Indigenous women from the mountainous Oaxaca region in Southern Mexico are mobilizing for their right to political representation and participation. The Mexican constitution grants equal rights to women and men, but in about one-fourth of indigenous villages, customary laws prevail and women are barred from voting or running for office. Eufrosina Cruz won a mayoral race in her village, Santa Maria Quiegolani, in November but the vote was nullified by elders. She is contesting the results in court, the Associated Press reported Jan. 27.

After national elections that put few women in power, Guatemala’s indigenous groups are demanding a seat at the decision-making table, Prensa Libre news agency reported Jan. 23. The national coordinator for Mayan, Garifuna and Xincas women publicly called on President Alvaro Colom to fulfill his campaign promise to include indigenous women–who are triply marginalized on account of their gender, class and ethnicity–in the political process.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • Mexico is boosting the battle against gender-based violence with a new federal position to prosecute crimes against women, migrant smuggling, child labor and human exploitation, the AP reported Feb. 1. Guadelupe Morfin, the new prosecutor, has previous experience working in Ciudad de Juarez, a U.S.-Mexico border town infamous for femicide, with an estimated 423 women killed since 1993, according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission.
  • One-third of the posts in India’s Bharatiya Janata Party will be reserved for women, the BBC reported Jan. 29. The party, along with the ruling Congress Party, has backed a quota for women in parliament but have faced strong resistance from smaller parties and male leaders. The quota was described by party leader Sushma Swaraj as “historic” and a step toward the “empowerment of women.”
  • Yakin Erturk, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on violence against women, has been invited to Saudi Arabia to gather evidence on gender-based violence. Ansar al-Maraah (Supporters of Women) are forming a new organization to promote women’s rights in the socially conservative nation, which bans women from driving and follows an ultra-strict interpretation of Islamic law, Arab News reported Jan. 28.
  • Former Education Minister Blanca Ovelar will run for president in Paraguay, the Agence France Presse reported Jan. 31. She belongs to the centrist Colorado Party, which has been in power for the last 61 years. If she wins the April elections, Ovelar would stand as the third current female president in South America, joining the ranks of Chile’s Michelle Bachelet and Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution on Jan. 23 marking January as National Stalking Awareness Month. Sponsored by Texas Republican Ted Poe, the resolution notes that more than 1 million U.S. women are stalked each year, and 81 percent of women stalked by an intimate partner are also physically assaulted.
  • Jan. 28 marked the 20th anniversary of Canada’s legalization of abortion rights. “The decision in 1988 was far-reaching and ahead of its time,” said Joyce Arthur, a coordinator with the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, the Montreal Gazette reported.
  • Jill Pay will become Britain’s first female sergeant-at-arms in the House of Commons, the BBC reported Jan. 30. Pay will head a security force commonly known as the “men in tights” and will be the only person allowed to carry a sword into the parliamentary chamber.

For more information:

Women’s eNews Series, “As Their Moment Arrives, India’s Women Seize It”:

“Mexico Replies to Juarez With Anti-Violence Law”:

“Zuma’s Africa Faces Struggle Against Rape”:

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A Jan. 30 appearance in Johannesburg by convicted rapist Mike Tyson, a former world champion boxer from the United States, angered South African women’s rights activists, Reuters reported. Tyson went to South Africa to help raise funds for a children’s charity at a gala banquet, where one of the nation’s most controversial figures, Jacob Zuma, was the keynote speaker. Zuma was accused of raping a woman while he was vice president but was acquitted of the charges. He is currently acting leader of the African National Congress and goes on trial in August for racketeering, money-laundering and other charges tied to an arms deal.

Activists from the group One in Nine–named for the 1 in 9 South African women who are rape victims–had sought government permission to protest outside the gala venue, but police denied the request.

George Lekgetho, an African National Congress member of parliament, was also met with criticism this week when he was asked about the legalization of prostitution during the 2010 World Cup, to be held in South Africa. “It is one of the things that would make it a success because we hear of many rapes, because people don’t have access to them,” he told the Johannesburg Times on Jan 29.

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • Iranian authorities revoked the publishing license of Zanan, the country’s only women’s rights magazine, on Jan. 29. The reform-minded magazine published for 16 years, advocating for women’s rights but avoiding politics in order to avoid censorship crackdowns. Government officials accused the magazine of presenting a negative image of Iranian women to the outside world, the Los Angeles Times reported Jan. 29.
  • Only 22 percent of the loans given out by the Small Business Administration went to women-owned businesses in fiscal 2007, the Urban Institute concluded in a Jan. 30 study. The Washington think tank says that’s too low given the percentage of women-owned businesses overall. Start-up businesses received 32 percent of SBA-backed loans in 2007, and minority-owned businesses received 34 percent.
  • The United Nations Refugee Agency says that a group of 20 Kayan refugee women from Burma are on display in a “human zoo” and are being held against their will in Thailand, the BBC reported Jan. 30. The women continue the neck-stretching tradition by wearing brass coils, which push the collar bone and rib cage down, elongating their necks. The women receive small fees from tourists who take photos, but one woman, Zember, has removed her coils in protest and said she now feels like a prisoner.
  • The gender wage gap in the technology sector widened last year, Computerworld reported Jan. 30. Men in the tech sector outearn women 12 percent. Men’s earnings increased 2.4 percent in 2007 but women’s earnings were stagnant.


Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints President Gordon B. Hinckley died Jan. 27 at age 97, amidst passionate quibbles over the role of women and feminism in the Mormon community. “My feeling is that things are not going to change much, that the church is going to keep its very conservative positions on women’s roles,” Margaret Toscano, a self-described feminist activist who was excommunicated in 2000, told the Associated Press. Mormon women can’t be bishops or pastors but many are fighting for greater leadership in local congregations.

Shanelle Matthews is a Women’s eNews intern and a recent graduate of the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University. Dominique Soguel is Women’s eNews Arabic editor.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at [email protected].