Tag Archives: women

Editorial March 2020

By Jane Bauer

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
Audre Lorde

I was just finishing up this issue of the magazine, the editorial hanging over me as I pondered what I would write about. My mind drifted over the injustices I have faced or my friends have faced; sexual harassment and assaults, underestimation in the workplace, a culture that uses our form to sell everything from soda to cars, a culture that sexualizes us in almost every context.

I got home, poured myself a well-earned glass of wine and was feeling a little self-pity over my femininity when there was a knock on my front door. With a heavy sigh of annoyance I opened up to find a girl I know from the village where I live. M. is my daughter’s age and when they were little she would often come knocking to see if she could come in to play. My daughter was not very interested in this friendship, but I would make her acquiesce and they would visit for awhile, the other girl seeming to marvel at my daughter’s toys, dresses and pretty room. Eventually, to my daughter’s relief, I would send the girl away saying that it was time for homework.

The girls grew up and my daughter is just finishing up her second year at university in CDMX. She lives with four other girls in a modern highrise. Her social media is a frenzy of art galleries and trendy restaurants.

In contrast, M. has two young children and a young baby clutches to her chest as I open the door. Despite the hardships life has dealt her she always wears a pearly white smile and bright eyes. She asks me if I have any work. I don’t have any work at the moment and even if I did, she is the primary care giver for her kids and does not have a strong support network that would permit her to take on a job. Her mother is gone, her father was sexually abusive, her two younger sisters also now have children and there is no beacon of light or event that is looming in the future to change or improve her circumstances.

The world is full of young women like M. The numbers of women on this planet who do not have access to education is astounding. The numbers of women who live in situations in which they do not decide their fate is intolerable. The numbers of women who live in fear of sexual abuse is shameful. Gender inequality is a cancer on our humanity.

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. But it is not enough to celebrate the achievements of women who have exceeded what was expected of them. We must acknowledge all the women whose potential is suffocated by economic disparity, lack of access to healthcare and education and by abuse. Those of us who are drowning in privilege must find the way to help all women rise.

See you next month,

Jane

Mexico’s Women Eco-Warriors

By Kary Vannice

In September of 2019, the online edition of Forbes featured an article titled “The Greta Thunberg Effect: The Rise of the Girl Eco-Warriors.” But the truth is, women have been advancing the environmental movement for generations – even here in Mexico. Though not making headlines around the globe, these five Mexican women deserve credit for their contribution to the eco-movement.

Margarita Martínez, 21, a student in the Sustainable Development Engineering degree at Tecnológico de Monterrey, has dedicated her time to promoting environmental care in her environment, raising awareness among young people about the threat of climate change.

The Spanish-language newspaper El País named her “the Mexican cleaner” for her initiative Limpiemos Nuestro País (Let’s Clean Our Country), which has managed to remove more than 65 tons of garbage from public spaces located in Monclova, Coahuila and Monterrey, Nuevo León.

In an interview, when asked why she decide to create such a movement, Martínez said it was the “indifference” that exists towards the realities that the world is going through, not only environmental matters, but also social matters, since the challenge of climate change is a socio-environmental problem that affects us all, but especially the unprotected and unsupported classes.

Wendy Herrera, a student in the Industrial Physical Engineering program at Tec de Monterrey, headed up a team to create a smartphone app that allows users to generate points and exchange them for services or products to protect the planet. You can cash in these points to do things like pay for groceries or take public transportation, all for taking care of the environment.

The app is called Iknelia, which translates from Nahuatl as “help.” Iknelia also seeks to raise awareness through content such as videos, environmental programs and a calendar of workshops aligned with the theme of the environment.

At the age of 22, Ixchel Anaya was studying interior design when she became a mother for the first time. When she realized that disposable diapers were causing her baby a painful rash, she started looking for alternatives. And although she found a lot of products in Europe and the United States, she found there were no products in the local market and decided to make her own design with the help of her grandmother.

Since 2009 she has dedicated her life to the manufacture of cloth diapers from environmentally friendly textiles. Her product can be reused up to 600 times, is better for the baby’s health, and allows families to save up to 25 thousand pesos, all while reducing disposable diaper waste in Mexico, which is estimated at 14% of all waste.

Sarita Mazuera, the Chief Operations Officer for Veolia Mexico (an international company specializing in efficient management of water, waste and energy), is another woman dedicated to the development of techniques and alternatives to both care for and improve the environment in Mexico.

She has also been a member of the national Water Advisory Council, an independent body focused on analyzing, evaluating and finding solutions for the country’s water crisis. And, to inspire more young women to become change makers, she participated in the international movement Girls on The Move Week, which mentors young women in order to strengthen their development in professional fields.

Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, an academic from the University of Valle de Atemajac (UNIVA) in Guadalajara, developed a biodegradable plastic primarily made from the nopal cactus. Using a mixture of powdered dried cactus and cactus juice, along with other organic ingredients, she managed to create a plastic that starts decomposing in the soil after one month. If put in water, it starts to break down in a matter of days. Even if it were not to break down completely, her plastic is 100% non-toxic and can be ingested by both humans and animals without causing any harm.

