Representatives of four Mexican political groupings discuss the limited participation of women in politics and seek to build on reforms.
Men were more guarded and insensitive to the realities of malnutrition, domestic violence, and the abandonment of children.
Mother, housewife, feminist, and leftist: Malu Micher combined these labels to introduce herself to the students, faculty, and community members at a panel discussion on "Mexican Women in Politics" held on April 12, 2007.
The audience responded to Micher's mix of traditional and unorthodox identities with soft laughter and nods.
Director of the Mexican City Institute for Women, Micher was one of four panelists participating in the event. Each of the women holds a prominent position in Mexico and represents one of the country's four main political groupings. Partisan debate was muted for this event, as all four advanced the view that Mexican women should be vocal and lead in politics. Each had her own emphasis.
"We [women] have a plan for the country, for health, for education, for justice. We need to be there where decisions are made about our health, our bodies. We don't want interpreters; we don't want only men to decide," said Micher, who belongs to the wing of the PRD that supports former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
The event was the first of a series on Mexico hosted by the recently renamed and restructured UCLA Latin American Institute.
In the decades since Mexican women won their right to vote (1947) and to run for office (1953), they have made headway into political professions and fought strongly to protect their rights, the panelists agreed.
"We still need to fight our peers to open the paths and to demonstrate that capability is not a question of gender," said Gabriela Molina, a panelist and the director of the State Youth Institute of Michoacán, representing the Cardenista wing of the PRD.
Of the 113 municipalities in Michoacán, one of the 31 states in Mexico, only three are governed by women, Molina added. Micher said that only about 24 percent of members of Congress are females.
Women secure even this limited level of representation because political parties are required to include some women on their lists of candidates. Under the formula, the less chance a party has to win an election, the greater the possibility that the party will include female candidates, explained Sandra Herrera, a panelist who is the current Federal Undersecretary of the Environment, representing the PAN and the administration of Felipe Calderón.
The demographics of Mexico make the gender imbalance in politics even more striking. While women are a small minority in government, they constitute the majority of the population in many parts of Mexico. Men cross into the United States seeking better financial opportunities, leaving behind wives and daughters, said Molina.
'Curse of Circumstances'
In the 1990s, city codes and penal codes were rewritten, increasing the legal penalty for raping a woman. Prior to these changes, the law echoed ancient Roman and other Latin American codes that assigned greater penalty for stealing a cow than raping a woman, said María Angélica Luna Parra, the PRI party panelist and the Director of Strategic Projects at the National Institute of Public Administration in Mexico.
Reforms, however, are slow and face obstacles. Historically, women have endured numerous forms of oppression in a power structure that gave control of the woman to the man, said Parra. Changing this system, she added, is difficult.
Panelists agreed that simply having female politicians would not sufficiently promote gender equality. More important are the support of leaders and changes in social perspective.
Other social problems such as poverty, high rates of teenage pregnancy, and low levels of youth education, panelists agreed, prevent females from recognizing and exercising their political rights.
Women suffer most from lack of food, water, and fuel as they try to care for their families and raise their children, said Herrera.
"Before, men were only in these places [of power] and they were more guarded and insensitive to the realities of malnutrition, domestic violence, and the abandonment of children," she said.
The panelists advocated the active involvement of women and youth in the public sector and encouraged Mexican women to fully implement their rights as citizens.
"Politics is the opportunity to change the curse of circumstances. We want to change in our country the curse of maternal death, of violence against women, of clandestine abortions, of the pregnancy of girls who don't even know about their bodies so that our human rights are not violated," said Micher.