Yesterday’s blog post provoked a lot of discussion about women’s lives in Mexico, especially those living in poverty and struggling in remote villages. Some of our discussion was here. Some of it was via my Facebook page where I also share what I write.
I want to follow-up with some observations and impressions.
Women are vulnerable wherever we live, in developed First World countries and in developing countries around the world. Isolation and machismo contribute strongly to this vulnerability, especially where men control the lives and fates of women in their households.
Femicide: deaths and disappearance of women because of our gender.
This is true in Mexico, throughout Central and South America, Asia and Africa. Women work, take care of families, contribute to household income when we can, and are often abused. Social justice and human rights for women is gaining a stronghold — but it isn’t enough.
Leadership is lacking. AMLO, the President of Mexico, is said to have not taken seriously the demonstrations of outrage that were held Sunday in Mexico City. See this article in The Guardian. In the United States of America, a man we call President sets a role model for female abuse and disrespect.
What contributes to this? I’ll talk about what I know. In villages throughout Mexico, drinking beer and mezcal is part of the ritual culture. This is considered tribute for every fiesta and toasts to the occasion are on-going. Men become accustomed to drinking when they are young. They may become alcoholics. Some women do, too. I’ve seen Alcoholics Anonymous meeting places in many towns where I’ve visited.
Drinking is also part of the culture of poverty and shame. In agricultural villages, men are responsible for subsistence farming, which means they work the fields to grow corn, beans and squash to feed their families. All men do this. It is not commodified. There is no economic value to resell since everyone farms. So, they are not making an income. There is despair, depression, anger, resentment. Men turn to alcohol for succor.
Women in these villages I have visited are weavers. They grow, card, spin and weave cotton or wool and create textiles to wear themselves or to sell if they have developed a market. They are the income earners. They provide for food not grown or raised, education costs for children and grandchildren, medicines. In traditional relationships, women turn their earned income over to the men, considered head of household. But we are getting smarter. At least some of us!
The New Religion — Fundamentalist Christianity is gaining a foothold in Mexico. In the state of Chiapas, the poorest, it is said over 63% have converted from Catholicism to one of the many proselytizing religious groups. I see traditional Catholic villages around the Oaxaca valley with Christian churches integrated into the community. Why?
Fundamentalist Christianity promotes no drinking, no spousal or family abuse, and no participation in the traditional patronage system based on Catholic observance, no hierarchy. Women embrace this and convince their husbands it is good for them, too.
In villages where women do not have a skill that can be converted to a marketable commodity, it is more difficult.
Abuse knows no social or economic boundaries, as many of us know. The women of Mexico have demonstrated this. We have made inroads but the path is long and requires more.
One reader sent me this: Unfortunately the shift is from alcoholism (especially as Mezcal becomes the gentrified drink of choice and is pricing locals out of it) and into crystal meth addiction. There are plenty of AA locations even in small pueblos but treatment and support for meth addiction is unheard of here. Not to mention the recovery rate from meth is not promising. Meth is so widespread now that it’s even in the secundarias (middle schools). In the bulk of towns, there are no artisanal traditions and minimal education, and the women have even fewer options than those who benefit from the tourist industry. In our town, 20% of the women are illiterate; I work with mothers who can’t even print their own name. Women in their 30s, so these aren’t archaic statistics.
As I said, there is a lot to think about, to do, and for us to create the political will for change. Desperation and addiction are equal to human destruction.
All the more reason not to bargain when you come to visit!