"I consider iKNOW Politics an extremely important tool that is becoming more and more accessible to a wider audience. Many women are seeking tools to help them get ahead in politics. Networking allows us to join together and become stronger.” – Liliana Rojero
iKNOW Politics: What challenges have you faced as a woman in leadership throughout your political career and now as executive secretary of the National Institute of Women (Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres, INMUJERES) in Mexico? Has your leadership experience helped you in this process? How?
I’ve been involved in politics and political campaigns since I was 13. The campaign process is a challenge. The result is: winning or losing, in a particular time frame, with finite resources. That is one of the most interesting adventures I’ve ever had. I have been Youth Action Secretary for the Partido Acción Nacional de México (PAN), was State Coordinator for Universities, and later worked in the youth area of former President Vicente Fox’s transition team in 2000. I have also been adviser to the Senate Indigenous Affairs Commission, director of equality and youth services for the Mexican Youth Institute (Instituto Mexicano de la Juventud), national director for women’s political promotion for the PAN National Executive Committee, director of planning with a gender approach for the Social Development Secretariat, coordinator of the Women’s Network for the campaign of President Felipe Calderón, and national adviser for PAN.
I worked on the current president’s transition team and now hold the post of executive secretary of INMUJERES. The main challenges I have faced have been leading work teams with defined goals and evaluating the outcomes, promoting synergy, changing work styles, and forming political alliances with different parties and ideologies to consolidate a common platform for progress. My training and experience have helped me a great deal, especially in the responsibility I have taken on, but I still have more growing, learning and maturing to do.
iKNOW Politics: You are the youngest person ever to be executive secretary of INMUJERES. Your position has ministerial rank, which makes you one of Mexico’s youngest vice ministers. Has being young and female posed specific challenges or obstacles?
Yes. Among the challenges are the constant tests you must undergo to demonstrate that you know, that you’re capable, and that we have plans that we can carry out in conjunction with women from other agencies. But it’s worth the effort to prove publicly that you’re not a flash in the pan. There are many obstacles, and many of them are cultural. There is resistance and skepticism about youth; people think you’re not capable.
iKNOW Politics: What special attributes does INMUJERES have in the area of gender, and especially women’s participation in politics? Does it have a legislative initiative? Can it implement norms and sanctions?
INMUJERES can propose a series of initiatives. We have a Legislative Agenda, which we are promoting and lobbying for with the different parliamentary groups and all the political parties. We have a huge responsibility, granted us by the General Access Law and the National Program of Equality between Men and Women, which includes a specific chapter on political participation. We believe there is no development or democracy without women’s full participation, with women as protagonists and with parity.
We are therefore designing various strategies to strengthen and win recognition for women’s participation. Article 25 of the 2008 budget gives us the task of overseeing spending. Any agency that does not fulfill its responsibilities in ensuring equal opportunities between men and women will have its budget cut. So INMUJERES can, to some extent, impose an administrative sanction on the ministries if they do not comply with the provisions of agreements with INMUJERES.
iKNOW Politics: As a state agency, INMUJERES has legitimacy and its work is well established in Mexico, which sets it apart from similar bodies in other countries. How did INMUJERES arise? Was it based on another similar agency in the region? What do you believe are the fundamental characteristics that make INMUJERES a successful institution?
INMUJERES grew out of the equality plans that began in Europe. It is the result of the struggle of Mexico’s feminist movement, which asked for years for this institute to be created as a policy-making body, not just an operational agency, to provide oversight in this area. The initiative became consolidated with an initial law in 2000, which was approved unanimously. That has been followed by various administrative processes to strengthen it.
The last administration made great efforts to institutionalize a gender approach, and now we have greater powers granted by the Chamber of Deputies. We oversee 7 billion pesos, which is a significant percentage of the executive branch’s overall budget. We believe that this institutional strengthening is part of our task, especially with regard to mechanisms for helping women progress in government agencies at all levels, including the local level. We are creating various alliances so that all of us, in our respective areas, can work together on a common agenda.
iKNOW Politics: What is the importance of the General Law for Equality between Women and Men in terms of women’s political participation? What progress has there been since it was passed? What is the role of INMUJERES in its implementation?
The General Law for Equality between Women and Men in Mexico has three components: First, the National Program of Equality between Women and Men, which is a special program that sets strategic objectives that cut across all agencies’ work. This is reflected in President Felipe Calderón’s National Development Plan, which establishes in Strategy 3.5 the obligation to ensure equality between women and men by 2012, by making gender equality a cross-cutting issue. In other words, all agencies’ work must include obligations for achieving equality. The National Program for Equality between Women and Men includes all of these goals.
It was presented on 10 March and announced by the president, because it is a federal government program. The second is the National System for Equality between Genders. This consists of all agencies in the Federal Public Administration, and is coordinated by INMUJERES. This system also includes government entities at different levels and mechanisms for women’s progress. We are pursuing clear, precise strategic objectives for achieving equal opportunity in all areas of federal, state and municipal public administration. The third component is the National Human Rights Commission and its role in monitoring progress in the actions we are carrying out: outcomes and impact of public policy in the lives of women and in society.
