Indigenous Rights/Issues

Decolonizing Feminism: the Indigenous Womens’ Movement in Mexico

Silvia Marcos

Originally published in: Dialogue and Difference: Feminists Challenge Globalization, Marguerite Waller and Sylvia Marcos (eds), Palgrave , New York , 2005.

Feminism conjures up a promise to resist the various forms of opression women face, but feminism’s capacity to fulfill this promise has been undermined by its failure to deal with the difference that race and ethnicity and class make for gender.

In Mexico, a certain hegemonic feminism often reproduces the relationship that C. Mohanty speaks of when describing the links between First and Third World feminist discourse. She argues that Western feminist discourse has produced a “…composite, singular Third World woman who is a ‘powerless’ victim of male dominance and patriarchal oppression” (Mohanty, 1983.)

Urban feminist analysis has given rise to a hegemony which has often defined indigenous feminism as the ‘other’: exotic, strangely rooted in ‘culture’ and powerless if not non existent (Jaidopolu, 2000.)

My purpose here is not only to approach the ‘other woman’, the ‘indigenous other,’ but also to revisit the dominant discourse (often feminist) that portrays the indigenous women as passive, submissive, subject and bound to inevitable patriarchal opressions springing from their cultural background. One example could be Xochitl Galvez when she expressed that in her own village, women are considered to be “buenas solo para el metate y el petate” (good only for grinding corn and for the straw matt.) An ‘indigenous woman’ appointed to be representative, at the highest gobernamental level possible, for indigenous affairs by the president of Mexico. She is a perfect example of an ‘indigenous woman’ who has – in this case – internalized the dominant gaze on her own backround.

Feminisms in Mexico are often submerged in practices that follow quite mimetically international feminist theories and priorities. We are inserted into the dominant global international feminist discourse, and a certain sort of feminist movement in Mexico is derivative of the US movement. The pressure of intelectual and activist trends, and the resources to continue with concrete activism, are allocated by agencies that define priorities and targets. Often, they have little to do with the context of indigenous women’s feminist practices.

“The NGOization and transnationalization of the Latin American feminist field appeared to have led increasing numbers of feminists to priviledge some spaces of feminist politics, such as the state and the international policy arenas,… ” affirms Sonia Alvarez (Alvarez, E.S., Dagnino, E., Escobar, A., eds, l998, p. 315.)

When approaching, interpreting, evaluating and/or impinging on the indigenous womens’ movement, urban and other elite (socially advantaged) feminists have to face the challenge of deconstructing a three-tiered structure of bias:

– the gendered assumptions the feminist imported into the indigenous womens situation;

– the attitudes of male superiority in the indigenous group that are selectively communicated to her;

– the interpretation of asymetrical gender relationships in that community (pueblo) as analogous to those in her own context.

Full Article

Nahua women in Alto Balsas, Mexico: Administering and Generating Remittances for Human Development

Martha García, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Tijuana
Germán A. Zárate-Hoyos, State University of New York at Cortland


The past decade has brought increasing interest in international migration from academics, NGOs, business and multilateral organizations. The widespread implementation of neo-liberal programs continues to be hand in hand with reportedly higher income inequality and economies that are only beginning to go back to pre-1980’s growth rates. The absence of realistic alternatives coupled with unrealized expectations of the benefits of globalization continue to drive millions of people across the world in search of better opportunities and the chance to increase their well-being. Until recently, discussions surrounding trade flows, international finance and technology transfer have paid relatively little attention to the economic impact of migration. However, this is changing rapidly as international organizations, national governments, universities, foundations, and perhaps most importantly, financial institutions, are “discovering” a basic fact of migration: as migrants move in one direction, remittances flow in the other. This relationship has existed since antiquity, but with advances in money transmission, communications, transportation, regulations, and migrants’ networks, remittances now present a great potential for the economic and social development of migrant home countries.

The Migration Policy institute reports that half of the estimated 150 million annual international migrants are females1. The male absence has lead to new roles for females as they do work previously done by males in addition to the traditional household chores. Gender, then, is a key factor in the likelihood of remittances being sent and received back home. It is the role of females in the administration and generation of remittance flows that guides this paper. We want to examine this role within the context of indigenous communities in Mexico , in particular, the Nahua communities of Alto Balsas.

Full Article

Gender and natural resources: Maya women and the Agrarian Land Reform in Mexico

Maria Consuelo Sánchez González
Centro de Investigaciones Históricas y Sociales
Universidad Autónoma de Campeche
Financiado por INMUJERES-CONACyT y UAC.

Translation revision by Holly Yasui


Anthropology, like other disciplines, has contributed to reflect on social groups, cultures, products, ideas and transformations in the context of the globalization (Good, 2000). In general terms, globalization shows a world interconnected in multiple dimensions, ambivalent, discontinuous and heterogeneous, that not only encompasses the interests of capitalism, but also extends to the political, demographic, ideological and cultural realms, which generate multiple meanings and give rise to new social forms, to transformation, reinvention and reconstruction of already existing processes. The present work analyzes the change of Mexican agrarian legislation from the perspective of gender in the context of collective rights of the land-use in a Mayan community in Campeche , pointing out that the work of the Mayan farmer is based on collaboration, with well-defined roles based on respect, reciprocity and the work group.

Gender studies

The relationship between gender and natural resource rights is a topic of much current interest. Rocheleau and collaborators (1996) in Africa have included a gender perspective on natural resource management. While the family remains the primary social system in many parts of the world, (Sachs, 1996), public and private places, home and workplace are often divided into male and female domains of access and control. In many parts of the world, for example, kinship-based institutions regulate labor and embody power relations structured around gender and age (Fortmann 1990; Agarwal 1994 and Rochelau et al., 1996). Often these differences lead to conflict. This is of particular importance for populations that depend on communal resources to supplement income, particularly in places were women can not own and control land (Fortmann, 1985, 1990; Arizpe and Botey, 1987; Agarwal, 1994, Deere and León, 1998). The studies on the impact of agrarian reforms on the women of the Third World are especially excellent. On this subject, the pioneering work of Bina Agarwal on the relations of gender and the agrarian rights of the women in South Asia is definitive. Few researchers have analysis of such scope, though there are some important exceptions, such as the works of Deere and Leon (1987, 1995, 1998); Arizpe and Botey (1987); Zapata (1995) and Scatters (1999). These works analyze the role of gender relations in the context of neoliberal reforms carried out in Latin America during the reformist period of 1960s and 70s. These works indicate that most womenhave not benefited. Many women do not have formal or informal legal access to the land nor are they able to make decision in questions related to the use of the land (Deere and Leon, 1998; Zapata, 1995; Scatter, 1999). Although there are not legal barriers to acquire land, few women were or are owners of their parcels. Furthermore, most women live under practices based on customs that guarantees use-rights to the women, but the control of the resources falls to men (Stephen, 1994, 1996; Goldring, 1996; Green, 1996; Perez, 1998 and Scatter, 1999). Zapata (1995) analyzes the experience of the Women’s Agricultural Units (UAIM) established in 1971. Based on the experience of the women studied, some of the greatest obstacles are public opinion, their own spouses, other non-participating women and local authorities.
Do you like this page?

Be the first to comment