From villages to cities, mobilizing to increase women’s participation in decision-making in Mexico

Date: Thursday, June 28, 2012

Women's participation in political life in Mexico has yet to reach the international commitment to women occupying 30 per cent of elected positions. But the country is at a critical time to change this. The upcoming elections on July 1, 2012 could increase women's political representation, currently at 27 per cent in Congress, and 21 per cent in the Senate.

“Rise up and sit at the table. Negotiate, because you are not alone. We are many women waiting for you to negotiate on our behalf “. The call comes from a strong commitment among Mexican women and SUMA (meaning sum of all parts in Spanish), an alliance of five civil society organizations which is working to increase women in decision-making in Mexico.

The organization has been supported since 2011 by UN Women's Fund for Gender Equality, in cooperation with the National Institute for Women. The Fund aims to advance women's economic and political empowerment through high-impact, multi-year grants of up to USD 1 million.

Women's participation in Mexico's political life is far from equal. Out of the 2427 municipalities, only 4 are headed by women. Of the 500 federal deputies only 116 are women, a mere 23 per cent and in the state parliaments, women hold only 12 per cent of the seats.

For many years women politicians in Mexico's municipalities have been ignored: “Women politicians have been treated disrespectfully; but they experience it as something so ordinary that they do not even realize it, says Patricia Mercado, a member of SUMA project and a former Presidential candidate of Mexico.

The target set by SUMA is modest- to double the current 5 per cent of women in municipal governments. Yet, the results are already encouraging. In the Western state of Michoacán, the efforts were evident after the November 2011 election: “We turned the 5 per cent of women elected in the 2007 elections, to 10 per cent of women elected as municipal Presidents. Our goal was to reach 20 per cent in parliamentary representation for women and we achieved 27. There is now already a critical mass of women in decision-making positions, explains Patricia Mercado.

It is estimated that half of the municipal Presidents, and 90 per cent of women parliamentarians in Michoacán have been trained by SUMA. Manuela Perez, an indigenous woman from the village of Jitotol, and candidate for the Partido de la Revolución Democrática in the state of Chiapas, has been trained as well. “It helped me lose my hesitancy, to gain the confidence, to negotiate and not to lose my patience and leave when others did not agree with me, and to maintain my leadership with a warm heart and cool head, says Manuela.

SUMA organizes programmes with women candidates and politicians focusing on personal aspects of leadership, self-knowledge and subjectivity. It also conducts programmes on women's economic empowerment, governance and democracy, while the mentoring workshops monitor and strengthen women's decision-making and negotiation skills.

“Women avoid conflicts; we get off the table quickly. In contrast, alliances among men are more solid, they do not leave the table because they have always been there. This is something we've worked hard on in our project, “says Patricia Mercado.

The key to success is creating a network among women politicians, facilitating partnerships among civil society, and involving men in the negotiations.

Yet, the task has just begun. SUMA aims not only to increase the number of women in politics but also to build leadership capacity of the women elected, and for them to integrate gender perspectives into their programmes. SUMA is looking forward to the July elections in the states of Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi, Sonora, Chiapas and Jalisco. The organization has trained many of the candidates and is hopeful that the upcoming elections will increase the participation of women in the Mexican political and decision-making spaces.

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