When it comes to her revolutionary new plastic, she recognizes that despite its being an environmentally friendly material, it is not a complete solution to stop environmental contamination of non-recyclable materials. In an interview with Forbes, she said, “I believe that it is never too late to start changing things. Every day, there is a new opportunity to do things better, so if we each do what we have to do, there is another opportunity to reverse all the damage we have done to the planet.”

I think the other women on this list would agree!

 

A Revolutionary Woman: Josepha Ortiz de Dominguez

By Julie Etra

Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez was an intelligent, formidable, and outspoken woman, exceptional even given the time and place. She was a leader, along with her husband Miguel Dominguez, in Mexico’s fight for independence from Spain, which began in 1810 and lasted 11 years.

She was born in 1768 in Morelia, Michoacán, to a middle-class family of Spanish descent, and was thus by definition a criolla. Her father, a regiment captain, was killed in battle when she was very young. After the death of her mother, also when she was young, her sister took charge of Josepha’s education and enrolled her in the Colegio de San Ignacio de Loyola, where she learned to read and write, along with the basics of mathematics. As was typical for the era and in preparation for an inevitable role as a future ama de la casa (soul of the household), she also learned household responsibilities and skills, such as embroidery.

In 1791, at the age of 23, she married Miguel Domínguez, who at the time served as an official of the government of New Spain. He was appointed Corregidor of Querétaro in 1802, a local administrative and judicial official (based on Roman law). As a representative of the crown, he provided an essential, respected, and powerful link between the territorial government and the Spanish crown.
Following their marriage, Josepha, now called La Corregidora, joined her husband in the growing conspiracy to overthrow the Spanish crown. Organizational meetings were held in the couple’s house, under the pretense of being tertulias, or intellectual gatherings, which, due to his position, Don Dominguez did not attend in person. Although passionate about and committed to the cause, Josepha continued with her duties as head of the household, customary and expected, and included the education of her two adopted children (his first wife had died) and their additional eleven children. Their marriage endured until Miguel Dominguez died in in 1830.

Back to the clandestine meetings – Josefa increasingly aligned herself with radical groups, and although risky, the organizational meetings in the Domínguez household continued. Ironically, Don Dominguez was directed to intervene on behalf of Spain. Pretending to carry out their orders, but aware of the impending danger, he confined his vocal and opinionated wife to her room in an attempt to limit her communication with the other co-conspirators. His family was in jeopardy. His wife’s strong beliefs, however, were already known to the authorities.

In early September 1810, she prepared a letter, disguising her handwriting, and managed to get it to co-conspirator Ignacio Pérez in the house next door. She meant it for publication by the newspapers to warn her co-conspirators that their plans had been discovered, and that the crown was aware that they had been amassing arms. On September 15, however, Pérez rode first to San Miguel, where there was another conspiracy to promote independence, and then to Dolores, where he delivered the news to Father Miguel Hidalgo, who was located in the town of Dolores (now known as Dolores Hidalgo and the “Cradle of National Independence”), about 70 miles (112 km) north of Querétaro.

Father Hidalgo decided to expedite the insurrection, and issued the Grito de Dolores (the Cry of Dolores) for the revolution to begin at dawn on September 16, 1810. Thus, the long, painful, and bloody process of the emancipation of Mexico began; it would not be achieved until 1821.

Thanks to Josepha’s warning, many conspirators escaped arrest, but she and her husband were arrested the very same day as the Grito de Dolores. Josepha was incarcerated in the convent of Santa Clara in Querétaro, while Don Miguel was incarcerated in the convent La Cruz. He was judged first; all charges against him were dismissed, in part thanks to local support.

She was not so lucky and was transferred to Mexico City in 1814, to be incarcerated in the convent of Santa Teresa. Despite the efforts of her husband, who served as her defense lawyer, she was convicted of treason, and in 1814 was sent to the convent of Santa Catalina de Sena, considered stricter than Santa Clara. The financial situation of the large Domínguez family was dire during those years, since Miguel Domínguez, seriously ill, had no income to support their many children. Spousal visits were also rare. Finally, Spanish Viceroy Juan Ruiz de Apodaca recognized the services of Don Domínguez and restored his salary and released Josefa in June of 1817, after seven long years of imprisonment.

She was principled throughout her entire life. In 1822, just one year following independence, Agustín de Iturbide proclaimed himself emperor of Mexico and Josefa was invited to appear in the court as a maid of honor for his wife, Ana Duarte de Iturbide. She emphatically declined the invitation as intolerable mockery, since the concept of an empire was totally contrary to the ideals for which she had fought. Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez shunned fame and recognition, believing she had done nothing more than fulfill her responsibilities.

Badass Women of Mexico

By Renee Biernacki

The status of women in Mexico has changed dramatically over time. As long as Mexico was an overwhelmingly rural country, economic and social opportunities were not possible for women. Today, there are many awe-inspiring Mexican women who have made daily sacrifices for human rights, meaningful art, and charitable contributions. Here are four of the badass women you should know.

