by Jesenia Hernandez, Program Assistant, Vista Hermosa Foundation
When social media hashtags fade away and powerful reminders of women’s rights are toned down until next year, how will we confront the injustices we see? Will we internalize our pain and the suffering we see around us, or can we unite and transform negative energy into a positive force that energizes others? In Chiapas, Mexico, Vista Hermosa Foundation’s partner organization Xilotl challenges communities to eradicate the gender-based systems which entrap everyone in a circle of violence. “The Network of Flourishing Tzeltal Women Transforming Well-being” challenges us to ask what actions we’re called to take on the days following International Women’s Day.
Historically, indigenous women in Mexico often face diverse forms of discrimination that combine and overlap. They face daily violations of their civil, political, economic and social rights, access to justice, and the right to live without violence. For example, women are expected to be caretakers of the home and yet are unable to own land. The imbalance of power between women and men, as well as the stress of unstable income, can trigger domestic violence, often leaving women with no recourse.
Last year, facilitators from eight Tzeltal communities united to form the Network. Alone, each of the facilitators was listening and feeling the pain of the poverty and injustices indigenous Tzeltal women in their communities face, having faced similar traumas in their own lives. Together they decided to share their experiences with one another and transform the shared pain of their communities into something productive, perhaps “radical”—pushing back against generations of anti-woman norms. Investing their energy in trainings fostering self-esteem, women’s rights, leadership, empowerment, and facilitation, they then returned to their communities with the courage and confidence to share and train more women survivors of violence to join them in their work.
The power of this group is in their common vision to “have consensus on how to act or face situations, [and] space for reflection about challenges, achievements, situations and actions.” They are motivated by a shared goal to “promote autonomy, empowerment and the full enjoyment of rights of women and men in a balance of power, inside and outside their community,” explains Norma Balcazar, Executive Director of Xilotl. All of this, together.
The Tzeltal Women’s Network has committed to a year-long campaign, “Indigenous Sisterhood: Breaking Silence in the Face of Violence.” They extended an international day of action into 365 days, expressing that “it is the time to act, commit ourselves, raise awareness and raise our voices for the thousands of women who are suffering or who are no longer here with us… It is a call to eradicate and eliminate all types of violence against women and girls… a moment to create, a time of healthy coexistence… a space where women can celebrate the worthiness of being a woman.”