Challenges and Opportunities for Rural Women in MexicoIndigenous regions have been bypassed by development to an appalling degree
In 2010, there were 28.1 million census households in Mexico. Some 6.1 million (21.9%) of them were in rural areas and made up of 25.8 million people—a quarter of the country’s total population. These figures contrast sharply with those for 1950, when 14.8 million people lived in rural areas (57.4% of the total population).
In 2010, the indigenous population was put at 6,695,228 people—3,407,389 women (50.9%) and 3,287,839 men (49.1%). In absolute terms, this population group had increased by 1,412,881 in 1990, growing at an annual average rate of 2.2% over the same 20-year period. Párrafos
Six out of 10 rural women (62.1%) are poor; more than 3 million live in extreme poverty and 5.5 million in moderate poverty.
According to the multidimensional measurement of poverty in Mexico carried out in 2012 by the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL), 45.5% of Mexicans are affected by multidimensional poverty. This figure includes 27.6 million women, 8.5 million of whom are rural dwellers.
Six out of 10 rural women (62.1%) are poor; more than 3 million live in extreme poverty and 5.5 million in moderate poverty. Most women living in extreme poverty are to be found in rural areas, with 35.2% of the women affected by multidimensional poverty living in extreme poverty. This contrasts sharply with their urban counterparts, of whom only 15% of those affected by multidimensional poverty live in extreme poverty.
Another important aspect of the multidimensional measurement of poverty in Mexico is vulnerability due to social deprivation, defined by CONEVAL as lack of access to benefits such as education, health, social security, housing infrastructure, basic services and food.
It should also be noted that nine out of ten women in rural areas are affected by at least one of these manifestations of social deprivation, and almost half (46.9%) by at least three. Among the highest figures are those for lack of access to social security (81.2%), lack of basic housing services (57.4%) and lack of access to food (31.1%). In every case, the percentages are much higher in rural areas than they are in urban areas (INEGI 2014).
Indigenous regions have been bypassed by development to an appalling degree, and this is undoubtedly the area in which the Mexican state still has most work to do.
According to the National Program for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, in indigenous areas the number of doctors per thousand inhabitants is less than 0.1%, while the national average is 1.38%. The same applies to other types of deprivation, such as decent housing, access to water and electricity services, roads, etc. Paradoxically, most natural resources are to be found in indigenous territories, along with much of the priceless cultural wealth and worldview that we see reflected in the beautiful handicrafts to which we owe our identity.
According to the results of the 1997 National Survey of Employment in Indigenous Areas, 37% of people aged 15 and over who spoke indigenous languages had no education at all, with women being the worst affected, while 45.8% of them had received no formal education. The situation was also serious among men, 28% of whom fell into the latter category.
The challenge is becoming more acute and the government is struggling to meet the needs of this population, spread as it is across more than 40,000 towns, nearly 14,000 of which have between 100 and 1500 inhabitants.
In the face of this social inequality, it is essential to identify the role and contribution of rural women in order to establish their true importance and raise the awareness of society and public policymakers and policy implementers in the sector, and the country as a whole. Rural and indigenous women are economic and social agents whose abilities, skills, contribution and rights oblige us to adapt development policies, adopting a gender vision and approach that ensures equitable treatment, thereby affording women more and better opportunities for participation and development.
The lack of information has not only limited the analysis of phenomena that affect women; it has also been a constraint to efforts to heighten society’s awareness of the problems faced by rural and indigenous women, and the very urgent need to solve them. The solutions implemented must seek to harness the social energy of this segment of Mexico’s rural population, adopting the vision of a state that facilitates an alternative development model, with public policies capable of meeting the challenge of underdevelopment in Rural Mexico in a sensitive and effective manner. Párrafos
The best level for action and for mobilizing rural women is the territorial level, and that planning and management efforts should therefore be focused on the same level.
The approach to capacity building for the rural population should focus on promoting and supporting the functioning of organizational structures that allow women and men to interact at the microregional level, developing their capacity to influence and participate in interventions and decision-making mechanisms at various levels in which they both have a voice.
This leads us to the recognition that the best level for action and for mobilizing rural women is the territorial level, and that planning and management efforts should therefore be focused on the same level.
There are a number of reasons why Mexico’s rural areas should be a primary focus of attention as producers of food: because of the growing food crisis; because of the natural resources and environmental services needed for development; because of the efforts to combat insecurity and the deterioration in our social fabric witnessed in many rural areas; because of the need to build rural territories that offer opportunities and a good quality of life, no longer simply areas responsible for the loss of human potential, with people migrating north or to the belts of poverty around the cities, where they become even more marginalized and add to the oft-mentioned “pending task” with regard to indigenous peoples. Women undoubtedly play a decisive but unappreciated role in each and every one of these facets of rural life.
A territorial vision of the development of Rural Mexico and, therefore, of our country, which is based on diversification and clusters of production, holds out highly promising prospects in terms of gender equity, because such an approach redraws the traditional productive hierarchy within and outside agriculture. The strengthening of women’s participation at the territorial level provides a powerful stimulus for action and, above all, for increasing women’s self-esteem and boosting their associative efforts and solidarity, enabling them to cease being passive agents and, instead, to take the initiative and serve as a force for bringing about changes in their position and condition.
