Mexico City
Feminist activist and street artist Flor de Fuego performs on a street in Mexico City AFP

Mexico appears almost certain to elect its first woman president on June 2 -- a prospect that divides opinion among women's rights activists in a country with a long history of macho culture.

Front-runner Claudia Sheinbaum of the ruling party and her main opposition rival Xochitl Galvez have both invoked cracking the glass ceiling in their bids to lead the Latin American nation.

According to an average of polls compiled by the firm Oraculus, Sheinbaum is leading the presidential race with 56 percent of voter support, while Galvez follows with 34 percent.

The only man running, Jorge Alvarez Maynez of the Citizens' Movement party, has just 10 percent.

While Mexican women enjoy growing success in politics and business, life remains bleak for many in a country where around 10 women are murdered every day.

Last year, 852 killings were classified as femicides -- murders of women because of their gender.

"It's time for women to be recognized," declared Elena Poniatowska, a renowned Mexican journalist and author known for her fervent left-wing views.

French-born Poniatowska, 91, has long supported outgoing leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and is confident that Sheinbaum will win.

Having a woman in the presidential palace would be a "logical consequence of a country that has been advancing," she told AFP in an interview at her home in Mexico City.

"There are going to be very important changes," said Poniatowska, the winner of the 2013 Cervantes Prize -- considered the most prestigious award in Spanish-language literature.

She expects the next government to do more on cultural issues and policies that benefit children -- and therefore women.

In contrast, Sara Lovera, who manages the feminist website SemMexico, said she has "low expectations" for a Sheinbaum presidency.

The former Mexico City mayor often praises Lopez Obrador, who has criticized women's rights activists as "pseudo-feminists."

While abortion was decriminalized and legalized, critics note that it was done by the Supreme Court and not by Lopez Obrador's government.

"We're not going to see any change. We're going to continue losing. Some people think that we have lost 30 years in gender politics," said Lovera.

But "I think we could talk to Xochitl Galvez, even though she doesn't understand anything" about the feminist struggle, the 74-year-old added.

Activist and street performance artist Flor de Fuego (Fire Flower) earns a living as a fire dancer, performing for stopped traffic at intersections in Mexico City.

The 53-year-old, who prefers not to reveal her real name, is a regular at women's rights marches, which she lights up with flames shooting out of her mouth.

"Women are in fashion so (political parties) took advantage of it," she said sarcastically after running between cars with the tray she uses to collect coins from motorists.

That was how she paid for her son to earn a biology degree.

"The truth is that I don't think things will change much" whichever candidate wins, Flor de Fuego said.

When Sheinbaum was Mexico City mayor, "we feminists were quite repressed in our marches," the activist added.

"Who knows how the feminist community will fare" if Sheinbaum becomes president, she said.

Economics and law student Alondra, who prefers not to give her full name, is a member of the Black Bloc, a radical feminist movement.

Things are likely to "remain the same" with no end to violence against women, she said before posting flyers with the image of an alleged perpetrator of femicide.

Alondra participated in the occupation of the National Human Rights Commission building in 2020-2022 -- a protest led by the mother of Maria de Jesus Jaimes Zamudio.

The petroleum engineering student was thrown from the fifth floor of a building in Mexico City in 2016.

The Black Bloc has been accused of vandalizing monuments and businesses.

Its members say such action is needed to send a message to politicians who have failed to protect women.

"If there isn't a woman who makes the patriarchal system tremble, nothing's going to change," said Alondra, who has been injured several times in scuffles with security forces.

"If we have to burn everything, then we have to burn everything."