Threatened of death, persecuted by several groups and constantly watched by federal police to protect her life, Eufrosina Cruz describes herself as the “freest woman in the entire world”.
She is only 29 years old and she was born in a place where being a woman is equal to be nothing. At the Mexican state of Oaxaca (southern of the country) women do not exist even in the list of official citizens. Oaxaca is, in addition the province with the highest levels of Indigenous population, which is the forgotten sector of Mexico, a country of 106 millions of habitants, where at least 10 percent of that (10 millions) are indigenous.
Eufrosina is an indigenous woman, and if she says that she is completely free, is only because her own decision… because of her resolution to take a different road to stop her own discrimination as a woman and as an indigenous.
“There is an ancient debt towards our women, but I discovered that nobody will change that but us, ourselves … I want to teach other women that we have to stop being afraid… afraid to denounce, afraid to raise our voice, to call out for our rights”
Eufrosina Cruz jumped into the international news at the end of 2007, after she won the candidature to be Major of her little town in Oaxaca. She was indeed the first woman in history to be elected to that charge, but the news wasn’t good news. Not at all. The men of her community decided that she did not have the right because she was a woman.
Cruel, but in some sense it was the truth. According to the local traditional rules of several indigenous communities, women are the same to nothing; they only have some value under their husband’s surveillance. In fact, in at least 100 of the 570 localities of Oaxaca, indigenous women do not even exist in the list of citizens. Unbelievable but real: in full 21st century, these ancient rules are over the national laws, because it is supposed that Mexican Constitution is trying to respect the autonomy of indigenous people.
“We must change that –Eufrosina says- because they only use this kind of rules under political conveniences and interests, this kind of unwritten laws have been hurting us since centuries ago, there is not romanticism on them, not when they are attacking our human rights”
She knows very well what she is talking about. Eufrosina Cruz ran away from home at 11, in order to avoid a marked destiny from those “traditional rules”. Her sister was married when she was 12 and became mother at 13, now she is only 31 years old, only two more than Eufrosina, and she already has 9 children.
Eufrosina stayed out of home during several years while she was working and studying: something forbidden in her community. When she came back, she decided to take the next step: to go inside politics to try to change not only her destiny, but all the women’s destinies in her community.
“Oaxaca is the province with the highest rate of marginalization and poverty among the poorest states of Mexico; we are at least a million and half of natives; we have the first place in illiteracy, the first place in poverty, the first place in violence against women” says Eufrosina in a phone interview, with a voice full of tenderness, but full of strength at the same time.
However, nothing had changed in her town during her absence, and her politic aspirations were stopped in a dry blow… and if it is true that “everything happens for a reason”, this is a good example: Eufrosina’s case showed internationally how unfair Mexican laws could be against indigenous people, and even worst against indigenous women. World press focused on her for a while, and as a result, Mexican politics started to talk about the necessity of a real change in the Constitution.
Once again, as when she was 11, she decided to deny a destiny made for her, and she chose to write her own story: what seemed to be an end, she transformed it into a beginning. She started a civil association to help her first interest: indigenous women.
“A year ago we started Quiego, where we teach women to give value to their voices, and it is incredible the big changes that now we can see among the communities… definitely when you change a woman you change a family, then a town, and step by step we can change the entire country… education changes everything, even the “machismo”, because when a woman decides to change, everything changes around her”
According to Eufrosina, Quiego is her “new dream”. But it is indeed a reality which is now helping more than 300 women not only in Oaxaca, but in at least 10 Mexican provinces with high levels of poverty and indigenous population. By giving workshops and conferences, women are changing their self-esteem and they are daring to make their choices, and Eufrosina says that this phenomenon is also changing the men around all these brave women.
“The big secret is not to be afraid. I know how they feel, because in my own way I saw my father’s change… it is not easy, when I saw him crying, begging me to stop this fight, I felt that I couldn’t go on anymore, but finally I know that he is now another man as many of others who are understanding things in a different way: they are understanding that women are not objects, but human beings”
This amazing woman has begun a real revolution among indigenous women, and her beautiful symbol is a flower: a white lily that grows naturally in Oaxaca, often used by famous artist Diego Rivera in his paintings.
“We chose the white lily because nobody notes her beauty, because she is natural and resistant, strong and fragile at the same time… wherever I go, I offer this flower to remind the others that indigenous women are exactly like that”
More of Eufrosina Cruz:
1.- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-JOJbiwftc&feature=related (English) 2.- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymL3_nrMJBE&feature=related (English) 3.- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEVSdYulY9Q&feature=related (with her symbol-Spanish) 4.- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yumHhDvEZaE&feature=related (Speech – Spanish)
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.Voices of Our Future Assignment: Op-eds