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Still no equal rights for native Mexican women

Native women are invisible in Mexican society. This is the conclusion Barbara Ortiz draws in her dissertation. PhD defence on 23 February.

More than sixty different peoples

Mexico was colonised in the sixteenth century by the Spanish, and of the present population, only around 15% are descended from the original inhabitants. In six of the 31 states that make up federal Mexico, at least one in three people are of native origin. The numbers range from 30% in Hidalgo to 63% in Yucatán. The government recognises 62 indigenous peoples; not that this benefits the native people themselves. 

Systematic discrimination

Native women on the market in Tlacolula de Matamoros Oaxaca 

Native women suffer systematic discrimination across all areas of society, both at individual and at institutional level. Pregnant women from indigenous communities, for example, have difficulty getting good and respectful medical assistance and those women who do have access to a doctor are often treated with derision. There are even places where they are excluded from political elections simply because they are women. Native women rarely appear in the Mexican media and if they do appear, they are often depicted in negative stereotypical roles. 

Racist and sexist

Ortiz wanted to find out in which areas the rights of native women in Mexico are not guaranteed, in particular healthcare, political participation, the media and education. She studied many sources, including government archives and statistics, media and school books, cross-referencing the material from the different sources. She also spoke with native experts and other academics. The only possible conclusion Ortiz could come to was that 'Mexican society, across the board, is still enormously racist and sexist, both in social and political aspects.'  

Women are most vulnerable

The rights of native peoples have been on the political agenda for more than fifty years but there is still a lot of room for improvement. Within the groups of native people, women are the most vulnerable group. 'There is neither awareness nor understanding of the important role that women play in society and in how communities develop,' Ortiz explained. 'The lack of concern about the situation of these women illustrates their disadvantaged social position, and it is very difficult to escape from that.'

Women ready to participate

Barbara Ortiz

‘Native women are ready to participate but Mexican society has to be open to that. This means that in all social domains conditions have to be set that will ensure that access is not denied to them.  The realisation has to dawn that these women, too, are part of society and that they have a right to a full place within society.' 

‘There are more sources of information that can be evaluated through scientific research, and active participation by native peoples should also be put on the scientific agenda,' in Ortiz's opinion. 

Barbara Ortiz is an external PhD candidate of Archaeology. During the period of her research she worked at the Centre for Mexican Studies at the University of Antwerp. She currently works for the Belgian Institute for the Equality of Women and Men. She hopes to be able to contiue her research on gender equality and the rights of indigenous peoples.  

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