Friday, August 15, 2008

Political Rights for Indigenous Women in Oaxaca

The legislature in the Mexican state of Oaxaca just passed an electoral reform that, among other things, forces all state and local elections to be held at the same time, and now grants a constitutional right to hold referendums and plebiscites. However, the most interesting part of the law is that it now guarantees indigenous women the right to vote and run for office in a number of municipalities across Oaxaca that use indigenous customs to choose local public officials. In 2008, its shocking that women can still excluded from the political process in a country considered to be democratic (although indigenous governments in the U.S. can be just as exclusionary and discriminatory).

Oaxaca has an interesting dual system for choosing municipal officials. Mostly indigenous municipalities are allowed to select leaders through what is called usos y costumbres, which can range from large community assemblies to smaller council of elders meetings. The rest of the municipalities rely on the traditional political parties and electoral process to select their leaders. Usos y costumbres has been operating since the 1990s, but has come under criticism for its exclusionary practices and its lack of consistency across elections. Some have also argued that it increases postelectoral conflict. The use of indigenous customs to select leaders has also led to the exclusion of women in many of these municipalities from the political process, despite constitutional guarantees in the Mexican Constitution. Its nice to see that at least the local government in Oaxaca recognized the problem and has done something about it.

For more information on the reform in Spanish, click here or here (sorry, nothing I know of is available in English!)