Hermilda Galinda, a journalist and Mexican feminist who advocated for women’s rights, is considered the Mother of the Mexican feminist movement. In the early 20th century, she used her writing as a weapon against patriarchy and to initiate a movement to transform Mexico’s sexist (“macho”) way of thinking. She created La Mujer Moderna (Modern Woman), a magazine that discussed the Catholic church and its views and methods of control. She challenged social norms that expected women to remain in the home. Her radical views were especially dangerous, but did not stop her from spreading her message. In 1917, she spoke at Mexico’s very first Feminist Congress. Hermilda was greatly criticized and condemned for her beliefs on education for women, sex education in schools, divorce, and birth control. Today this revolutionary feminist is celebrated for making her mark towards a modern and more equal Mexico. Total badass.

Matilde Montoya played an important role in the history of medicine as the first female physician in Mexico. She was ridiculed and described as a reckless and dangerous woman for trying to become a doctor. She began her career as the first official female midwife at the age of 16. In 1882, at the age of 24, she entered the National Medical School in Mexico City, graduating in 1887 at the age of 29 – Mexico’s first female doctor. Later, she got her doctorate in medicine in 1887. Later, she became a surgeon and obstetrician.

Matilde made history that forever changed the course of medicine for women. This was a significant opening of the door for all women interested in studying medicine. By overcoming opposition, Montoya also aided in the social establishment of women’s rights and the movement toward unbiased opportunities in education and employment. Super badass.

Elvia Carrillo Puerto was a Mexican socialist politician and feminist activist. She is credited with starting many feminist leagues focused on numerous tasks promoting women’s rights. Starting in Merida in 1912, her organization led a campaign against prostitution, alcoholism, superstition, fanaticism, and the use of drugs. Elvia aided in the founding of the American Birth Control League now known as Planned Parenthood. After women were permitted the right to vote and hold office, she was elected in 1923 as a member of the state legislature in the Yucatan, the first woman to hold a position of this nature in Mexico. Her tireless dedication to the women’s movement earned her the nickname La Monja Roja (The Red Nun). To honor her contributions to Mexican government, she was officially decorated as a Veteran of the Revolution. Extreme badass.

Norma Romero Vasquez is a founding member of a women’s group in Veracruz called Las Patronas (Patron Saints). Norma, her sisters, and other local women have been helping feed migrants since 1995. The train known as La Bestia (The Beast) passes through a small community in Veracruz at a very high speeds. While passing through, the migrants would yell “Madre, we’re hungry!” Norma decided to devise a plan. As an instinctive act of kindess and charity, she suggested making 30 simple ration packs consisting of rice, beans, and corn tortillas. Daily they would toss the donations to the migrants escaping from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua while heading to the U.S. border atop the train. Now, twice daily, 365 days a year, Las Patronas hands out hundreds of packets of food and water on this very dangerous beast of a train. In 2013, these women were awarded the National Human Rights Prize for their humanity through an act of grace and generosity. Mega badass.

These remarkable women have positively influenced and enriched society. Through their hard work, undeniable courage, dedication, and passion they have led many Mexican women to move forward into a better Mexico.

 

 

What Became of the Yaquis?

By Brooke Gazer

A tall and athletically built people who valued their autonomy, the Yaquis were never totally subdued by the Spanish. After a peace treaty was agreed upon in 1610, the Yaquis relinquished part of their land in exchange for a guarantee, signed by the King of Spain, acknowledging their ownership of their remaining territory in southern Sonora. At that time, they numbered between 100,000 and 200,000 people. Every Mexican government respected this treaty until Porfirio Díaz came to power.

Coveting their fertile lands, the state of Sonora harassed them, sending soldiers and surveyors into their territory, confiscating bank accounts, and burning the home of their leader. In 1894, the federal government confiscated their best land, giving it to General Lorenzo Torres, head of the Sonoran army.

Over the next few years, thousands of soldiers and ten thousand Yaquis died in battle. In 1898, government troops acquired new improved Mauser rifles, which critically overmatched the poorly armed Yaquis; surrender was imminent. Yaqui leaders were executed, and the remaining Yaquis relocated to a region that was barren desert. Without water it was uninhabitable, causing most families to scatter as wage earners in mines, on railroads, and farms. These people became solid citizens and were considered the best workers in Mexico. The remaining four or five thousand formed bands of fierce rebels who took to the hills. They were hunted down like vermin and soldiers received $100 for the ears of a Yaqui guerilla.

The army’s failure to secure the surrender of “a handful of renegades” prompted an extreme government action and in 1908, notices appeared in American and Mexican newspapers. President Díaz had issued a sweeping order that every Yaqui, man, woman and child, should be gathered up by the War Department and deported to the Yucatán. This was not limited to rebels – it included every living Yaqui, young and old alike.

After John Kenneth Turner heard rumors about the fate of these people, he traveled south to investigate and what he learned was not pretty.

Without warning, soldiers rounded up families and herded them to the port of Guaymas, Sonora, where an exhausting journey over land and sea began. They were stuffed into boxcars or the stinking holds of ships; they were marched over two hundred miles of Mexico’s roughest mountains. Between ten and twenty percent died of exhaustion or starvation along the way. The survivors were sold like livestock. Husbands and wives were torn apart, and children ripped away from their mothers.

