San Cristobal de las Casas is the largest city in Chiapas, a southern state that has some of the lower socioeconomic indicators in the country (e.g. the adolescent fertility rate in Chiapas in 2015 was 77 per 1,000, whereas the national rate for Mexico was 62). San Cristobal has a large indigenous population—45% of its 201,000 inhabitants consider themselves ethnically indigenous and 32% speak an indigenous language. Racism against indigenous populations is rampant. San Cristobal has a high level of school dropout—30% of youth age 15-17 do not attend school, and of those youth, two out of three are female. Adolescent pregnancy is high (almost one in five births in Chiapas in 2015 was to an adolescent mother ) and deeply engrained machista social norms reinforce traditional gender stereotypes and naturalize domestic violence. A large number of children and adolescents in Chiapas live in conditions where their basic rights are violated—they are invisible to society and cannot access certain services because they do not have birth certificates, drop out of school, live in violent environments, and do not know about the possible consequences of risky behaviors that may affect their life prospects.
The communities on the outskirts of San Cristobal where Melel Xojobal works are predominantly made up of indigenous, poor migrants. The two secondary schools in the area are both under-resourced telesecundarias—public schools that provide only basic instruction on core subjects and do not address topics such as sexual and reproductive health and rights. Many families survive on subsistence farming and therefore do not have the necessary income to send their children to school, but when they can, they often favor sons over daughters because of strong traditional gender norms that limit the life prospects of girls to wife, mother, and homemaker. Drug and alcohol abuse is common and teachers report addictions among students, especially young men.
Founded in the state of Chiapas in 1997, Melel Xojobal took its name from the Tsotsil language, translating into “True Light.” In its formative years, Melel Xojobal focused on providing educational programs for street children. Since then, Melel Xojobal has expanded its mission to focus on defending the rights of marginalized and at-risk indigenous youth. It believes in the promotion of five core youth rights that directly affect the quality of life of indigenous youth in Chiapas: health, education, protection from all types of abuse, decent work, and freedom of expression and association. Melel is recognized throughout Mexico as a leader in the meaningful engagement of girls and received an international award (the With and For Girls award) acknowledging it as a girl-centered organization in 2015. In addition to strong leadership from Director Jennifer Haza Gutierrez (20+ years of relevant experience, 15 as a street educator, program coordinator and Director at Melel and 6 in the design, implementation, and evaluation of educational projects with children and youth), Melel has a strong implementing team—the Program Coordinator and two Educators are all licensed sociologists or psychologists, have relevant Masters degrees and have multiple years experience running the program.
EMpower’s 3rd grant to Melel Xojobal would support in-school trainings for 122 indigenous youth (60 girls and 62 boys ages 15-19) in two semi-rural schools on the outskirts of San Cristobal de Las Casas to critically examine traditional gender norms, promote gender equality and develop a vision for their future that is not limited by traditional gender norms. 80 Grade 3 students would also participate in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) training to equip them with accurate information about SRHR and tools to exercise their rights responsibly, as well as a workshop on drug and alcohol abuse to address addictions among some students. Melel would facilitate two groups—one all girls and one co-ed—for 27 youth throughout the year to further explore gender dynamics and a year-end event for 40 adolescent girls to reinforce the need to address gender inequality. Finally, to support indigenous youth (especially girls) to stay in school, Melel would provide weekend academic support to 15 youth (10 girls and 5 boys) throughout the school year and work with their parents to support them to stay in school.
Primary Location: Chiapas
Funded Since: 2016
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