Critical aspects that affect appropriate strategies
The following is a summary of certain critical aspects that affect the design of appropriate strategies for rural women in Mexico:
a) The lack of a vision and conceptualization of the territorial approach for the participation of women.
b) Insufficient budgetary resources to invest in serious training, in gaining an understanding of what gender inclusion and development with a gender perspective means in actions with men and women, not just with women.
c) The embryonic development of suitable, focused methodologies that facilitate participation and capacity building.
d) The lack of coordination of training, productive investment, human development and personal capacity building, all of which go hand in hand and to which other elements could then be added to ensure true productive, social and political integration and coordination.
e) The negligible and/or incorrect promotion of women’s organizations, and the fear of transferring power to them.
f) The inevitable dependence on bureaucratic processes and timeframes that not only result in time being lost due to delays in implementation, but also lead to the incompatibility or overlapping of the programs and policies of different institutions; in other words, the impossibility of achieving close inter- and intra-institutional linkages and coordination.
g) The lack of analysis and evaluation of the results of public policies targeted at women.
h) Paternalism and/or the clientelistic management of programs, not only on the institutional side but also among organizations claiming to represent rural women.
i) The lack of understanding of, and failure to adapt policies to, the diversity of rural society and rural women themselves, which is particularly true in the case of indigenous peoples.
It is very important to highlight the question of the conservation and rational use of natural resources, along with the culture of environmental care and the development of capabilities for separating and making use of waste regarded as “garbage,” which highlights yet another face of the highly predatory and harmful poverty that exists in rural areas. Policies aimed at promoting this type of close coordination for territorial cohesion call for a gender perspective that makes it possible to promote conservation practices and the integrated and rational use of existing resources, the social rate of return, equal opportunities, institutional democratization processes and an understanding of the difference between quality of life and very harmful and predatory consumerist outlooks.
Territorial development requires that the State be a partner in territorial processes, and therefore respectful of them and effective in performing its own functions as the State in providing services, regulating the economy and strengthening the democratic culture.
In this sense, the application of the territorial approach should be based on the fact that investment aimed at ensuring equal opportunities is a principle and a community priority, and a strategic factor in active citizenship that reinforces the value of democracy.
We need to promote the territorial integration of the economic, social and cultural dimensions. This means applying a global vision to the many local solutions required in rural areas: 1) improve the quality of life; 2) increase the value added of local products; 3) attach greater value to and increase the care and use of local resources, based on care of the environment and existing ecosystems; 4) harness new knowledge and innovative technologies for diversification and multi-activity; 5) facilitate and promote processes of representative participation by the various segments of society; and, 6) make aspects of training and non-formal education a permanent fixture, to ensure productive and social integration into the workforce that revolutionizes recurring processes of marginalization.
The application of the territorial approach should be based on the fact that investment aimed at ensuring equal opportunities is a principle and a community priority, and a strategic factor in active citizenship that reinforces the value of democracy.
Requirements for equal opportunities
Some of the requirements for equal opportunities worth mentioning are as follows:
Increased presence of rural women in development processes—under the umbrella of government structures as part of development programs, as project promoters or as the final beneficiaries of funds. Identification and elimination of the real discrimination suffered by rural women. Adaptation of working conditions to the needs of women and families and their businesses. Diversification of career options for families and women. Encourage their participation in emerging professions. Promotion of training-development as a criterion for rural women’s acquisition of knowledge and their development of skills and abilities. Training of multiplier agents for processes that can be replicated.
Based on all of the above, the following recommendations are made:
Devise analysis frameworks and methodologies for gender mainstreaming and the territorial approach. Systematize and disseminate experiences and best practices, and concrete cases that demonstrate their feasibility and relevance. Develop methodologies for processes aimed at empowering women so they can influence policies and constructing alternatives for community development and attaching greater value to the rural milieu as an option that also offers a good quality of life.
The need for an approach based on recognition of the true importance of rural women and their contribution to our society is undoubtedly linked to the need for the State and society to acknowledge the true value of the rural milieu.
Measures to be adopted
It is necessary to adopt measures that will lead to results described in the following areas:
a) Promotion of mechanisms for accessing assets keyed to the needs of the social actors and groups, including sustainable and culturally appropriate financing mechanisms, to foster productive entrepreneurship that generates employment and income.
b) Operation of bodies that permit women to meet together and establish common ground at the local level, and mechanisms involving both women and men, to promote the exchange of experiences, reflection, training, mutual support, the monitoring and evaluation of their development processes and promotion of their transition to more developed associative and cooperative undertakings designed to strengthen local, self-managed initiatives for sustainable development.
c) The adaptation of working conditions to women’s needs with policies aimed at family participation and interaction, in order to strengthen the options for development and women’s relationships with their menfolk and children.
d) The strengthening of the autonomy of women entrepreneurs, to enable them to commission and control technical assistance and training.
e) The permanent training of human capital and social capital.
f) Promotion of a culture of shared responsibility and sustainability through saving schemes, capitalization, reinvestment and greater autonomy, among others.
Finally, the need for an approach based on recognition of the true importance of rural women and their contribution to our society is undoubtedly linked to the need for the State and society to acknowledge the true value of the rural milieu. Such an approach is also part of the urgent task of devising a different model of development in Mexico, underpinned by a commitment to new relationships of cooperation and linkages among the various sectors of society, with new tools designed to heal the wounds caused by inequity and injustice and raise awareness of the need for a harmonious, more loving world.
Recovering knowledge, values and natural and human resources in order to make more and better use of all our cultural diversity and biodiversity for sustainable and harmonious development is a task that cannot be postponed any longer, a task in which women have a key role to play.