Hiding Under the Bed Is Not the Answer

Why Josefina isn’t Different


Next week Mexico goes to the polls to choose its next president. Both in and outside Mexico, one of the most reported aspects of the race has been the fact that one of the main stream parties -the Partido Acción Nacional or PAN- fielded a women as their candidate. As Yali Noriega noted in a recent article here, much of the media discussion concerned the questioning of a woman’s ability to fulfil adequately the role of president, and took little account of Vázquez Mota’s previous career [1].

Happily as the campaign progressed this type of argument was abandoned. It was widely thought that Vázquez Mota performed well in the television presidential debates and the discussion of her candidacy has been mostly in terms of her political proposals [2].

It is shame, therefore, that the election campaign followed by Vázquez Mota, in contrast, has been almost exclusively based around the fact the she is a women. Her slogans are simple and to the point: “Josefina, different” and “Josefina, a woman speaks”. During her campaign she has made a point of seeking out the female vote; her argument is always the same, I am a woman too, I share your experiences and thus know what you need. In the recent television debate she asked pointedly asked her female audience, who -of the four candidates currently running- would they put in charge of their family and to choose their vote accordingly. She was sure, she said, they would choose her as she was the only one with experience in that area.

However, for Vázquez Mota this use of “identity politics” is merely superficial effort to disguise the fact that she is, in fact, no different to the other male PAN presidential candidates that proceeded her. She is not a feminist, nor does she want to identify as such. “There is more to being a woman than being a feminist,” she said in a recent interview with the BBC. She reassures voters on her ability to govern by saying that she might be a woman but she has male attributes. To quote her: “a woman who wears the trousers.”

Moreover, her policies and pronouncements demonstrate that for her, women are a homogenous mass, whose needs and votes are can be defined by a single theme: motherhood. In the aforementioned television debate, Vázquez Mota, outlined her policies for women thus: “I will support them by introducing more nursery school places, more full-time school places and by introducing a law calling for responsible paternity.”

At the same time, she refused to give her support for elective abortion; declaring herself only for the decriminalisation for those found to have interrupted their pregnancy. The PAN is a conservative Catholic party that opposes abortion in most, if not all cases. It has been instrumental in introducing legislation that declares human life to begin at conception in a number of Mexican states. Thus, this kind of comment was disingenuous in the extreme since she must be aware of that fact that these recent reforms make simple decriminalisation impossible.

Thus Josefina Vázquez Mota trades on the fact she is a woman, yet cannot conceive of women as anything other than mothers. She says she represents the best option for Mexican voters because of her sex, yet argues she acts like a man. It is little wonder then that her campaign has been spectacularly unsuccessful. She is currently in third place according to the most recent opinion polls. Mexican women seem perfectly capable of seeing though her slogans. Mexico would benefit from a female president, but only one who has a better understanding of the complexities of women’s experiences and their needs. Otherwise it’s just more of the same.

[1] See Yali Noriega’s recent article, “Is Josefina right for Mexico?” at http://e-feminist.com .
[2] A good biography (in Spanish) of Vázquez Mota’s career can be found in the following link; although, as usual there is a definite emphasis on her private life and various moments of physical illness and weakness she has suffered during her career: http://www.nexos.com.mx/?P=leerarticulo&Article=2102725

This article first appeared at http://e-feminist.com

Filed under: Feminism, Politics, , , ,


Yesterday, the Mexico’s Senate discussed the three candidates shortlisted by President Felipe Calderón to fill the vacancy in Supreme Court (For more details see my previous blog entry). The three women made presentations before the senators voted on who should be the new Supreme Court judge. In her presentation, Lilia Mónica López Benítez, the candidate with the strongest curriculum and a clear record of defending human rights, stated her position as “the defence of the constitutional principles of no discrimination and equality” and described herself as “an honest women, who keeps her word; and, who promises to adopt a frank and open position, [while] fighting for a more inclusive, just and equal Mexico.” For her part, the presidential favourite and candidate close to his right-wing party, Acción Nacional (National Action Party or PAN), Elvia Díaz de León unsurprisingly adopted a more conservative stance. Although she promised to innovate in her interpretation of the Constitution, she qualified this statement by adding that her position would always be “in keeping with our own culture” [1]. A remark which, in Mexican political code, reaffirms her commitment to a Catholic moral worldview and her opposition to the legalisation of abortion and same gender marriage.

In order to be elected, the winning candidate needed to gain a two thirds majority in the Senate vote (which meant 82 votes). In the event, the vote was split between panistas (members of the PAN), who all voted for Díaz de León (48 in total) and senators from the other three main parties, the centrist Partido de la Revolución Institucional (or PRI), and the left-wing the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (or PRD) and the Partido de Trabajo (or PT), who voted for López Benítez (in total 73). There were just two rogue votes for the third candidate, Andrea Zambrana Castañeda, who was widely regarded as merely a “filler” candidate to make up the mandatory three person shortlist. As a result, the Senate resolved to have a second vote, this time with only the two winning candidates. The hope was that the panistas would recognise the majority in favour of López Benítez and vote for her in the second election.

Unfortunately for Mexico’s Supreme Court and for her justice system, this did not happen. The panistas as a bloc maintained their vote in favour of Díaz de León and López Benítez gained just one extra vote in the second round. This vote had previously been for Zambrana Castañeda. As a result, the Senate was forced to return the shortlist to the President with no decision made. He in turn will have to draw up another in the New Year. It can only be hoped that Calderón will not be influenced by political considerations when making this decision. In similar circumstances in 2003, when the winning candidate (Margarita Luna Ramos) on the shortlist sent by ex president Vicente Fox failed to gain a two thirds majority, Fox resubmitted a shortlist containing that candidate and two others, whose curricula did not make them viable candidates. In this way, the problem was solved and Luna Ramos was finally selected in February 2004. On this occasion, it is interesting to note that the original shortlist also ran aground because of panista support for Díaz de León, who featured on the list along with Luna Ramos and José Luis de la Peza. If Calderón does not copy Fox, and insists on Díaz de León in a second shortlist, it is likely that the Senate will be split a second time and no two thirds majority will be achieved. This would leave the constitutional possibility open for President Calderón to name her unilaterally her himself at a later date [2]. That would be very unfortunate for Mexico’s Supreme Court and even more so for women and human rights in Mexico.

Filed under: Feminism, Politics, , , , , , , ,

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