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Empowering Women and Girls Through Education: A Glimpse Into a Mexican Partner’s Approach

Posted 08 March 2024 in EMpower News   |   Share

In Mexico, nestled within the community of Guaquitepec, shines a beacon of hope and change: Patronato Pro Educación Guaquitepec. This grassroots organisation was born out of the community’s need for better education and mainly serves the Tseltal people, a prominent ancient Mayan population residing in the Chiapas highlands. The ethnic majority in the region, their main source of family income is the production and sale of coffee.  

For over two decades, Patronato Pro Educación Guaquitepec has offered a uniquely tailored educational model that goes beyond traditional curricula, empowering students and parents—particularly from a gender lens. This International Women’s Day, I am heartened by all that they have achieved and are setting out to do. I recently had the opportunity to witness firsthand how they transform attitudes and beliefs about gender and the role of women and girls. 

With EMpower’s support, Patronato Guaquitepec continues its mission to advance access to high-quality education while uplifting academic achievement, mitigating school dropout rates, and encouraging continuous schooling, focusing on girls. Furthermore, the organisation is intensifying its endeavours to champion positive masculinities. EMpower's support has opened doors to many resources, including valuable connections with a grantee specialising in this field, thereby augmenting their ability to address this pivotal aspect of their educational model.

Their story began in 1993 when Patronato Pro Educación Mexicano, a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening underserved communities through comprehensive educational programmes, joined hands with the Guaquitepec community. Over more than 25 years, the organisation has been deeply involved in the community, focusing on providing high-quality bilingual (Tseltal and Spanish) and intercultural education. The commitment materialised through the establishment of two key educational institutions deeply embedded in and managed by the local community: Emiliano Zapata Salazar Secondary School in 1995 and the Bartolomé de Las Casas High School in 1996, institutions deeply embedded in and managed by the local community.  

The secondary and high schools embody a bilingual, comprehensive, and culturally relevant educational model. Rooted in Tseltal cosmovision, they integrate an agroecological and human rights approach, that promotes critical thinking among students. The schools’ educational model has become a benchmark in the region, officially recognised by the Ministry of Education.

In 2015, a significant transition happened when Patronato Pro Educación Mexicano decided to formally incorporate Patronato Pro Educación Guaquitepec. From the outset, the latter institution was envisioned to be run by and for the community, with the understanding that community members would take ownership of its operation and administration.  

And in recent years, Patronato Guaquitepec embarked on a transformative journey to integrate a gender perspective into its educational model. Recognising the importance of gender equality in creating a better future for young people, the organisation embraced a holistic approach—weaving gender awareness into the fabric of its school activities and organisational policies.  

When I visited the Emiliano Zapata Secondary School, I had the privilege of engaging with a diverse group comprising women and girls from the community. From the mothers l met: Jesusita, Juana, and Patricia, to the students: Carmen, Alejandra, Yulisa, and María Guadalupe, each shared their unique experiences and aspirations.  

When we talked about what it meant to be a ‘woman’, a common thread emerged, revealing the pervasive discrimination they face due to their gender and the dearth of spaces for their voices to be heard. However, amidst these challenges, the positive impact of Patronato radiates brightly.

Juana, a proud Tseltal woman and mother, lauded her children's liberating experience at the Emiliano Zapata High School. She recounted how education had fostered freedom and challenged stereotypes, reshaping behaviours within her family. By reflecting on gender issues and practically applying what he was learning, her son embraced new attitudes and responsibilities, such as proactively offering to support her with some of the household chores—a testament to the transformative power of what he is learning.

The adolescent girls echoed similar sentiments, expressing newfound confidence and agency. Despite lacking voting rights in the Community Assembly, they recognised the importance of participation and advocacy in public spaces. For them, the weekly student assembly symbolised empowerment, with girls assuming leadership roles—signalling a shift in societal norms.

As Professor Gerardo, a former student of the school turned teacher, shared, the gradual emergence of young women in leadership positions reflects a changing landscape within the school community. It underscores the recognition of women’s capabilities and the importance of amplifying their voices in decision-making.

While the journey towards gender equity is ongoing, the impact of Patronato's work is undeniable. Like seeds sown in fertile soil, their efforts are yielding a future where women's voices are valued and included. As a young woman named Yulisa envisioned: a future Community Assembly where women's votes hold weight is within reach.

Patronato's journey is inspiring—it reminds us that achieving equity requires persistent effort and collective action. As I reflect on the experiences shared by the mothers and students I met, it's evident that their aspirations transcend the confines of traditional gender roles. The young adolescents aspire to professions previously inaccessible to their mothers; they dream of becoming doctors, human rights lawyers, estheticians, and more.

By nurturing minds and challenging stereotypes and norms from a young age, we pave the way for a more inclusive and empowered tomorrow. I am more committed than ever to continue supporting our partners to push the boundaries in integrating gender as a cross-cutting theme in their work and to create a society where every voice is seen, heard, and celebrated.

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