Indigenous women gain access to prestigious leadership positions

Honoring indigenous women across the world for the hardships they endure and the leadership roles they play as keepers of their cultures' accumulated wisdom.

Indigenous women gain access to prestigious leadership positions
Women from indigenous communities have less access to excellent jobs and higher wages. Photo by Bernardo Ramonfaur / Unsplash

From colonial times to the present, it has been repeated over and over again that the sphere of indigenous women is the domestic one; nothing more stereotyped, and today it is evident when we witness the emergence of art creators and producers of culture in public spaces and scenarios in Mexico and the world, says Natividad Gutiérrez Chong, a researcher at the Institute of Social Research of the UNAM.

Some examples are: Mayan language poet Briceida Cuevas Cob; film actress Yalitza Aparicio; Mixe soprano María Reyna González López; Tsotsil chef Claudia Albertina Ruiz Sántiz, from San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, who is ranked among the 50 most important chefs in the world; Wixárika woman and recently appointed president of the National Council to Prevent Discrimination, Claudia Olivia Morales Reza.

Likewise, the Mixe linguist and great scholar of indigenous peoples and the State, Yásnaya Elena Aguilar Gil; the Nahua magistrate Larisa Ortiz Quintero; the disseminator of indigenous culture, Susana Bautista Cruz; the deputies Irma Juan Carlos, from Oaxaca, and Roselia Jiménez Pérez, tojolabal; as well as artists, linguists, and writers, creative women who offer a great contribution for their originality and their raison d'être.

On the occasion of the International Day of Indigenous Women, which is commemorated on September 5, the university specialist says: we are in a stage in which more and more occupy positions of prestige, and leadership, which requires dismantling the binomial indigenous women-poverty, that is, to recognize that indigenous women perform creative processes, reap hard-earned prestige and receive the admiration of society.

However, there is still a long way to go: to make progress so that more of them are students and academics in university classrooms and occupy decision-making positions in the public sphere. In addition, there is an important task to banish entrenched stereotypes in society, and this requires public policies that focus on indigenous women with their specificity.

"We already see them in public spaces and making decisions, but the younger ones are still at the bottom of the structure of society. It is very important that more and more indigenous women speak out, that they are spokespersons for their needs, and that we open spaces for them to deal with their affairs and make their thoughts, feelings, and ways of seeing the world known," says the specialist in nationalism and multiculturalism.

UN Women Latin America and the Caribbean points out that this anniversary seeks to pay tribute to the world's indigenous women, to recognize the challenges they face and the key role they play in their communities as bearers of the inheritance of knowledge, skills, practices, and experiences of their peoples, in addition to consolidating peace and their great knowledge in sustainable environmental practices.

Young indigenous girls are marginalized from competitive working conditions and good incomes.
Young indigenous girls are marginalized from competitive working conditions and good incomes. Credit: UNAM

Gaps to be closed

According to the National Survey on Discrimination (ENADIS 2018), in Mexico, there are 7.2 million people who ascribe themselves as indigenous and 40.3 percent declared having been discriminated against because of that condition. One in six indigenous language-speaking women cannot read or write and 46.4 percent of them were engaged in unpaid work in the home.

Given this, researcher Gutiérrez Chong considers that there should be actions from the State and civil society to eradicate this type of inequality since due to poverty conditions there are indigenous girls subject to exploitation, or who are not sent to school because it is thought that they will devote themselves to the home and to procreate children.

Young indigenous girls face difficulties in the professional sphere for expressing their identity through their dress or language and are marginalized from competitive working conditions and good income. However, she estimates, that shortly we will see more of them in full use and enjoyment of their identity and their contributions to cultural diversity.

"We have to demolish this idea that indigenous women can only deal with care and domestic situations, as they are part of deep-rooted stereotypes in society. Also with this violent vision of the population that indigenous women have no future," stresses the specialist in gender and ethnic studies.

Another important problem is access to health services, as they are often victims of racism on the part of the employees in this area, from the nurse to the social worker, to the doctor.

The media and social networks unfortunately contribute to the construction of racism and classism. The sense of humor in Mexico is based, to a large extent, on ridiculing others for their skin color or appearance, their way of speaking, or their origin, which also speaks of the ignorance of the average Mexican regarding the diversity that we are. Racism feeds on ignorance, stresses the intersectionality expert.

"We must always be ready to fight to prevent indigenous women from being victims and being denied their human rights, from being ridiculed or violated in education and health, and from being unjustly assigned only a future that could be domestic," asserts Gutiérrez Chong.

For more women to be spokespersons for their needs, it is essential to build the necessary institutions so that inequalities produced by gender, ethnicity, or skin color do not determine economic inequalities and inequalities in access to education, health, and well-paid work.

"A new institutional approach is required, that public policies be intercultural and intersectional, that they be effective in their affirmative quotas, that in education - our main challenge - the State identifies the most vulnerable people and among them, indigenous women, girls, and the youngest, to work with an intersectional and intercultural approach", emphasizes the doctor in Sociology.

A growing number of indigenous women are holding executive and influential roles in the global community.
A growing number of indigenous women are holding executive and influential roles in the global community. Credit: UNAM

Successful strategies

Other countries have implemented policies based on the "reservation of places", whereby the State facilitates conditions for these places to be occupied by groups that have not enjoyed any privileges.

An example is the People's Republic of China, which for approximately 60 years has established a multicultural policy of unity among indigenous peoples or minority nationalities, applying a cross-cutting affirmative strategy in which women with fewer privileges are those who have access to education, health and work to close inequality gaps.

"Girls from ethnic minorities, who before were despised, have access to better living conditions, only because of their ethnic condition, but it has been a long process, 30, 40 years", says the university expert.