I’m in Oaxaca, Mexico for the summer doing research for my thesis on the role of women in traditional indigenous usos y costumbres-style governments. Oaxaca has 418 towns that are run by usos y costumbres, a form of government recognized by the state constitution. In these communities, only 18 women have ever become president (the highest office), and in about 80, women have not been allowed to vote.
My first interview is with Sergio Beltrán, who just co-founded a new NGO in July called Herramientas para el buen vivir (Tools for Living the Good Life). Beltrán has spent the past 15 years working with towns run by usos y costumbres. He has collaborated on projects relating to technology, such as community radio stations, ecology, such as dry bathrooms, and the economy, like ecotourism. Most recently, Beltrán has been doing workshops on gender equality in Santa María Yucuhiti, a Mixteca indigenous community in southwestern Oaxaca state.
The Oaxacan state government passed laws in the late 2000s guaranteeing gender equality and freedom from violence, and Beltrán helps educate community members on what those laws mean. “The most urgent work is with the men,” says Beltrán. “The women are already informed.”
The workshops were financed by Yucuhiti’s Instancia de la mujer (a community women’s organization supported by the state government’s Institute of the Oaxacan Woman). Attendance was obligatory for community members.
Beltrán says he worked with teens, first explaining the difference between sex (which is biologically determined at birth) and gender (which is socially constructed). He then led the teens in activities. In one, groups of men and women first wrote about their own genders: “I like being a man/women because…” and then about the opposite gender: “If I were a man/woman, I would be…”. Participants began thinking about how they view gender and whether the characteristics they put are true or fixed.
Beltrán says the workshops have a powerful impact. “They give me hope. It becomes clear that inequality is unacceptable, and more obstacles are placed in the way of machismo. Systems will only change when peoples’ perspectives of themselves change.”
Posted by Katharina Kempf – MA Candidate at CLACS/Global Journalism at NYU