The Municipality of Villa de Zaachila is located in the peri-urban outskirts of Oaxaca, next to the city’s largest garbage dump. Once an informal settlement, Zaachila now has a population of 17,500 people. Many people in Zaachila are informal recyclers and waste pickers, and 56% of the population lives in poverty, with 11% in extreme poverty. East Zaachila (where SiKanda works) has the highest concentration of people living below the poverty line, with families of four to eight people living on less than $150-$300/month. There is no government presence in Zaachila and people lack access to basic public services such as running water, sewer systems, electricity, police presence or sanitation services.
Violence is an ongoing problem throughout Oaxaca, particularly domestic violence and gender-based violence. 61% of women over the age of fifteen have suffered some type of violence in their lives, and the majority of women (73%) justify the physical violence they experience. This phenomenon extends to youth, with 57% of adolescent girls reporting having experienced emotional violence in dating relationships and 46% of them dismissing such violence as unimportant. Gender inequality puts women at a disadvantage when it comes to making decisions related to their sexuality, and can contribute to high levels of teenage pregnancy. Mexico has the highest teen pregnancy rate of all OECD countries, with 77 births per 1,000 youth ages 15-19 years old (for comparison, the global rate is 46 per one thousand). Despite comprehensive sexuality education being apart of Mexico’s formal curriculum, youth report receiving very little (or none at all) information in schools. Limited or incorrect information also contributes to unwanted teenage pregnancy.
Safety issues and adherence to traditional gender norms in Zaachila limit the mobility and life prospects of adolescent girls. Public spaces are deemed too dangerous for them (harassment is common and there have been recent incidents of rape and trafficking of girls) and girls are often not allowed to leave their houses unless accompanied by a family member. Families expect girls to take care of their younger siblings and do most household chores. Some consider girls ages 14-15 to be old enough to have children because there is little access to sexual and reproductive health and rights education. Many girls get pregnant before they turn 18. Young men are taught that to be “masculine” is to be violent and aggressive, particularly in regards to their sexuality, which negatively affects young women. With few positive role models, young women look to pregnancy as a way to transition into adulthood, and some young men engage in risky behavior, such as doing drugs and joining gangs.
Founded in 2009, SiKanda is a non-profit organization that works with highly marginalized communities including waste pickers living in and around Oaxaca’s largest municipal garbage dump to address in creative ways critical issues such as inadequate waste disposal, sanitation, health issues including malnutrition, low levels of education and skills, and lack of employment opportunities. It takes a holistic approach in working with communities that have been largely ignored by the government and most local organizations (which lack expertise in these issue areas), and supports individuals to become productive members of society. Its work with adolescent youth supports them to improve life skills, increase self-esteem, challenge traditional gender norms, reduce violence and become change-makers in their communities. Co-founder and Director José Carlos León Vargas has 14 years of experience working with international NGOs in Latin America, Asia, and Europe, and has worked with human rights organizations in 35 countries to combat poverty through sustainable development. In 2018, SiKanda underwent an external evaluation by the social rating agency Filantrofilia and received an “A” rating- higher than the national average- and was found to have a return on investment of 138.5 pesos for each peso donated to the organization.
EMpower’s 6th grant to SiKanda would provide two years of support to implement the “Juventudes Visibles” (Visible Youth) program to educate 650 marginalized secondary school-aged students about their rights, violence prevention (particularly gender-based violence), gender equity, sexual and reproductive rights, promoting a culture of peace, life skills, wellbeing, and youth community participation. It would also support the “Prevale-ser” (Prevail) program to prevent sexual violence by educating 120 very young adolescent girls and boys on bodily autonomy and their rights through storytelling in “girls only” and “boys only” clubs, and through establishing local, intergenerational female support networks and rights.
Primary Location: Oaxaca
Funded Since: 2014
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