On board a ship, Turner learned that over fifteen thousand Yaquis had been transported on that vessel. Speaking first-hand with Yaquis, he heard them lament that they had pled to their employers, unsuccessfully, for their release. He listened as they grieved for wives and children who dropped in the dust and died during the arduous trek across the mountains. He felt helpless when they beseeched him to intervene for their freedom.

The new arrivals were put to work on henequén plantations, where thousands of Mayans had already been enslaved. Slavery was abolished in Mexico in 1829, but when Turner arrived in the Yucatan in 1908, it was an integral part of the economy.

Semantically, the Mayans were not slaves, they were “debtors.” Professional money lenders lured poverty-stricken Mayans into debt; sometimes the debt included the entire family. They were forced to work under unbearably harsh conditions on large plantations that fueled the rich economy of the region. Once declared a debtor, no one could never buy his or her freedom – the debt continued to grow, and was passed on to future generations.

The masters never considered that they were buying or selling a person, rather they were transferring the debt and the man went with it. However, the amount the man originally owed was irrelevant, and the debt had a market price, just like machinery or cattle.

The government transferred Yaquis to landowners the same way, but at discount prices, and one owner told Turner, “We don’t allow the Yaquis to get in debt to us.” The owner received a photograph and identification papers with each individual; if one ran away, the papers were sufficient for the authorities to return the runaway. The desert terrain of the Yucatan made escape impossible.

This was a miserable existence for both Mayans and Yaquis alike. Both received equally brutal treatment; they were underfed, overworked, and brutally beaten. But It was far worse for the Yaquis; exhausted and starved upon arrival, two thirds died within the first year. The Mayans could at least maintain a semblance of home and family ties. Yaquis were exiled far from home; thrust into a hot, unfamiliar climate; and separated from family and loved ones.

For the newly arrived Yaqui women, life became especially insufferable. The worst barbarity imposed upon each wretched female, who had just been separated from her husband, was to compel her to marry and live with a man of Chinese origin. Chinese men were brought to Mexico as porters, and laborers to build the railroad. It was often a one-way ticket and later, when they fell into debt, they were also enslaved.

The Yaquis had an advanced culture that did not mix with other people, even other indigenous groups. Their religious beliefs combined Roman Catholic teachings with traditional indigenous practices; family and conjugal fidelity were integral parts of their value system. These women did not know the fates of their husbands, but hoped and prayed they had survived. In their minds, they were still married. To take a second husband was repugnant to them, as was mating with men outside their own tribe.

Yaqui women were housed separately from Yaqui men, with a dozen or more in each tiny hut. Fed meager rations, they were locked inside under pitiful conditions. Each week they took the women out, demanding they choose husbands from among the Chinese men. After several refusals, one was chosen for them. Those who resisted were severely lashed.

Many women perished from starvation and beatings, but those who survived and continued their resistance were put into the henequén fields, forced to do the same backbreaking labor as any man. This entailed harvesting two thousand henequén leaves per day and failure to achieve the daily quota resulted in 15 lashes administered by the overseer.

It seems as if the purpose of this atrocity was not only to punish the Yaqui, but to annihilate them altogether. Why else would they separate women from their husbands and force them to mate with men of a different cultural and ethnic background?

Some Yaquis did flee Sonora and avoid capture. They went north to the USA or to other parts of Mexico, and a few continued their resistance in the hills of Sonora. In 1937, President Lázaro Cárdenas granted the surviving Yaquis their own territory with access to irrigation from a newly constructed dam. Mexico’s 2000 census counted 12,467 Yaquis in Sonora plus some in Baja California and Sinaloa. In 1964, those in the USA received a smaller allocation of land and by 2008, they counted 11,324. This may be a sadly reduced number, but in spite of everything, their culture survived.

Much of this information was taken from a book titled Barbarous Mexico (1910), by John Kenneth Turner. This Los Angeles Express Reporter traveled south, posing as a potential land investor, to investigate rumors he had heard about Mexicans being enslaved in the Yucatán. You can read the entire book online with this link:
https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Barbarous_Mexico.

Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa,
an oceanview B&B in Huatulco (www.bbaguaazul.com).

Women’s Rights in North America: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

While this issue covers several high-achieving Mexican women, that might create a somewhat misleading portrait about how all women in Mexico are doing. But is the picture of Mexican women that includes femicide, rampant domestic violence, and lives of crushing poverty any more accurate?

Where IS the world on women’s rights?
Women’s rights are human rights – or so say most organizations working on gender equality. Mao ZeDong famously said that women “hold up half the sky,” as he maneuvered his political agenda to maximize their potential in modernizing China. On average, women in Mexico, the United States, and Canada hold up 51% of the sky, but North American women certainly have not achieved anything like an equal share of life’s benefits. We have a long way to go before North American women are working for human, rather than women’s, rights.

Political Rights
The Right to Vote. Without political power, women will still have to petition for rights as if they were privileges to be granted by men. Perhaps the most fundamental political right is the right to vote. Although the Mexican Constitution of 1917, created about two-thirds of the way through the Mexican Revolution, recognized the equality of men and women, women were not granted “full citizenship” until 1937, and the right to vote was not granted until 1953. Canada, due to its relationship with the British Commonwealth, did not have its own constitution until 1982, but most women over 21 who were citizens (i.e., not aboriginal women or women of color) received the right to vote in 1919; most Québécois women achieved the right to vote in 1940, and aboriginal women got the vote in 1960. In 1920, the U.S. granted women the right to vote with the 19th Amendment to its Constitution.

