While South Africans were consumed by their own elections, another significant election unfolded across the ocean. Claudia Sheinbaum made history on Sunday by becoming Mexico’s first female president.

Her victory not only shatters gender barriers but also holds profound implications for a country deeply entrenched in machismo culture, a chauvinistic culture that regards women as lesser than men. Much like South Africa, Mexico grapples with high rates of violence against women. Sheinbaum’s victory is a resounding declaration that gender barriers are crumbling, and societal norms are being challenged.

  • Read our previous analysis of women leaders across the world here

“For the first time in 200 years of the republic, I will become the first female president of Mexico,” she said. “And as I have said on other occasions, I do not arrive alone. We all arrived, with our heroines who gave us our homeland, with our ancestors, our mothers, our daughters and our granddaughters.”

Six years ago, Sheinbaum made history as Mexico City’s first elected woman mayor. On 2 May, she added to her political repertoire, securing the highest vote percentage ever recorded in Mexico’s democratic history. With 82% of the ballots tallied, she garnered an impressive 58.8% of the votes.

In her victory speech on Sunday night, Sheinbaum expressed gratitude for the overwhelming support. She emphasised her commitment to continuity, pledging to build upon the foundations laid by outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, aka AMLO, founder of their leftist, popular party Morena. 

That could prove tricky, however. Sheinbaum also happens to be a highly decorated climate scientist while AMLO was a populist figure who increased oil production, rejecting environmental concerns. Mexico is the world’s 11th-largest oil producer. 

She has a Phd in energy engineering and participated in a United Nations panel of climate scientists awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. She helped write the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, the sweeping United Nations documents that have warned the world about the hazards of burning fossil fuels, the New York Times reported

As the paper further put it in a profile:

“Now that she has clinched the presidency, Ms. Sheinbaum’s next hurdle will be stepping out of the shadow of her predecessor and longtime mentor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the outgoing president.

She and Mr. López Obrador are “different people,” she said in an interview. He’s an oilman who invested in environmentally questionable projects; she’s a climate scientist. Yet Ms. Sheinbaum has appealed to voters mainly by promising to cement his legacy, backing moves like his big bet on the national oil company and proposed constitutional changes that critics call anti-democratic.” 

It’s going to be a tricky balance. Her administration also aims to prioritise reducing poverty, enhancing social programs, and decreasing gang activity. 

Sheinbaum has her work cut out for her as she gears up to take the presidential reins. She’s staring down rampant violent crimes and filling the large, charismatic shoes of her predecessor. But with her historic victory secured, Mexico’s first woman president appears up for the challenge.