In the land of machismo, a woman aims for the presidency

Josefina Vazquez Mota is the first female candidate with a legitimate chance to win a Mexican presidential election.

Story highlights

  • Josefina Vazquez Mota wants to be the next Mexican president
  • The 51-year-old has worked for two presidents, been a member of Congress twice
  • She is trained as an economist, is a businesswoman and conservative politician
Just like a popular celebrity, everybody wants a picture taken with her. On the street, people approach her to shake her hand. At public events and rallies, mothers put their children in her arms. And politicians don't miss an opportunity to pose in pictures right next to her, the closer the better.
Her name is Josefina Vazquez Mota. The 51-year-old mother of three girls wants to be the next Mexican president. The fact that she's a woman, she has said, gives her a competitive advantage. "Yes, I'm here because I am a woman; but above everything else, I'm here because I have a political career focused on serving people," Vazquez Mota says.
Trained as an economist, the businesswoman and conservative politician is still married to her first boyfriend and high school sweetheart. She met Sergio Ocampo when she was 14. The couple has raised three daughters in Mexico City ages 18, 21 and 25 while leading successful careers.
She jumped onto the national scene in 2000 when former President Vicente Fox named her social development minister. She was also recruited by Felipe Calderon, the current president, as education minister in 2006; she left that post in 2009. She has been a member of the Mexican congress twice.
At her campaign headquarters in Mexico City we talked about a controversial book she wrote in 1999 titled "God, please make me a widow." The title was risky then and it's still risky today, especially for a woman who defines herself as a conservative.
She says the book was not about bashing men, but about inspiring women to reach their full potential. The former minister says she came up with the title after seeing a friend of her mother's who had just become a widow and was reflecting on her newly acquired freedom to pursue goals she had given up on. "It was a book to invite women to lose their fear, to be bold, to face challenges and solve life problems," Vazquez Mota says.
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Running for the highest office in Mexico hasn't been easy. She was once asked how a woman with PMS is supposed to be the commander in chief. In the February 5 primary election of her party, the PAN, she defeated Ernesto Cordero (a former finance minister and the party leadership's favorite) to win the nomination.
Vazquez Mota says she has great admiration for other women who have become presidents in Latin America including Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica and Michelle Bachelet of Chile.
"Bachelet warned me," Vazquez Mota says, "'If you end up being your party's nominee you will be asked questions they would never ask a man. Don't ever yield to the temptation of wearing a mustache to govern (or try to rule like a man).'"
The first female Mexican governor took office in 1989. It happened 36 years after women in Mexico finally got the right to vote. There have been four previous female presidential candidates, but Josefina Vazquez Mota is the first woman from a major political party with a real chance of winning.
Vazquez Mota is running under the PAN, the party of current President Felipe Calderon, whose war on drugs and strategy against organized crime has divided Mexico.
But the candidate says she still considers the president right in launching the offensive that has left an estimated 50,000 people dead since Calderon took office in December 2006.
Calderon "has faced organized crime with great determination and courage. Anything else would've been tantamount to complicity. The president resolved to fight against this threat to Mexican families. When I'm president, there will be no truce with organized crime either," Vazquez Mota says.
As the candidate of the conservative PAN, she puzzles some supporters by taking moderate views on core issues. She says she's firmly pro-life, but does not favor laws that criminalize women who undergo an abortion. She says she's against gay marriage, but advocates for respect of an individual's sexual orientation. "It's not inconsistent," she says. "When it comes to sexuality, I think the right of individuals to choose for themselves should be respected. That is a very personal choice."
In spite of her popularity (polls show she has made some progress in recent days) Vazquez Mota faces an uphill battle. Enrique Pena Nieto, a former governor from the state of Mexico and the PRI nominee, leads with double-digit margins in the polls in spite of blunders like being unable to name three books he has read.
Vazquez Mota dismisses the polls and insists she still has a very real chance of winning the July presidential election. She also believes that the country that used to be known for machismo is finally ready to be led by a woman.