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Meet Claudia Sheinbaum, Mexico’s first female president

Claudia Sheinbaum

Claudia Sheinbaum

Claudia Sheinbaum, Mexico’s new president, is the first woman to win a general election in North America.

Sheinbaum is from a Jewish family and is one of three children. During the 1930s, her grandparents fled Nazi aggression, leaving Bulgaria for Mexico. As a student in the 1980s, Sheinbaum joined student protests against state intervention in education policies.

She obtained a doctorate in energy engineering from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1995. To prepare her thesis, she spent some time at the University of California at Berkeley in the United States.

After her studies concluded, she began a career in teaching. She served on the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel later shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, former vice president of the United States.

Sheinbaum, originally a climate scientist, joined the political scene in 2000 when she served as the environment chief for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico City’s new mayor, who soon became her mentor. She focused on the acute pollution and transportation problems in the city. During his first presidential campaign in 2006, she was his chief spokesperson in an election that he narrowly lost.

In 2015, Sheinbaum was elected to run the largest borough in Mexico City, Tlalpan. After an elementary school collapsed and killed 19 children in a 2017 earthquake, she faced allegations of poor management.

She became Mexico City’s first female mayor in 2018, noted for strengthened security. The capital’s murder rate dropped 50 per cent. She was criticized in 2021 after a subway accident that left 26 dead was blamed on insufficient inspection and deferred maintenance. She denied that maintenance was the cause of the accident.

For more than two centuries, Mexico has been ruled chiefly by men. Mexican women have been able to vote since 1953, and no law has prevented them from holding public office. Women lead in some notable institutions, including the Senate, Supreme Court, and the National Electoral Institute.

There are 10 female governors in the 32 states. Yet sexism and “macho” culture have remained pervasive, and men control the power in some of the Indigenous villages.

Mexican women also face femicide, a gender-based employment gap, and limited policy on sexual and reproductive rights. Up to 10 women are victims of femicide each day in Mexico, according to UN Women. In 2023, the number totalled 3,000. Thousands more have disappeared.

"We transform. We are warriors who open paths for other women," Sheinbaum said during the campaign.

Mexican women and girls also face teenage pregnancies, with 147,279 births form adolescents ages 15-19. In 2023, the Mexico Supreme Court ruled that national laws banning abortion are unconstitutional, but state-by-state legal work to remove all punishment is still in the works. Sheinbaum did not address abortion in her campaign.

The gender employment gap is also pervasive, with 76 per cent of Mexican men and 47 per cent of Mexican women being employed. Fifty-four per cent of working women have informal jobs and spend almost 43 hours per week doing work for the household, according to the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness.

She has been criticized by feminists and activists for a lack of gender-related policies in her government and for excessive force against women during demonstrations.

During her presidency, Sheinbaum will also have to execute her campaign promises for increased social programs in spite of an election-year spending binge by former President Lopez Obrador that brought the budget deficit to its highest since the 1980s. Sheinbaum’s administration will either have to maintain spending or risk damage to Mexico’s creditworthiness.

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