Last week while talking to a cousin based in Mexico, she expressed her happiness to know that the conservative party in Mexico (PAN) had brought forward a female candidate for the upcoming July election. Josefina Vázquez Mota is the next conservative candidate for the presidency of Mexico. This is not the first time a woman has become a presidential candidate; however, none of them have been successful.
Anyone who knows the conservative party in Mexico knows that they are as neoliberal as the Conservatives in Canada and as religiously inclined as the Republicans in the U.S. While religion may not be a problem in itself and in other governments, Mexico is constitutionally a secular state. Furthermore, with the challenges faced by the war on drugs and the general situation, the last thing people needs is an ultra conservative government in place.
My cousin, nonetheless, saw it as a way to advance women’s rights in Mexico and as a way to make women in politics visible. Although this may seem like common sense, the issue has proven challenging. Anyone family with Margaret Thatcher’s government knows that the last thing in her priorities’ list was women’s issues. Thus, what it comes down to is the fact that thinking that women are interested in women’s issues is a very gendered way of thinking about womanhood and femininity.
In this case, my cousin was equating womanhood with morality and women-friendliness. Nevertheless, the list does not end with Thatcher. Figures like Marta Sahagún and Keiko Fujimori still permeate the Latin American environment and cause shivers to feminists around the area. Interestingly, my cousin had also biases of her own. After trying, unsuccessfully to explain to her that women do not equal women’s rights, I brought up to the conversation Muna Salah, an Egyptian female candidate.
Muna Salah, a niqabi, was quoted saying that women are deficient in intelligence and religion. Salah’s candidacy, was an oxymoron first, because of her own candidacy, and second because of her comments regarding women’s place in society. Yet, she was out there. Giving niqabis, and to some degree Egyptian and Muslim women, a visibility that many of us did not want.
My cousin’s reaction to this case was to tell me that niqabis do not count as “visible women” because they are all covered and oppressed. Then she went on to tell me that such a comparison cannot be made because women in Mexico are not oppressed as Muslim women are in the Arab world. This did not surprise me, since nowadays is popular to say that no one is as oppressed as Muslim women are. And perhaps she was right in that the context in which both elections were developing was completely different.
Nonetheless, the point I wanted to make is that it is not about having a woman out there, but it is about bringing women to the centre of the discussion; and even then, the discussion should focus on those things that can accommodate different experiences and positionings. Having a presidential candidate that will ignore women’s issues more than a male candidate would do is not what we need. Similarly, being a woman does not mean that one is beyond patriarchy.
In fact, the best accomplishment of patriarchal structures is the inclusion of women into the game and the reproduction of patriarchy by means of women’s bodies, actions and ideas. While I truly believe that we must have a multiplicity of ideas out there, I think that they must be critically approached. Yes, we must have conservative and liberal women and men out there speaking, but we need to deconstruct their arguments and respect one another’ ideas.
My issue with claiming that conservative women in politics will enhance women’s status is that to start with those women have vowed to accept particular interpretations that vow men and women essentially different. Similarly, they have attached themselves to particular religious interpretations that continue to essentialize women’s role. At the end, this are the women that will help justify discrimination against women in the work place, will ignore feminicides and gendered violence and will look at privilege women as the “women” in the “nation.”
At the end of the conversation my cousin left with the idea she had came in… at the end of the day she is a privilege upper class catholic gal, that benefits from patriarchy. Yet, I insist. It is not about having women out there, but about having people (not necessarily women) that are aware of the issues and that aim to advance gender equality.