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Los Angeles Times Interview

Dulce Maria Sauri

PRI President Seeks Wider Political Role for Mexican Women

December 31, 2000|Sergio Munoz | Sergio Munoz is a Times editorial writer

Imagine that the chairs of the U.S. Democratic and Republican parties were held by women, and that the majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives was a woman. Add more women to the president's Cabinet and consider that more than half of the most populous city's mayoral cabinet are women. In Mexico, this phenomenon is a growing political reality.

Dulce Maria Sauri, president of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is one of the women who has risen to the top tier of political power. Among the others are: Rosario Robles, who just finished her term as mayor of Mexico City; Amalia Garcia, president of the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD; Rosario Green, secretary of foreign affairs in the Ernesto Zedillo administration; and Beatriz Paredes, leader of the PRI in Mexico's lower house.

Sauri was twice elected to the Chamber of Deputies, Mexico's lower house, and is now serving her second term in the Senate. She was governor of her native state of Yucatan, leading it through an economic diversification that ended its centuries-old dependency on the sisal industry. Before that, she worked for several years in the Mexican federal government, including a stint in the office for budget and planning.

Sauri serves as president of the Organization of American States' Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM), and was a founding member of the National Commission for Women of Mexico, a government agency that promotes public policies for the advancement of women.

With her extensive experience in economics and women's issues, Sauri is likely to play a key watchdog role in analyzing President Vicente Fox's first budget. She has been quite outspoken in stressing the need for a more equitable distribution of federal resources to men and women and throughout Mexico's diverse regions.

A sociology graduate from the Ibero-American University, Sauri, 49, met her husband, sociologist Jose Luis Sierra Villarreal, on her first day at the college campus in Mexico City. They have been married almost 29 years and have three children. Sauri was recently interviewed in Los Angeles.

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Question: Why are more women attaining positions of real power in Mexico?

Answer: There are many changes taking place in Mexico, cultural changes forged by women and men. Yet, often we--the women of Mexico--wish change would pick up speed. We do recognize, however, that it is happening. The rise of powerful women is chiefly due to advances made by women in education and in the labor market.

Q: Is machismo finished in Mexico?

A: Machismo is in retreat. For instance, women make up more than 40% of the work force in the cities. In rural communities, though, the percentage is smaller, because when a woman works on the family parcel of land, her work is not registered as a job. Yet, if it is the man who works the land, then it is considered a job. We still have a culture that believes a woman's role is in the family, not so much in public life.

Q: How do women affect the practice of politics in Mexico?

A: They change the focus. Let me give you an example. The Mexican Congress just approved the creation of the Institute for Women. This happened because a woman is the majority leader in the lower house, because I pushed for it in the Senate, because all congresswomen united to convince congressmen to support it. Women have a set of priorities that men can hardly have.

Q: Who inspired you to pursue politics as a career and what were their qualities.?

A: I admired women who were not scared to dream and did something to make their dreams come true. . . . Women like my grandmother who, at a time when Mexican women were told to stay home, had the courage to challenge those prejudices and even went abroad to work.

Q: Are you impressed by the number of women in President Vicente Fox's Cabinet?

A: Not at all. There were no gains for women in his cabinet, as compared with the last administration. I am also a bit concerned because the three women he appointed have no previous experience for their new jobs.

Q: From an ideological perspective, are you concerned that you lost the presidency to a center-right party like the National Action Party (PAN)?

A: As president of the PRI, I see it just as an opposition party. But as a citizen, as a Mexican and, most of all, as a woman, I do have some fears.

Q: What fears?

A: The PAN may try to impose the sectarian politics of exclusion.

Q: What do you mean?

A: The experience in states and municipalities where the PAN holds power indicates a narrow-minded, puritanical and exclusionary attitude toward those who do not think like it. I am not talking politics. I am talking cultural and social intolerance. For instance, oftentimes its attitude creates an environment in which any controversial artistic expressions could and will be vandalized or censored.

Q: What else worries you?

A: I fear the PAN may push the idea that women's place is in the home and attempt to exclude them from playing a role debating issues of public interest.

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