Written by Marco Cerqueira, Programs Officer at Vista Hermosa Foundation
To address the complex issues of gender-based violence in Mexico, Amextra (Mexican Association of Rural and Urban Transformation), a grant partner of Vista Hermosa Foundation (VHF), developed the project “Our voices put a stop to violence” in indigenous Tzeltal communities in the municipality of Ocosingo, in Chiapas state of southern Mexico. Amextra identified gender-based violence as one of the most serious problems in Mexico today, with large numbers of women assaulted, raped, kidnapped, and killed every year.
VHF has partnered with Amextra in Chiapas since 2009, first working to address rampant destruction of the rainforests and related food insecurity and poverty in the region. In 2011 they opened the Pej’Pem agro-ecological center to promote holistic transformation and sustainable livelihoods including gender equity for men, women, and youth, hosting groups from across the region.
In 2014, VHF partnered with Amextra in Nuevo Acteal, a destitute community in Ocosingo. This group of 10 families fled a 1997 massacre in which paramilitary forces killed 45 indigenous community members while attending a Catholic prayer service. The group was targeted because they supported the goals of autonomy and indigenous control of the land espoused by the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN). By 2017, they changed their community’s name to Nuevo Paraiso Tzotzil and were living in permanent wood homes with latrines and producing honey, among other products. The work in Nuevo Paraiso has since expanded to include many more communities.
The project “Our voices put a stop to violence” is a culmination of efforts in the region since 2018 to overcome trauma through storytelling. As a result of implementing the Community Narrative Practice (CNP) methodology with support from VHF, Amextra is about to publish 5 books with 25 stories that contain visual narratives related to violence against women. The stories are collected with the participation of the communities and discussed in groups, allowing reflection, analysis and activities about the issues and possible solutions. It is the first time that CNP has been implemented in indigenous communities in Mexico.
“Through the first year of the project, 100 Tzeltal women and men will participate in the process of dialogue, reflection and proposals for change. This, in turn, will have an impact on 500 more people nearby, making Chiapas society gradually aware of gender violence”, explains Marcela Salas Cassani, Amextra’s executive director. 100 copies will be printed of each of the 5 books by January 2022.
“It was a long and laborious process of adapting the CNP methodology in these communities,” explains Lorena Lopez de La Cruz, Amextra’s manager of operations. “Local promoters were trained to apply the research of the histories shared in the books and make sure to include all voices. That opened a larger panorama of the issue of gender-based violence and gender equity in Ocosingo. We knew that the problem existed, but not on that scale. By sharing the histories, the community is overcoming shame and pity, and recognizing the ownership of the solutions to heal these wounds.”
Amextra is seeking to replicate CNP in the state of Guerrero in southwestern Mexico with funding from VHF in 2023 and 2024. “The local team in Guerrero is excited to learn and implement CNP, since family violence and gender violence are great challenges in the region,” says Stephanie Ahlgrain, Amextra’s manager of fundraising and strategic partnerships.