25 | JUN | 2019
Tojolabal woman - Yadín Xolalpa/EL UNIVERSAL

Women still “sold” in Chiapas

Íñigo Arredondo
Las Margaritas, Chiapas
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To this day, women in Chiapas cannot choose who to marry; they face violence and discrimination on a daily basis

At 51, Hermelindo has paid $8,150 Mexican pesos to buy two women – Estela and Otilia. Estela was the first one, his wife, whom he bought in the 80's for $150 MXN; Otilia was the other, for his son, because he “fell in love” and didn't want to be parted from her.

In both cases, he listened to the price set by the respective fathers and he paid. Hermelindo was born in Las Margaritas, in the center-east of Chiapas, and this is a family tradition of sorts, his father and grandfather did the same.

“It's custom. Until now they charge for their daughters at the wedding. Now they're asking 10 or 14 thousand pesos,” he explains, sitting in front of the house of his eldest daughter, Trinidad, 20, who hasn't seen her right to choose a partner violated so far because “no one has asked for a price.”

Even if his father paid for a wife, even if he had a possible buyer, Hermelindo says he wouldn't be able to sell his daughter. “It feels as if I were selling one of my cows or a bull, I think it's not like that. We cannot sell. If she leaves it's because she wants to.”

Trinidad is 20 and she listens to her father reply in the little Spanish he can speak. She didn't go to school, she doesn't know how to read or write. She covers her face when she is seen speaking with men and she says she doesn't know what love is. She speaks Tojolabal since she was a kid, and she weaves purses or blouses to sell them.

She laughs when asked if she will get married. She knows his father bought his mother and her sister-in-law, she says over and over again that is the custom, “what can you do?” If the man who wants to marry her has addictions or is not a hard-working man, she can return to her family, she claims. She knows that most women her age already have a partner, that they “get together” when they're 15 or 18, but she knows of other women who are single. She hasn't rejected any man, but she's not looking forward to her wedding day either.

In Chiapas, the third part of the population comes from an indigenous community – out of this 33%, half of them are women.

For Gloria Flores Ruiz, coordinator of the Women's Rights Center in Chiapas, the situation of the Tojolabal women is common in many other indigenous populations from all over the state. Their right to decide has been violated. “Women have no right to decide over their bodies,” highlights Flores Rúiz.

In November 2016, the Gender Violence Alert was issued in seven of the 122 municipalities of Chiapas: Comitán de Domínguez, Chiapa de Corzo, San Cristobal de las Casas, Tapachula, Tonalá, Tuxtla Gutiérrez and Villaflores, in order to boost better life conditions for this sector of the population.

“We have a law which prohibits underage marriage and forced marriage, but the state faces another reality: the rules of the communities. It's important to clarify we cannot talk about traditions and costumes because many of the processes imposed on indigenous communities go against their culture,” says Flores Ruiz.

Since the Gender Violence Alert was issued and until June 2017, the Prosecutor's Office for the Indigenous Justice in Chiapas has registered 59 official complaints of violence against women. Rape is the main crime in half of the files; the average age of the victims is 15 – most of them are single and students.

One of the actions the Government of the state needs to take is to call all the local presidents (Mayors) and talk about the matter to establish measures to prevent and eliminate violence against women, explains Flores Ruiz, “but even one of the Mayors has said breaching the subject of women violence and the rights of women can cause a social conflict, because it's not easy to tell the people, and the men, that women have rights, that they cannot beat them; they would lash out against [the Government],” she adds.

Juliette Bonnafé, official in charge of UN Women in Mexico, says in Chiapas, Guerrero, and Veracruz, the number of underage marriages is higher in these states than in the rest of the Mexican Republic.

“This means it's not only happening in indigenous areas, it's happening throughout Mexico. It's happening in cities and in the countryside. I don't want to focus on just one region to ignore the rest of the country experiencing this situation."

“The poorest regions have indigenous communities and lower levels of education among its inhabitants, particularly women. This is the result of a multiple discrimination and a social and economic disadvantage which sees [underage marriage] increase in these regions,” concludes Bonnafé.

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