The Right to Hold Office. Perhaps the most important place to achieve equal representation is in a country’s legislature – the place where laws are repealed or enacted. In 2014, after several failed attempts to increase the representation of women, Mexico amended its Constitution to require equal representation in both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, making it fourth in the world for women’s legislative power – women hold 51% of the seats in the Senate and 49% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies (numbers 1 – 3 are Rwanda, Cuba, and Bolivia). Without such laws, Canada ranks 61st in the world with women holding about 47% of its Senate seats and about 27% of the seats in the House of Commons. The United States has no quotas either, and is in a three-way tie for 76th place, with women elected to 25% of the Senate seats and about 24% of the seats in the House of Representatives.

Personal Rights
Since its founding in 1945, the United Nations has stood for “equal rights for men and women,” but official language was not enough. In 1981, after thirty years of work on the status of women around the world, the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) took effect. Mexico and Canada signed the Convention immediately (July 17, 1980); the United States, however, joined Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Palau, and Tonga, plus the non-state entity of the Vatican, in NOT signing the Convention. (The United States has also failed to amend its Constitution to acknowledge equal rights for women, despite nearly a hundred years of trying.)

CEDAW explicitly identifies a wide range of women’s rights, from bodily integrity to property rights. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international body that tracks how the world is doing on issues of international concern, has identified the three issues most critical to achieving gender equity. The first two involve a woman’s ability to create a sustainable life: inequality of education and employment, and of wages and salaries once she has entered the labor market. The third issue is violence against women.

Education, Employment, and Pay
Perhaps the most telling indicator of gender equality is paid employment in a good quality job that offers the possibility of increasing income and responsibility. Conversely, when a country’s economy depends on low wages, iffy jobs, and unpaid labor in the home to prop itself up, women – and their children – are usually trapped in dead-end, often abusive, situations with little or no hope of escape. The OECD ranks Mexico as having the lowest productivity level in the world, in large part because of the low skill levels of its people (the high school graduation rate is 67%; in Canada, it’s 77%; in the U.S. it’s 85%).

In Mexico, women lag behind men in paid employment – over 80% of Mexican men have paid work, while less than half of women do. The U.S. is about average in terms of women’s paid work, while Canada is above average.

Women’s pay lags 17% behind men’s in Mexico, higher than the international average; both the U.S. and Canada lag further behind (women make 20% less than men).

Unfortunately, over half of the Mexican women who work for pay are working in the informal economy – i.e., off the books, self-employed, or in jobs that probably come and go, so no secure source of income. Although more than half of Mexican men and women work in the informal economy, the negative aspects of insecure employment – unreliable income, hours too short or too long, no social benefits – affect women more than men.

The future does not look rosy for young women – the great majority of whom are single teen mothers; 35% of women aged 15 to 24 are “NEET” (Neither Employed nor participating in any
Education or Training that could lead to paid work). This is nearly double the international average. The chances of lowering the NEET rate for young women is limited by Mexico’s teen pregnancy rate, which is the highest in the world.

Violence Against Women
Violence against Women includes all forms of violence and abuse – physical, psychological, sexual, economic, harassment, trafficking, child marriage, genital mutilation – directed at women because they are women. Obviously, such violence severely constrains a woman’s opportunities for a decent life for herself and her children.

Unfortunately, collecting data on gender-based violence has not yet been standardized, especially in Canada, so we can’t make all comparisons and all numbers are estimates. According to MacLean’s online magazine, Canadian women suffer from domestic violence and femicide, and the rate is going up, but because Canada does not have specific criminal laws separating crimes against women, statistics on violence against women are not collected systematically. Moreover, domestic violence, up to and including rape, is seriously underreported, most sharply so in Canada – data from domestic violence hotlines indicate that only 1 in 5 victims made any kind of police report.

In 2017, almost half (47%) of ALL Mexican women suffered some sort of domestic violence from an intimate partner or family member. Another 39% of ALL Mexican women suffer violence at the hands of strangers. In the United States, over a third of ALL women (36%) experienced domestic violence. OECD estimates that non-indigenous Canadian Police reporting for Canada indicates that indigenous women suffer domestic violence at three times the rate of non-indigenous women. Given the problems in tracking violence against women, the takeaway here is that violence against women is far more prevalent in Mexico than in the countries to the north.

Femicide. The most extreme form of violence against women – femicide, or “mysogynistic murder” – occurs when women are killed because they are women. Various explanations have been offered for femicide in Mexico – the drug cartels don’t want women to resist their inroads, NAFTA changed the relationships between men and women when more women were hired in the maquiladores (factories) built on the Mexican side of the border, men’s attitudes towards women in Mexico make murder all too easy.

In all countries, determining whether the murder of a woman is “femicide” – she was killed because she was a woman – is problematic. Of the 3,142 women murdered in Mexico in 2019, only 795 are being investigated as femicides – activists believe this is way too low. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in its study on gender-related homicides (2019) classified 75% of the murders as femicide.

