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‘New People Who Know’: "Ben covi bi banezi". Interview with Fátima Gamboa


I am from Merida, capital of Yucatan, a province in Mexico. I am Indigenous Maya and lawyer. I belong to the Network of Young Indigenous Women of Mexico and Central America. I started my work on indigenous women issues in a violence prevention and shelter program in an indigenous organization called Alternative Center for Indigenous Development run by a government institution for mental health. This organization which operates housing projects for indigenous women is the only one in Yucatan and I played the role of civil litigator in charge of legal proceedings related to violence against indigenous women cases.

How did you get involved with the network of indigenous young women?

There was a call for participation in a training put out to strengthen indigenous youth leadership by UN Women along with the Network of Indigenous Women and other indigenous women’s organizations. The Alternative Center for Indigenous Development selected me to be their representative in the training. At the training, I learned about the work of Network of Indigenous Women led by Martha Sanchez, and the Network of Young Indigenous Women of Mexico and Central America led by Dalí. They invited me to be part of the Network as the main representative of Yucatan.

What were your main ideas, what has led you to participate in the network?

First of all, we know we are not alone. In Yucatan there is no unity amongst indigenous youth and many have lost their connection to the indigenous identity. The network has helped me connect to other indigenous young women working on similar issues and form alliances that helped me feel less isolated in seeking help from others in the network to enhance my work and undertake projects to support our communities. At the same time, the network recognizes that while we have a common identity of being indigenous that different indigenous peoples have different needs. For example, a Maya in Yucatan has different needs from Maya in Guatemala or indigenous in Oaxaca.

What are main network activities of young indigenous women in Mexico or other countries?

The Indigenous Youth Network was formed in 2010. The activities relate to the objective of fostering unity among indigenous youth to share experiences and strengthen skills to improve our work in the community. The Indigenous Youth Network is part of the network of indigenous women in Mexico and Central-America and advised by Mirna Cunhigamm. It also works in conjunction with the International Indigenous Women’s Fund (IIWF) and other organizations working in Latin-American region such as Avya Yala, youth indigineous network.

Currently we have an ambitious project to better prepare ourselves and provide us with organizational and community building skills. The project includes setting up an institute to promote the indigenous rights and provide training in advocacy for indigenous youth called ‘Ben Covi Bi Banezi’ in Zapoteco language meaning ‘New People Who Know’ in English. This institute aims to create a space to train indigenous youth on the promotion and defense of human rights. Also, encourages sharing of experiences on the defense and promotion of human rights using an intercultural approach. Furthermore, the institute invites the participation of older women allies whom we refer to as sisters in order to encourage an intergenerational approach.  As well, in 2012, the youth network organized the first international forum for indigenous youth where more than 80 young people from Mexico and Central America participated. The forum reviewed to what extent the millennium development goals are inclusive and reflective of indigenous peoples. Finally, the Network Indigenous Youth organized another forum to review the relevance of the Cairo Platform for Action +20 (ICPD) for indigenous youth.

What are the main challenges of young indigenous women in Mexico and Latin America?

Not only in Mexico or Latin America, but worldwide, the main challenge of youth as well as indigenous peoples begins from being excluded. We are deemed invisible by development models locally, nationally and internationally. This exclusion and invisibility comes from public policies and government actions where our interests are not taken into account. If the government provides space for our inclusion, then we will be able to determine our own structures for development including planning, organizing, and execution. But the reality is that a western perspective of development does not include us in health, education, employment, access to land and other policies.

What does it mean to you to be a young woman indigenous rights defender of women?

Unlike my other colleagues, I think it is different being a young Indigenous woman from the city than being a young Indigenous woman from a remote municipality or areas with fewer infrastructures. In many ways, for example, being in the city, I felt more discriminated against because I am an indigenous woman despite my high level education. I think the level of discrimination that I have lived compared to the discrimination that my fellow indigenous men have faced is greater. In that sense, I think I have been discriminated against by people of the city as I look like a young indigenous woman.

And as an advocate, defending the rights of indigenous women has been frustrating. The focus on violence against indigenous women is frustrating because when you go to government institutions and request that women be served because their rights have been violated, they negate their responsibility in responding and allocate it to indigenous community authorities saying “you are Indigenous has its own forms and the state system not concerned”. The issue is delegated to Judge of Peace or the Communitarian Commissioner even in cases of rape.

That gives me a lot of frustration and is what has made me to look further in my knowledge, studies, and work to find out how to change this reality which I do not agree with.

Finally, if you had one wish, what would you change?

If I could have one wish, I would ask to end discrimination. Because, I think from discrimination arises problems of humanity, within the problems of humanity is discrimination against women to indigenous people, violence against women. If I could have one wish I would ask for it to end discrimination so that we lived in a world where people are that … people. To access basic tangible and intangible assets and to achieve and agree that all people have a comfortable life.

Many Thanks Fatima from Merida (Yucatan- Mexico). For these words can inspire other young indigenous women.

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