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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Our Sisters Mobilize For Their Rights

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). (END/2008)

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