The National Human Rights Commission is responsible for making recommendations and can impose sanctions if we are not doing our job.
iKNOW Politics: Indigenous women involved in politics face special challenges in addition to those they face as women. How are the problems of indigenous women, especially indigenous women who participate or want to participate in politics, included on the agenda of INMUJERES?
There is a clear strategy in Objective 1 of the National Equality Plan, which refers to indigenous women from a non-ethnocentric standpoint. In this objective, we are not imposing development models on them. In Mexico, indigenous peoples have had development models imposed on them that have to do with the elimination of their languages and their culture in general. This has been a huge failure. The Zapatista Army was a consequence of this. We therefore believe that the communities and the women themselves must determine the agenda for their development and their political participation.
The legal systems of indigenous communities differ greatly in Mexico. We have 67 indigenous peoples, and there are indigenous women in various public offices. We have indigenous governors, women who have been chosen and are viewed very naturally as leaders in their communities. It is also true that some indigenous women have been sidelined and have not been able to exercise community leadership. In Mexico, structural power relationships are being transformed, especially in rural communities, because the men have abandoned the women to migrate to the United States. So it is the women who are taking charge of community affairs, getting water, energy and agriculture, caring for children, the elderly and the sick.
So they are becoming empowered, and what we are seeing now are relationships that are being re-formed and rearranged, and that is creating resistance. What indigenous women can achieve is crucial. There are several indigenous mayors in Yucatán and Veracruz, and some in Chiapas. We need to highlight and acknowledge their leadership, so they are noticed and so that other women follow in their footsteps, becoming empowered and motivated to participate.
iKNOW Politics: Could you share with our subscribers some anecdote or event that has marked your political career, especially with your male colleagues, in the party or in one of the posts you have held?
There are many women working in my political party, Partido Acción Nacional (PAN). We’re the ones who watch the polls and who do strategic communications. When I became part of the National Executive Committee, we had the obligation to meet a quota, at a minimum. The national leaders said, “And where are those women?” I think it’s amazing that they argued that they didn’t see us, when we are the ones in charge of organizing and carrying out the campaigns.
Although women have been participating, men don’t “see” us. There are mechanisms that make us invisible. So we’re working on strategies to make women’s political participation visible. We use very simple strategies, such as wearing pink T-shirts. We want to create a movement so that they begin to see us as party leaders and candidates. One anecdote that made a bit impression on me was when Manuel Espino said, “I don’t see any women who can run,” when women constitute one of the most important groups of party members.
iKNOW Politics: Given what you have said, what do you think are the best strategies for including men in the process of advancing toward gender equality, especially in political participation?
Men have two types of strategies when it comes to the women’s movement in my party. Some take up the women’s cause enthusiastically, because it is useful to them to promote an alliance so they will have followers, companions and allies.
Others show serious resistance to this movement, out of fear. Perhaps when they see us organize and work in solidarity, they are afraid of being displaced. I think one of the first steps that must be taken is to raise their awareness, so that they see that we are not their enemies and that we can even have a joint agenda, as long as it gives women a leading role and does not subordinate us to what the men are doing. So we can forge an egalitarian strategic alliance.
iKNOW Politics: What are the agenda, plans and goals that you have set in your current post as executive secretary of INMUJERES?
One of the first goals is to form a Network of Female Federal Public Officials, where we can share experiences, not just successful ones, but also support each other, get training and create a network of solidarity so that we can strengthen ourselves in the areas where we work. This type of networking has been very important in this administration, because even though we now have the largest number of female ministers and vice ministers in Mexican history, we still feel we are alone.
There is still resistance to having women managing federal public administration. The second step is to create a network of grassroots organizations, so that women from rural communities come together. It is important to assure them that they are capable of making their own plans, that they can set their agenda, and that they are not alone. It is crucial to give them tools for empowerment and recognition, which is the minimum that a woman needs to leverage her participation in politics. She must feel capable and useful. In my experience, I have seen that the transformation is immediate. From one moment to the next, she is a different woman and in control of her destiny.
iKNOW Politics: Since you stressed the benefits of networking in your last response, I would like to ask your opinion of the International Knowledge Network of Women in Politics (iKNOW Politics). What do you think are the benefits of participating in and being a member of a network like this?
Personally, the studies and other resources of iKNOW Politics have helped me a great deal. Based on these studies, we have established strategies in the party, and I think it has been very useful to learn about the obstacles and cultural resistance that women politicians experience. When we know these things, we stop taking them personally and can establish strategies for overcoming them or even using them to our advantage. I consider iKNOW Politics an extremely important tool that is becoming more and more accessible to a wider audience. Many women are seeking tools to help them get ahead in politics. Networking allows us to join together and become stronger. I congratulate iKNOW Politics. This platform is very useful and valuable for women who are working for change in our countries.
iKNOW Politics: What suggestions or advice would you give young women — not just in Mexico, but in other countries in the region — who are interested in getting involved in politics but who feel it is a world apart and that it will be difficult for them to gain entry?
My participation in politics has taught me that politicians are not “extraordinary.” They are ordinary people, and if you are interested in and enthusiastic about participating, the doors open. No one should feel incapable of following her vocation. Participating in politics requires a high degree of dedication and means overcoming resistance to the fact that we are women and we are young.