Female candidates are poised to occupy an unprecedented one-third of the seats in Mexico’s bicameral parliament when preliminary results for the Jul.1 election are confirmed.
In the lower chamber, 95 women were elected through direct vote, according to the preliminary results from the Federal Electoral Institute.
That is 31.7 percent of the seats filled through direct vote in that chamber, almost doubling the 17.33 percent obtained in 2009 when 52 women were elected. In the previous elections, however, eight women had given up their places to a male alternate.
In addition, 91 women were elected through the system of multi-candidate lists (proportional representation). This means that when the new legislative period is inaugurated on Sep. 1 the lower chamber will have a total of 186 female representatives, or 37.2 percent of the house.
This historical representation is the result of two decades of lobbying that culminated in a legal obligation requiring political parties to fill at least 40 percent of their candidate lists with women.
The results will put more women in positions to make decisions for and on behalf of their fellow women, says Clara Scherer, a gender expert and member of SUMA, a United Nations Women project aimed at engaging more women in Mexico’s political life.
Despite allegations of vote buying, intimidation and other irregularities surrounding this month’s election, Mexican women have cause to celebrate as the election results mark a step towards achieving gender equality in political participation.
Experts consulted by IPS/Cimac said that if the final count confirms preliminary data and there are no challenges, this will be the legislative term with the largest number of women representatives in Mexico.
“We’re not expecting to see a change overnight. We’re not naïve and we don’t live in a dream world. We know it’s going to be harder and harder to make even minor progress,” Scherer said.
In the senate, an estimated 35 percent of the seats will be occupied by women. Mexico’s parliament consists of a lower chamber (House of Representatives) with 500 members and a higher chamber (senate) with 128 seats.
Scherer, however, urged civil society to hold parties to their obligation of meeting the gender quota.
In 2011, activists from across the political spectrum brought action to the Electoral Court of the Federal Judicial Branch (TEPJF) to protect their political rights by forcing parties to comply with the 60-40 quota when nominating candidates for parliament.
On Nov. 30, 2011, the higher electoral court ruled to enforce full compliance with the quota provisions, in place since 2008, ordering parties to nominate women in at least 40 percent of their candidacies (including alternates) for the 2012 elections.
Martha Tagle, an activist with Citizenship Movement and one of the women behind the legal action, said the task now is to monitor the work these women do in parliament, and help them further the gender agenda.
“We need to advance on these issues, and we have no excuse not to,” Tagle, who has been elected alternate senator, said.
Ruth Zavaleta, who served as president of the lower chamber from 2007 to 2008, said the challenge for the new women legislators will be to prove that there are no differences in the way men and women exercise power.
Zavaleta, currently head of gender matters at the TEPJF, said Mexican women now have a chance to participate in interior, justice, budget, finance and other key parliamentary committees, rather than be relegated to the social committees by their male peers.
“Quotas are not enough, women have to play a greater role in decision making, in a way that makes them more visible to society, in order to combat the (sexist) culture,” Zavaleta said.
One of the first women who took on the challenge is Angélica de la Peña who, according to preliminary results, has been elected senator for the Democratic Revolution Party. She has promised to work on amending the country’s laws to enable women to access decision-making positions.
She observed that the terms of the 2011 electoral court ruling (decision no. 12624) had to be translated into laws that promote women’s participation, not only in politics but also in business and trade unions.
This month’s parliamentary elections were the first in which political parties complied fully with the 40 percent quota for women candidates, marking the last stage in a long struggle for effective political participation for Mexican women.
In 1993, the Federal Code of Electoral Institutions and Procedures was revised, establishing criteria to compensate for the disadvantages faced by women in politics.
The amended code encouraged parties to promote women’s involvement in the country’s political life by nominating them to positions elected by popular vote, but leaving it to parties to define how and to what extent they would implement this recommendation.
In 1996, the code was further amended, stipulating that a 70 percent ceiling on male parliament candidates be established.
In 2002, the lower house voted unanimously in favour of a 30 percent quota for women candidates to federal positions elected by popular vote. The spirit of this reform was to move forward towards a democracy based on equality in which men and women can have the same access to positions of power.
According to data from the TEPJF, 13 countries in Latin America have implemented gender quotas: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.
As of April 2011, the average percentage of women in parliaments worldwide was 19.5 in the lower chamber (the sole chamber in some countries) and 18.3 in the senate.
Only 1.9 percent of the suits heard by the electoral court from 1996 to 2008 had to do with gender quotas, which indicates that female political activists were not demanding that their right to be nominated be respected, despite the efforts to implement mandatory quotas.
Nonetheless, women’s political participation this year was shaped by a ruling of the electoral court after a group of women from different parties brought an action to enforce compliance with the gender quota.
This article was originally published by the Mexican news agency “Comunicación e Información de la Mujer AC (CIMAC).