Mexico Is No Longer Turning a Blind Eye to Local Customs Barring Indigenous Women from Voting
Ana Campoy - Quartz
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October 4, 2016

Tzotzil indigenous women line up to vote during presidential elections in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico. (AP/Moises Castillo)

Mexico’s constitution has enshrined indigenous communities’ right to govern themselves according to their own “uses and customs.”

But in acknowledging one set of minorities, the government has essentially blocked out another one from political participation - because in many indigenous jurisdictions, women are regularly sidelined in traditional elections.

This hadn’t sat well with the women of Guevea de Humboldt, a municipality in the southern state of Oaxaca where only men were allowed to vote. The women filed a complaint with state authorities arguing they should be included in the rolls. A federal electoral court sided with them (link in Spanish), and on Sept. 20 they participated in local elections for the first time (Spanish). One of them was even elected to office.

The fight in Guevea de Humboldt is part of a broader movement to empower women, who are arguably even more marginalized than indigenous communities themselves.

In 2015, Mexico amended its constitution to clarify that women’s suffrage in Mexico, achieved in 1953, supersedes indigenous government traditions. The change was pushed by Eufrosina Cruz, a Oaxaca representative in Mexico’s congress who was barred from serving as mayor of her native community. Nobody will ever again be able to use the excuse that “in the catalogue of uses and customs the word ‘woman’ doesn’t appear,” she told newspaper Milenio (Spanish) after the change was decreed.

Out of Oaxaca’s 570 municipalities, 417 are ruled by indigenous traditional governments. Elections in these rural places happen during assemblies where voters pick officials through a raise of hands or collective call. Voter lists are frequently compiled by the community itself, instead of Mexico’s federal electoral institute, which manages the rolls used in all other elections, and they don’t always include women.

Women are also barred from running for office in some places. During 2013, only eight of Oaxaca’s hundreds of self-governing communities elected a female mayor, according to official data. “Women are not visible,” says Argel Ríos, from the Oaxacan State Institute of Electoral and Citizen Participation, which is in charge of certifying election results.

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