Thursday, October 2, 2014

From Chiapas to the UN: Women in the Struggle for Indigenous Rights

"Indigenous peoples are being permanently alienated from our being. We are being stripped, ripped off, and plundered of our values, our spirituality, our spirits, even of our gods," says Margarita Gutiérrez Romero (left), an Nha-ñhu activist who will be speaking at UCLA on October 22. She has been involved in the movement for two decades, a time period that has seen a dramatic increase in indigenous rights activism on the global scene. Indigenous women have been key leaders in these efforts to ensure rights--including women's rights--for indigenous peoples during this time. For decades, activists worked tirelessly on behalf of a UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which was passed in 2007.
World Conference on Indigenous People
The first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples was recently held in New York City on September 22 and 23, 2014. In conjunction with this conference, UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women is sponsoring a series of lectures on “Women’s Activism and International Indigenous Rights.” Curated by Maylei Blackwell, Associate Professor, Department of Chicano/a Studies at UCLA, this series will explore the intersection of women’s rights and indigenous rights and will reflect on women’s role globally. 

Blackwell accompanied indigenous social movements for the past sixteen years developing a research expertise on the intersection of women’s rights and indigenous rights within Mexico and California.  More recently she has conducted community-based and collaborative research documenting cultural continuity and political mobilization with Zapotecs and Mixtecs from both the northern sierra as well as the central valleys of Oaxaca as well as the increasingly Mayan diaspora from Guatemala in Los Angeles.  In addition, she is a noted oral historian and author of ¡Chicana Power! Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement (U of Texas Press, 2011) which was a finalist for the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Book Prize and named by the Western Historical Association as one of the best book in western women and gender history. Her research focuses on indigenous women’s organizers in Mexico, Latin American feminist movements, and sexual rights activists, all of whom are involved in cross-border organizing and community formation.
Blackwell selected her as a speaker for this series because of Gutiérrez Romero’s long history of activism on behalf of indigenous people, which began in community radio and continued as she studied journalism at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Part of the indigenous rights movement that burgeoned in the early 1990s, Gutiérrez was a founding member of the National Plural Indigenous Assembly for Autonomy (ANIPA), which advocated for constitutional reform to establish a system of regional autonomy, and co-founded Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indígenas de las Américas (ECMI), which includes organizations in twenty-six countries in North, Central, and South America. "The powerful growth of [this organization]," says Blackwell, "reflects the emergence of indigenous mass mobilizations and social movements across Latin America and the Caribbean throughout the 1990s as well as the development of a specific set of gendered demands surrounding indigenous autonomy in the region." (2)

ECMI's member organizations are committed to training, research, and advocacy in areas including nonviolence and ancestral justice; territory, environment, climate change and food sovereignty; international law instruments; intellectual property and biodiversity; health and spirituality: sexual and reproductive health; political participation; indigenous intercultural education; and racism and discrimination. In 1995, the group organized the First Continental Meeting of Indigenous Women in Quito, Ecuador. It has gone on to “consolidate [itself] as a network that links indigenous women from throughout the Americas to promote the formation of women's leadership and influence, from the perspective indigenous spaces of representation and international, regional, national decision and the organizations they lead in order to strengthen policies that allow us to fully exercise our human rights.”(2)

In 1994, Gutiérrez Romero was as an advisor at the negotiations on Indigenous Rights and Culture, Dialogue and Negotiation in San Andrés, between the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, the Chiapas State government, and the Mexican national government. These negotiations resulted in the San Andrés Accords, which were never implemented due to governmental incalcitrance.  A key component of the negotiations regarded “the triple oppression suffered by indigenous women (because they are poor, indigenous and women)” (3) Included in the demands was this request:  “Among the public resources which belong to the indigenous peoples there should be a special consignment for women, administered and managed by them. This will give them the economic capacity so that they can begin their own productive projects, guarantee them potable water and enough food for everyone, and allow them to protect health and improve the quality of housing” (3) Only a portion of these demands was actually included in the Accords, and the Indigenous Law ratified in May of 2001 was a even further watered down version of the original demands. (4,5) The law only states that officials have a responsibility “to promote the incorporation of indigenous women into development, through the support of productive projects, the protection of women’s health, the creation of incentives to favor women’s education, and their participation in the decision-making related to communal life.”(6) 
As the indigenous movement grew after the 1994 Zapatista rebellion, Gutiérrez Romero went on to serve as a member of the National Indigenous Council (CNI) and was National Coordinator of Mexico’s Indigenous Women (CONAMI) and Secretary for Political Education in the Executive Committee of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD). From 2001 until 2010, she was President of the International Instruments Commission for Continental Network of Indigenous Women.  She is currently President of the State Coordinator of Indigenous Women Organizations in Vinajel, Chiapas, Mexico. In that capacity, she participated on a panel for the Organization of American States Policy Roundtable on  “Inclusion and Democracy in the Americas” in April of 2011.

Highlighting the ongoing efforts of activists and organizations to secure equality and full participation in governance for indigenous women is the focus of this series.  "These transnational social movement networks that were developed to engage the UN," according to Blackwell, "have resulted in new indigenous solidarities and policy advocacy strategies. Critically, this transnational network not only orients activists toward the international arena but it provides a critical space for exchange to build indigenous women’s political identities and forms of political analysis that they take back to their communities. Through this multi-scaled activism, they localize a wide range of strategies against violence against indigenous women, militarization, ecological destruction (mining and resource extraction), intellectual property rights, racism against indigenous people, and the need for women’s human rights within their own communities."
Organized by the UCLA Center for the Study of Women and cosponsored by the UCLA Latin American Institute, the UCLA Dean of the Social Sciences, UCLA Institute for American Cultures, and the UCLA Center for Oral History, Gutiérrez Romero’s lecture will take place on October 22, 2014, from 2 to 4 pm in Royce 314 on the UCLA campus.  Updated information can be found on CSW’s website:
1. “Indigenous Groups Challenge Doctrine of Christian Discovery and Domination,” July 22, 2011, Jason Coppola, Truthout,
2. ECMIA website, 
3. The Dialogue of San Andres and the Rights of Indigenous Culture, EZLN,
4. “18 years after the signing of the San Andrés Accords on Indigenous Rights and Culture, these continue not to be recognized by the State,” SIPAZ, International Service for Peace Blog,
5. “Mexico Ratifies Indian Rights Law Amid States' Opposition,” Los Angeles Times, July 13, 2001,
6. “Autonomy and Resistance in Chiapas: Indigenous Women’s Rights and the Accords of San Andrés,” Petra Purkarthofer, International Social Theory Consortium, Roanoke, May 18-21, 2006

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