This is a question that has been gradually disappearing from public debate in Mexico. I think it has to do with generational attitudes: In some groups the question still arises, usually among people over 25. But younger Mexicans tend to think that glass ceilings exist only to be broken by women and men, together.
Whenever the question arises, my answer is clear: Mexico has been ready for a female president for a long time. In fact, I thought that by now we would have had a woman leading the country.
I believe it is true that, when a woman arrives to a leadership position, it helps all women…and all men. I say this because by improving equal participation in the search for solutions to public affairs –particularly political ones– we will design and implement better policies for all, and we will be a happier society.
With the arrival of women to politics, many other issues received attention, what I call the “everyday issues.” For instance, the rights of people with disabilities, the rights of children, policies against discrimination and against domestic violence, and many others that have a positive impact on the common good.
The responsibility of anyone who wants to be President of Mexico –whether a man or a woman– is the same: ethical leadership. For the last four years, the gap between the country that we are and the one that we want to be has been growing wider. The current government stopped the Mexican economy in its tracks with a fiscal reform that punished hard work and entrepreneurship. Despite increasing taxes for millions of Mexicans, the country still lacks strong public investment in key areas such as infrastructure, education and health. Moreover, as highlighted by the international media time and again, corruption and abuse of power have risen to unprecedented levels. Justice and rule of law remain more as aspirations than as a reality in the daily lives of many Mexicans. So, the responsibility for any person running for office in Mexico is to implement the most pressing reform for the country: A reform in governmental ethics.
Corruption deeply affects Mexican society. It is disempowering, outrageous, and unfair. Corruption replaces public good for personal profit and, for millions, it is the difference between having and not having access to health, public safety or education. It is hard to imagine a problem in our country that is not caused by or deepened by corruption. I am certain that only by respecting the rule of law, the Mexican government will increase its social and political legitimacy to enforce the law. Public service is an honor, not a path to personal wealth. We need a government that tells the truth, acts with integrity and works for the public good.
In my view, the next electoral cycle will be a chance for Mexico to choose between a true, deep change in the ethics of government or the same old rhetoric justifying the unjustifiable. Some politicians claim that corruption is cultural, suggesting that there is no possible alternative. But I am not discouraged, because, since the beginning of my career as a lawyer, I remember these words: “Mexico will never change.”
They told me so when I began campaigning as part of the opposition to the monolithic PRI, because they thought Mexico would never have a president from a different party. But peaceful change won and we became a democracy. As a representative in Mexico's Congress, I remember working hard to promote bills for the protection of women's rights. They told me to give up because they thought Mexico would never change its macho culture. But that is also changing. Today I am working hard to return dignity to politics, to regain the trust of a society that no longer believes in politicians, and to state clearly that women are and will be essential to the construction of our democratic life.
I believe that it is our responsibility to show that Mexico is ready to face some of its most pressing challenges through a leadership based on ethics, honesty, and commitment to service. Mexico is ready to transform indignation into action.
Despite all the voices that insist otherwise, Mexico has changed. But it didn’t change thanks to the work of one person or one party alone. Our country changed due to the convictions of millions of Mexicans who are tired of injustice and inequality. It changed thanks to the efforts of Mexican families. This is a new time to decide: Will we choose the old story that says “Mexico will never change?" Or will we work together to change it for good, and make it join the ranks of the most prosperous nations? The answer is in our hands.
Margarita Zavala is a Mexican lawyer, mother, politician and wife to former Mexican President Felipe Calderón. She is currently a lecturer and head of a citizens' movement seeking change in the 2018 presidential election.