On Wednesday, August 9th, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sparked ridicule and outrage after suggesting during his daily news conference that criticism leveled against him could be considered a form of gender-based violence.
The comments on Wednesday touched a nerve in Mexico, where the government of López Obrador has been unable to tackle soaring levels of violence against women, and where a resurgent feminist movement has become a thorn in the president’s side.
“Everything they say to me, isn’t that gender-based violence?” López Obrador, or Amlo as he is commonly known, asked reporters. “Or is gender only female?”
Amlo’s quip came after the country’s electoral watchdog ruled that the Mexican leader had made comments about a leading opposition figure which could be considered gender-based attacks. The electoral agency ordered the government to modify or remove videos of the offending news conferences.
The president’s attacks against Xóchitl Gálvez, currently leading in opinion polls among opposition figures for the 2024 presidential election, have become a constant feature of his morning addresses.
But given the extraordinary levels of gender-based violence in Mexico, where machismo is still deeply embedded, the president’s offhand remarks sparked immediate indignation on Wednesday among critics and commentators.
“President López Obrador doesn’t have the faintest clue about basic concepts like gender perspective, like feminism,” said Denise Dresser, a political scientist, and columnist who has herself become a frequent target of the president’s attacks. “He doesn’t take the violence that women in this country suffer seriously.”
Elected in a 2018 landslide, Amlo has promised to tackle inequality and reduce the killings of women because of their gender, known as femicides.
“We are going to keep supporting, protecting women, looking after them,” he said in a 2021 news conference. “Confronting and combating femicides, all the violence against women.”
But so far, his government has been unable to make a meaningful dent in the murders of women rocking Mexico: almost 3,760 women were killed in total last year, an average of more than 10 murders every single day. Femicides remain at over 900 every year.
The unending violence has been met with fury by Mexico’s feminist movement, which has taken to the streets en masse to demand an end to the scourge. In response, the president has suggested that Mexican feminists are a political tool co-opted by the opposition.
Meanwhile, Wednesday’s comments are just the latest in a long line of gaffes and sexist comments made by AMLO, which have only served as fuel for Mexico’s feminist fire.
“The constant mocking of feminism and alleging that feminists are manipulated, controlled by his adversaries,” said Dresser. “What the president reveals is an ignorance that unfortunately he uses to his political advantage.”