Starting in 2007, Mexico has had a system of alerts about gender-specific violence; since 2015, alerts have been issued for 18 of Mexico’s 32 states (an area equal to 56% of Mexico). However, there seems to be no common reason for the violence, which makes it seem as if the explanation for femicide is complex and deeply rooted in Mexican culture. Unfortunately, issuing such an alert has not reduced violence against women in general or femicide in particular in the states of Veracruz, Morelos, Mexico, Puebla, Guerrero, or Colima.

Women and Mezcal: Division of Labour between the Sexes

By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.

It is inaccurate to suggest that mezcal production in Oaxaca is by and large a man’s job or trade and that there are very few palenqueras, that is, artisanal mezcal distillers who are women. The female of the species makes mezcal. Women’s involvement in the process is essentially determined by the same criteria used to understand sex roles in other vocations in rural Oaxaca: strength and stamina, traditional child-rearing, and other household responsibilities.

Palenqueros (using the more generic term for male and female producers of the spirit) typically do not read books or watch YouTube videos to learn how to make the iconic Mexican spirit. They learn from their fathers, their uncles and their grandfathers, just as their relatives before them, over generations. Young girls, just as young boys, begin learning the trade virtually from infancy; watching, helping, and fantasizing their futures as palenqueros while in the course of interacting with their friends and siblings. I frequently witness this acquisition of knowledge.

Customarily women raise families, dating to the hunter and gatherer division of labor in humankind. Mothers remained close to home with the children, gathering fruits, nuts, berries, etc., and preparing meals, while their male partners were off on extended hunting expeditions, requiring that they be fleet of foot, and at times requiring more physical fortitude than women can muster.

With mezcal production, often the fields of agave under cultivation are far from home, and if wild maguey is sought, the palenquero is frequently required to walk a couple of hours into the hills before encountering his bounty. The same holds true for sourcing firewood to fuel ovens and stills. Furthermore, lifting the piñas (heart of the succulent used in production) can require more strength than women exhibit. Although the palenquero will sometimes cut the pinas into smaller pieces while still in the field, whether whole or halved they can weigh hundreds of pounds and must be lifted into trucks or onto donkeys or mules.

Once back at the palenque (the artisanal mezcal distillery), which often adjoins the homestead, women’s work making mezcal begins in earnest, although still subject to their priority obligation of preparing meals and tending to the children. Women are often an integral part of the baking, crushing, fermenting and distilling processes, working alongside and even directing men.

Back at the palenque, the task of cutting the agave into appropriately sized pieces for baking usually falls to men, once again for reasons relating to stamina and strength. Splitting logs and loading the oven with large, heavy tree trunks is typically men’s work as well. But when it comes to filling the oven with stones, wet bagazo (waste fiber from distillation), piñas, tarpaulins and earth, women participate as equals to men.

Even in the face of whatever remnants persist of the perceived macho mexicano, once the rocks in the oven have been sufficiently heated, it is important to second as many helpers both male and female to get the work of filling and sealing the oven so it is airtight.

Women as well as men remove the piñas from the oven once the carbohydrates have been converted to sugars, or caramelized. Later on, in preparation for a subsequent bake, once again individuals of both sexes empty the chamber. The women are the daughters, daughters-in-law, mothers, partners, nieces and granddaughters. I regularly see them all participating. They are as much a part of the process as their male counterparts, including being charged with decision-making.

When crushing the baked agave is done by hand, then yes, almost exclusively it is men who attend to this most arduous task. But the remaining tasks are often shared equally: working the horse; determining when the pieces of maguey have been sufficiently pulverized; loading the receptacles for fermenting, whether they be wooden slat tanks, in-ground lined pits, bovine skins, or something else; and distilling. Women can decide upon the optimum ABV (alcohol by volume) and how to achieve the best possible flavor.

But let’s assume that the palenquera is also charged with typical household chores. including family meal preparation and raising the children, including attending to their health, education and general welfare. She cannot, of course, be reasonably expected to look after all this, as well as partner with her husband in directing and attending to all of the tasks required in mezcal production. However upon hearing the shout or receiving the phone call from her male partner, cousin, son or father, she’s there, as needed.

In addition, she is the one remaining at home in charge of sales. She typically also prepares comida for the men, and in fact it is customary, when the home is not alongside the palenque, for women to bring food and drink for those (men) who are at some stage of producing the spirit.

Economic necessity on occasion dictates that a woman, to almost the complete exclusion of men, might become a palenquera. She plants, tends, cuts and harvests maguey; splits logs’ and crushes by hand. In one case a husband/palenquero died suddenly in a car accident, leaving his wife and four young children. She became a palenquera in the traditional sense, doing everything previously done by her late husband, in addition to raising the children.

In another case a single mother’s two children left home for the US in their late teens, leaving her and her mother as the householders. She had learned mezcal production from her grandfather. Currently she has a reputation for being one of the very few palenqueras who does it all, producing one of the finest mezcals in Oaxaca. She directs her underlings, that is, male cousins and neighbors, as to how to produce mezcal based on her exacting recipe. The foregoing are two exceptions to the tradition of both men and women working together, cooperatively with members of their families and communities.

A shift in paradigm is both warranted and strongly suggested when it comes to our perception of the industry being mainly within the purview of men. Women deserve to have their proper and important place acknowledged in the world of Oaxacan mezcal production.

Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (www.mezcaleducationaltours.com).

Just Like A Woman: More Color and Diversity in the Novel as in Life

By Carole Reedy

Two Latinas, one Native American, one Black American, one Ghanaian American, and one White American. These remarkable women make up the list of some of the most anticipated 2020 novels written by women.

In 2019, we saw the first black woman and first black British author, Bernadine Evaristo, win the coveted Booker Prize for her novel Girl, Woman, Other. Previously, just four black women had been shortlisted for the award.

In an unprecedented action, the Booker committee decided to flout the one-winner rule. The prize was shared with author Margaret Atwood for The Testaments, sequel to her best-selling novel A Handmaid’s Tale.

The books listed here will surely be among those considered for this year’s top prizes. Let this column serve as an early alert so you can get on those library waiting lists!

Two important novels to be published this year are not on this list because we reviewed them in the February 2020 issue of The Eye: The Mirror and the Light by Hillary Mantel (in March) and The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (in June). See theeyehuatulco.com to read about these marvelous new novels.

On to the next 2020 selections, with publication dates in parentheses…

Zora Neale Hurston
Hitting A Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick (January 2020)

Surely the most recognizable name on this list, the late Hurston’s works continue to rise from the ashes. Upon her death of heart disease in 1960, Hurston’s papers were tossed into a burn barrel, but then were miraculously saved by a friend passing the house where Hurston had lived, the valuable manuscripts continuing to be published to this day. It’s also thanks to writer Alice Walker, who in 1975 published “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston,” in Ms. Magazine, that attention has focused on the author.

It’s impossible to begin discussing Hurston’s intense struggles and experience. Just reading a brief biography of her life is exhausting. But we’re fortunate to live in a world filled with publishers who continue to remind us who she was and what she means to history and society.

Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick contains 21 stories of love and race, eight of them from the lost Harlem Renaissance collection of the 1920s and 30s. The Guardian calls her tales “wickedly funny…unnerving at times, but always a thrill.” We are so fortunate to benefit from the discovery of her stories.

Louise Erdrich
The Night Watchman (March 3, 2020)

This novel is based on Erdrich’s grandfather’s story, both as a night watchman in a North Dakota factory and as a member of the Chippewa Council, where he was active in arguing for the Native American during a time (1953) when the US government was presenting a new bill that threatened their rights.

Memorable characters from the reservation and others make up the world of Erdrich’s book, one the publisher describes as “a majestic work of fiction from this revered cultural treasure.”

Erdrich has won a plethora of awards, including the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction. A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, she owns a bookstore, Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, with a focus on Native American literature.

Yaa Gyasi
Transcendent Kingdom (September 15, 2020)

This tops my eager-to-read list because I and most of my reading friends were deeply impressed with Homegoing, Gyasi’s 2016 debut historical fiction novel, which follows the family of many generations of Ghanaians. Among other awards, the book received the 2017 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.

Gyasi’s new novel also examines the life of a Ghanaian family, this time in Alabama. Those who are fortunate enough to have received advance copies give this book five stars, praising it as the book that “will make her a legend.”

Isabel Allende
A Long Petal of the Sea (January 21, 2020)

Those of you who want to read in Spanish to improve your second language skills will find Allende a good place to start. She’s accessible and a master storyteller and historian. Allende’s style is often magical realism, and the most popular of her many novels is The House of the Spirits.

The Guardian writes that “At this point in Allende’s career, it’s easy to forget what a trailblazer she was, a rare female voice in a wave of Latin American literature that was overwhelmingly male.”

A Long Petal of the Sea starts during the Spanish Civil War, continues with the protagonists through France and eventually to Pinochet’s Chile, and finally moves to Venezuela. The poet Pablo Neruda plays a part in the expansive tale of 80 years, as does Allende’s own life. It sounds to me like a complete and satisfying historical tale.

Julia Álvarez
Afterlife (April 7, 2020)

After 15 years, we’re finally looking forward to another Álvarez novel. Many of us remember well In the Time of Butterflies, the story of sisters rebelling during the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, as well as How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, also a family tale whose story takes place in the Dominican Republic and in the US.

Afterlife is a novel of the immigrant experience and of a recent widow dealing with loss and grief. It is described by critics as both moving and funny.

One of our favorite Latin American authors, Luis Alberto Urrea (if you haven’t read his The House of Broken Angels, you have a great delight in store for you!), welcomes Alvarez’s return with this: “The queen is back with the exact novel we need in this fraught era.”

Kate Elizabeth Russell
My Dark Vanessa (March 10, 2020)

Like Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel Gone Girl, this first novel by a young American PhD is being touted as the most-awaited novel of the year by The New York Times, Esquire, and The Guardian, among others.

Esquire says: “A singular achievement – a masterpiece of tension and tone . . . with utmost sensitivity and vivid gut-churning detail. Before you start My Dark Vanessa, clear your schedule for the next few days…this will utterly consume you.”

The story, woven from memory, is one the publisher describes as “exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher.”

