitant to Back Women as Mayors ; They Hold 6% of Posts as Varied Obstacles Stall Advance at Local Level

By Zabludovsky, Karla | International Herald Tribune, March 9, 2012 | Go to article overview

Mexicans Hesitant to Back Women as Mayors ; They Hold 6% of Posts as Varied Obstacles Stall Advance at Local Level


Zabludovsky, Karla, International Herald Tribune


Women serve as mayors in 6 percent of Mexico's towns and cities. By contrast, women hold one in four seats in the Mexican Congress.

The small-town party bosses told her to forget it. Her husband, too, scoffed at the idea. And deep down, Maria Teresa Dominguez had her own doubts.

Could she run for mayor of Cuernavaca, a haven for Mexico City weekenders? Was there any chance that she, a woman in a city whose institutions have long been dominated by men, could win? Hadn't her mother always told her that she belonged at home?

"There were many sleepless nights," said Ms. Dominguez, 54, a university professor and part of a vanguard of women seeking to run for mayor in a country where machismo, corruption and an insider political culture have kept them out. "I always believed I could do more. I can construct, transform this society."

Even as many Mexicans celebrate a milestone in Josefina Vazquez Mota, the first woman to be selected as presidential candidate of a major political party, the number of women in office at the basic level of government -- small cities and villages that are a backbone of democracy -- still falls notably short.

Only 6 percent of cities and towns have a female municipal president, as mayors are called in Mexico. By contrast, women hold one in four seats in Congress, for which 40 percent of a party's candidates must be women.

Analysts who work with aspiring female politicians in Mexico say that the democratic process at the municipal level remains mired in a conservative and patriarchal culture, vague and unenforced gender quotas, and a lack of transparency and accountability.

Mayors are the most visible of local politicians. Their power makes them prime targets for criminals (according to the monthly magazine Mayors of Mexico, more than 30 mayors have been killed or have disappeared since 2008), but they are also highly influential allies for state leaders.

"They have the closest link to the citizens," said Yunuel Cruz, head of the department of political participation at the Mexican National Women's Institute, the government agency in charge of gender equality. "It is the most forgotten space of our democracy."

Now, national and international experts on politics and campaigns are trying to kick open the doors of city halls to more women like Ms. Dominguez, who is in a training program designed to get more women campaigning for local offices. …

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