Presidential candidate of the ruling Morena party Claudia Sheinbaum delivers remarks as she holds a campaign rally in Mexico City on May 16.

Being a woman in Mexico is tough—if not dangerous. Women than men, and the gender gap in labor force participation is one of the highest in Latin America. But perhaps the most shocking statistic is that every hour, at least one woman , and every day, 11 women die .

Few would imagine that this same country has just elected a female President. Claudia Sheinbaum, former mayor of Mexico City and loyal successor to the left-wing incumbent, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), has come out on top following the .

The question is how in the world this happened. In a county where of Mexicans harbor negative biases against women, and 58% hold such biases specifically against female politicians, tens of millions have voted for women. That includes not just Sheinbaum but , a senator and businesswoman, who the opposition rallied behind.

This is . Mexico’s negative biases against female leaders those of the U.S. or Canada. Yet, Mexico has become the first North American nation to elect a female leader. The results are still streaming in, but Mexico is also expected to boast the fourth largest contingent of congresswomen in the world and to have women governing nearly half of its 32 states.

The empowerment of women in Mexican politics did not occur haphazardly. It stemmed from a deliberate, albeit gradual, construction of a legal framework fostering gender parity—most notably through mandatory gender quotas. It all when a law recommending that at least 30% of candidates should be female was passed. In 2002, a congress that was made it mandatory, but with the big exception that voters could elect men in primaries. “That was what took us to court to demand that the exception be eliminated,” Silvia Hernández, the only Mexican female that has been senator for three terms, told me about the lawsuit Mexican women launched in response. Many more women accompanied the process. In 2011, the court ruled in their favor.

Things moved fast from then. Mexico went from having 26% congresswomen in 2011, to 42% in 2015, and 48% just ahead of the Sunday vote. And that is not all. The expected success of women at the governor-level is no doubt helped by Mexican electoral authorities that more than half or each party’s gubernatorial candidates be female, and that they not be fielded in areas where their party is expected to fare poorly.

Yet voters wonder whether a President Sheinbaum will make things better for Mexican women. There is some hope. She has outlined a bold vision for creating a to establish nurseries, nursing homes, and sick care facilities to alleviate the burden of unpaid care work, which is primarily carried out by women.

Still, recent history has demonstrated that female leadership does not always translate into better policies for women. According to , Mexico’s women legislators consistently support federal budgets that underfund the amount of money allocated to gender equality programs.

Sheinbaum’s rise to power excites many women who will identify with a female leader. Yet AMLO have a good relationship with the feminist organizations that criticized him. The fear is that Sheinbaum doesn’t have it either.

Claudia Sheinbaum greets her supporters on the day of the last presidential debate at the Tlatelolco University Cultural Center in Mexico City on May 19, 2024.

Concerns also linger over how Mexican voters might respond to a President Sheinbaum, especially when she inevitably makes errors, as all politicians do. Studies that female leaders often endure harsher backlash than their male counterparts, a phenomenon exacerbated in Mexico by prevailing societal sexism. Being a female President won’t be easy. A by Enkoll in February found that a third of Mexicans feel “the country is not prepared” for one, and 14% openly say they would prefer a man in the job.

That sexism has and will come from women. During the campaign, opposition parties astutely dog whistled at latent Mexican sexism. In the first presidential debate, Gálvez nicknamed Sheinbaum “the ice lady,” casting her as cold and heartless—a direct affront to societal expectations that women be warm and nurturing. In another debate, Sheinbaum was criticized by Galvez on her choice of attire, implying that her “lack of religiosity” rendered her unfit for office. A famous female Mexican intellectual, Guadalupe Loaeza, also criticized her curly hair ahead of the vote, arguing it was evidence that Sheinbaum was “an envious little girl.”

Outside of politics, Sheinbaum will have to contend with pundits who have frequently called her AMLO’s “clon,” “protégé,” “favorite subordinate,” “spoiled girl,” or “little flower.” These critics assume that she is being manipulated or controlled by AMLO, rather than, what is more probably happening, which is that Sheinbaum is part of a political movement that is and whose policies have been successful in attracting voters. It is only strategic to continue advancing this popular program.

She is also frequently accused of being arrogant due to her disciplined and sober personality, as well as her ability to dodge difficult questions from the press. “I have no doubt that in a male politician, these traits would likely be hailed as signs of professionalism and power,” Marta Lamas, a recognized feminist and professor from Mexico’s National Autonomous University, told me. In Sheinbaum’s case, they morph into liabilities, inviting accusations of haughtiness and conceit.

Sheinbaum is a capable politician in her own right. She against four men and had previously won two elections. As mayor of Mexico City, she demonstrated the ability to distance herself from AMLO in areas that she deemed relevant. Unlike him, she during the COVID-19 pandemic, spearheaded major clean energy projects, and avoided the militarization of state police.

Polls ahead of the vote that Sheinbaum’s campaign was supported by more women than men. But in a country where being a woman is so difficult, support will only last if she delivers as President. The feminist struggle to put women in power does not end with Sheinbaum’s victory. The most important challenge is translating gender equality into reality. Success won’t come easily.