The following is from IPS.
MEXICO: Native Women Mobilise for Their Rights
By Diego Cevallos
MEXICO CITY, Aug 29 (IPS) - If the Mexican government has not addressed the demands of indigenous women in the southern state of Oaxaca by the end of the first week of September, 10,000 native women will travel to the capital to directly pressure President Felipe Calderón. "We are fed up," said one of the leading activists.
"We have organised ourselves, and we are tired of being strung along and of being excluded," Leticia Huerta, an indigenous woman who leads the non-governmental Coordinadora Estatal de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (State Coordinator of the Peoples of Oaxaca), told IPS.
Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s poorest states and one of the districts with the highest proportion of indigenous people.
Among the demands set forth by the native women, 5,000 of whom held a protest march Wednesday in Oaxaca, the state capital, are the construction of a women’s hospital in a rural area, medical posts throughout the region and the creation of an air ambulance service.
They are also calling for the construction of a bridge in a village that has been cut off for 12 years, a housing programme using local materials, and policies that would guarantee women’s social and political rights.
Huerta said the Coordinadora has been working for women’s rights for 17 years in Oaxaca, where 418 of the 570 municipalities are governed by indigenous "uses and customs."
The women’s demands and the announced march to the capital "are the consequence of these years of work, which have raised our consciousness," she said.
According to Huerta, more than 10,000 women from 200 villages and towns in Oaxaca form part of her organisation, "which has no ties to any political party."
Delegates in Oaxaca from the governmental Commission for the Defence of Indigenous Peoples promised the women Wednesday that within the next 10 days they would draw up a plan to address their demands.
"We will make a 10-day halt in our activities, but we won't wait any longer than that, and if they fail to live up to their promise we will go to Mexico City in buses or any way we can, to demand a meeting with the president," said Huerta.
Nearly 60 percent of the population of Oaxaca lives in rural villages of less than 2,000 people.
In most of the villages, the local authorities are elected in traditional native community assemblies, without the participation of political parties.
In many of the villages, women are not allowed to seek public office, and under the local "uses and customs" many are not even able to study.
Studies by the National Women’s Institute, a government agency, show that the sale of girls into marriage is a continued practice among indigenous communities in poor southern states like Oaxaca and the neighbouring Chiapas. Many young girls are thus abruptly separated from their families, in exchange for a cash payment, or even just a crate of soft drinks or beer.
"Our rights are subjugated and the authorities and many men in our communities do not want to recognise them," said the activist.
In November 2007, an indigenous accountant, Eufrosina Cruz, was not allowed to run for mayor of Santa María Quiegolani, a village of 800 Zapoteca people in the mountains of Oaxaca.
When she was nominated and voted for by some of the members of the all-male village assembly, the leaders of the assembly stopped the voting and tore up the ballots.
Cruz turned to the governmental National Human Rights Commission and received support from political parties and members of Congress, who called on Oaxaca state legislators to carry out legal reforms to ensure that traditional uses and customs were not used as a pretext for denying basic human rights guaranteed by the constitution.
"I’m not against uses and customs, only against abuses and customs. In this state there are 82 municipalities where women have no rights within their communities, and therefore they can’t even express their opinions in assemblies, let alone vote or be voted for," she told IPS earlier this year.
Cruz was provided with police protection after she received death threats from men in her community.
Another case of violence against indigenous women in Oaxaca occurred in April, when two young community radio station reporters, 22-year-old Felicitas Martínez and 24-year-old Teresa Bautista, were gunned down on a rural road.
In Oaxaca and Chiapas, the poverty level is similar to that of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, according to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) studies.
In 2006, non-governmental organisations and community groups in Oaxaca came together in a popular uprising against Governor Ulises Ruiz of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has governed the state since the 1920s.
The women represented by the Coordinadora Estatal de los Pueblos de Oaxaca have now presented their demands directly to the Calderón administration, because they have no confidence in Ruiz, who remains in his post despite numerous accusations of human rights violations, including murders.
Indigenous women are the most vulnerable group among the native peoples of Mexico, who are variously estimated to make up between 12 and 30 percent of the country’s 104 million people. Their life expectancy is 71.5 years, compared to 76 years for indigenous men.
Illiteracy stands at 32 percent among indigenous women, compared to 18 percent for men. And nearly 46 percent of indigenous women have not completed primary school, while a mere 8.9 percent have completed middle school (lower secondary school).