The Renewed Federalism and Its Effects on The Representation of Women in Mexico.

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Representation is an essential part of a democratic regime and if representation is to be considered an intrinsic element of democracy, no system can claim to be democratic if it does not recognise the need for popular control and political equality. Representation, both in presence and in ideas is still a matter of utmost need in countries where sometimes women’s participation in politics is still questioned or limited. In the case of Mexico, both women’s presence and women’s interest are being limited, among other issues, by the institutional design. Arrangements related to the division of power between the states and the federal regime is changing jurisdictions over specific types of policy, creating different opportunities and obstacles for women.



It would seem that in the last federal election process in Mexico (July 2012) women advanced in the conquest of political spaces. The number of women elected to the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate exceeded what was achieved in previous processes. In the Chamber of Deputies 36.8% of the seats are occupied by women while in the Senate women have 34.67% of the seats. Previously women held 26.2% of the available seats (26.2%) while in 2006 there were only 112 women (22.4%). Nonetheless, the same optimistic scenario is yet to be observed homogeneously at the state level. In some states, women have lower percentages of representation in Congress. In Aguascalientes (7%), Queretaro (4%) and Estado de Mexico (15%) women are still a minority group among elected deputies (Camara de Diputados, 2012). Additionally, women have been denied the opportunity to work in traditional “masculine” areas, such as Treasury, Defence or Constitutional Reforms across the states and in the federal government.

Largely the observed results at the federal level may have been a consequence of the legal amendment approved in November 2011 by the Federal Judicial Electoral Court (TEPJF). In the ruling SUP-JDC-12624/2011 additional criteria for the registration of candidates for various elected positions were established at the federal level (TEPJF, 2011). This action along with the observed differences between the levels of government are clear examples of two key situations that are seen today in Mexico and that are directly affecting women’s political participation in Mexico: the inequalities that have emerged in a rejuvenated federalism and the continual use of legal loopholes for the political benefit of the ruling elites. The purpose of this article is to initiate a series of debates about the political consequences that the federal arrangement has generated in Mexico and the relationship this has to the existing legal framework that is affecting women. First, the article argues that electoral reforms have been used as the primary sources for democratic transformation, altering the institutional design in which women’s representation operates. This is followed by the discussion of the renewed federalism and its consequences over the opportunities or obstacles women have for accessing elected mandates. Examples of the existing differences and legal loopholes are highlighted. Finally, the article establishes which are the areas future debates should consider for advancing the representation of women in Mexico.

Using the electoral system for democratising the country

In the Mexican case, there has been a long process of political reform. First, political liberalisation was observed and, second, the beginning of democratic transformations. Electoral reforms undoubtedly played a vital role as it was – and remains – the primary mechanism for constructing and controlling new political opportunities for widening democratic participation. The amendments made to the electoral system were used to shape the democratic structural scaffolding of the country. These electoral reforms initially affected the circumstances in which the elections were held. Free, fair and contested elections were the main aims underpinning the opposition’s demands. The 1977, 1986, 1988 and 1994 reforms designed a number of institutions, including the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) and the TEPJF, whose main role was to provide certainty, legality, and impartiality in the elections. The objectives of the electoral reforms changed progressively. The newer electoral reforms, introduced between 1997 and 2011 sought to improve political representation and participation as well as mechanisms for financial accountability and parties’ prerogatives. Between the 2000 and the 2012 elections, five electoral reforms were approved. The first and the last reforms concerned women’s participation and representation in politics.

In 2002 with the modification to the Federal Electoral Procedures and Institutions Code (COFIPE), Mexico joined 73 other countries that at the time had gender quotas. Initially the law established a 30% quota. In 2008, the percentage was modified again and by 2012, at the Federal level, the COFIPE in its article 219 establishes that, of the total number of nominations, including both deputies and senators, at least 40% have to be of a different gender. Additionally, the law specifies that the proportional representation lists have to be integrated in segments of five nominations from which at least two have to be of a different gender and zipping is required.

A wave of change that started at the national level seemed to have reached state–level partisan politics. With the gradual deterioration of the PRI‘s internal discipline and the on–going acquisition of power by the opposition, the practices within the system started to change. As soon as the elections began to seem more competitive, the political pressure to adapt the rules according to the local and state contexts amplified. Increased electoral competition coupled with the implementation of a federal government system where state and local politics were becoming more relevant pushed political parties to adopt a more women–friendly electoral platform in certain states.

Published in Political Reflection Magazine Vol. 4  No. 1


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