The mere availability of these future masterpieces in libraries and bookstores and on Amazon and Kindle fills me with two deeply satisfying emotions: joy and anticipation. Booker-prize winner Evaristo expresses contemporary women’s concerns best in one brief sentence: “We black British women know that if we don’t write ourselves into literature no one else will.”

Stay in the limelight, gals! Keep reading.

The Zapatista Women

By Jan Chaiken and Marcia Chaiken

The Zapatistas are an organized activist group in the Mexican state of Chiapas, east of the state of Oaxaca and bordering on Guatemala. They perhaps are best remembered for their military occupation of numerous towns in Chiapas and hostile takeover of city squares in 1994 during their march to demand changes from the federal government in Mexico City. Currently, however, they are a peaceable, grassroots leftist movement that works in cooperation with the federal government of Mexico and the state of Chiapas.

The Zapatistas are recognized for developing successful local structures for political, economic, and cultural autonomy. Their adherents are mostly indigenous people (primarily Mayan), although the leader of the movement from the beginning (then known as Subcomandante Marcos) is not indigenous Maya. The Zapatistas went public and began taking control of territory in Chiapas on the day that NAFTA went into effect in 1994, as a symbolic way of emphasizing their opposition to globalization and their anticipation that NAFTA would have deleterious effects on rural and indigenous communities – an assessment which turned out to be basically correct.

From their founding in 1983 until they went public in 1994, the Zapatistas gradually built their membership, organizational structure, and laws that would govern their operations. In December 1993 they enacted their “Revolutionary Law of Women,” which was the foundation for the role of women in their movement. This 1993 law provided that women, without regard to their race, creed, or political affiliation, could hold positions in battle or leadership according to their desire and ability. The law stated that women would have equal pay, access to employment and land; could decide how many children to have; had first preference (along with their children) for medical attention; could select their partners; were not obligated to marry; and were protected by legal provisions against assault and maltreatment.

Although these idealistic assertions seem forward-looking even today, they were in marked contrast with the actual status of indigenous women elsewhere and represent continuing aspirations for activist Zapatista women in their own communities. Elsewhere in Chiapas and many other Mexican states, indigenous women are normally prevented from owning or inheriting land. They are typically forced into arranged marriages at young ages and often have 10 or more children.

Still, at the turn of the millennium, over half of indigenous women had no knowledge of contraception and a larger proportion had no access to contraceptives. Obtaining an abortion was very difficult and, if done, often fatal. As among many other indigenous groups in North America, domestic violence was widespread and the disappearance of many women without explanation was relatively commonplace.

According to historians, the participation of women as Zapatista guerrillas far exceeded their role in any other revolutionary or political movement in Latin America. Two women, Comandanta Ramona and Comandanta Susana, were top-ranking and well-known figures in communicating between the armed forces and the pueblos being run by the Zapatistas. By 2004, women constituted a third of the armed forces of the Zapatistas, and half of the support personnel. The influence of a handful of women in key leadership roles transformed the lives of women in the movement. Working within the Zapatista structure enabled the women to free themselves from the misery of their previous ways of living, to take on a wide range of responsible occupations, to select when and whom they marry, to have 2 to 4 children, and to fight for better conditions of health, literacy, education and justice for their communities, particularly women.

Initially the focus of women’s participation was to support the revolution, but gradually the Zapatistas took on a statewide and national mission of ending economic gender inequality, dismantling patriarchy, fighting violence against women, and investigating the disappearance of women. At the national level in Mexico, the Zapatistas have taken an unwavering anti-capitalist stance and are committed to local solutions to problems. For example, alcohol is prohibited in Zapatista-controlled villages — a measure that has reportedly substantially reduced domestic violence.

Beginning in 2018, the women Zapatistas have expanded their horizons by sponsoring international “gatherings of women who struggle.” Their invitation to participate in the 2019 gathering stated, “We fight against discrimination at home, in the street, at school, at work, on public transportation, against both those people we know and those who are strangers. . . . [Some] want to tell us we’re asking for it, that we are at fault for dying. No, we aren’t simply dying, we are being raped, murdered, cut up and disappeared. Anybody who faults us is sexist, and even women can demonstrate sexist thinking.” They are highlighting and addressing a problem that persists not only in Chiapas, not only in Mexico, but among indigenous women in numerous countries. Activists have established the social media hashtag #MMIW (missing and murdered indigenous women) to bring attention to this violence.

In the run up to the 2019 international gathering in Chiapas, the US president issued an executive order to establish a task force on missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. It stated that there is an ongoing and serious problem of missing and murdered indigenous people in the US, especially women and girls. Federal studies in the US have shown that native women are killed at a rate 10 times the national average. Other studies have made clear that men who rape, assault and murder indigenous women in the US are more likely to be white than Indian. Simply convening a task force to talk about these statistics is unlikely to bring about any change.

Twenty years ago pioneering collaborations between US city police, county sheriffs, tribal police, tribal councils and victim service organizations were making progress toward establishing networks that endangered women could access and escape violence. The amount of federal funds needed to foster these local collaborations was minimal and served primarily to validate and bolster these services. When the US federal administration changed, the funds and focus were withdrawn. It is about time that, heeding the cry of the Zapatista and other indigenous women, federal, state and local governments collaborate to provide access to services so desperately needed to save lives.