I’m concerned with the increased empowerment levels of women from the maya tseltal minority ethnic group, living in the Cañadas region of Ocosingo, Chiapas, observed from

1 This number was taken from a sample of 991,430 interviews. Acevedo, 2001:26. Found in EMPLEO (1998). Encuesta nacional de empleo en zonas indígenas. 1997. Instituto Nacional de Estadística e Informática. Aguascalientes, México. 2

2001 to 2003, beginning with their political participation in their membership organizations as well as incorporation in cooperatives. The research endeavors to investigate the historical, cultural, political and economical factors that contributed to their desire and commitment to become social change actors and community development leaders, as well as those that impede women's participation in community development.

The investigation begins with a historical contextual background of the tseltal cultural identity, as well as a historic overview of the membership organizations in the Cañadas region where the research is based. I will include a careful observation of individual aspects of this community, such as how individuals perceive themselves vis á vis the community, the organization, and the current social political external factors that are affecting the sovereignty of the indigenous men and women.

Also included in this investigation is the issue of gender roles in tseltal indigenous communities, tseltal women’s active political participation and their participation in income-generating activities. This leads into a social-economic synthesis of the effects of neo-liberal economic policy in Mexico and the rural sector.


1: What are the gender roles in tseltal communities and how do they affect women's participation in the family and community decisions?

2: What are the advantages and disadvantages of income generating activities including women, in facilitating the women’s empowerment process?

3. What factors contribute to, or impede women from participating in their organization, as well as in community development and social action?


I will try to answer these questions by applying participatory action research with the participants’ subjects. The process of data collection was applied to the 16 tseltal women as well as a other participants who made up a sample group. The overall group interviewed consisted of 3 female tseltal organization leaders, 14 women who participate in a cooperative and have leadership responsibilities, 1 cooperative development worker (not necessarily with a leadership responsibility), 1 organization authority, 1 husband of a female development leader, 1 husband of a community cooperative member, 3 ex-organization and community development leaders as well as three cooperatives with a range of 5-15 members each, and two women’s groups with 8 members each. The investigation process could not have been possible without the voluntary participation of the tseltal women, from the cooperatives and from the indigenous organizations, who are actively involved in social change for local and regional community development.

The methodology applied to the research was Participative Action Investigation method. This method was essential in order not to consider the women and men participants as objects of study, but instead as active subjects in the research process. The participants became involved in the critical research and analysis of the problem situation. Through a structural and contextual analysis of their situation, there is a process of education-transformation and action, where knowledge is obtained, skills are learned and applied, and proposal action is implemented. This method was congruent with my work because it was selected with the objective of contributing to the process of organization building, and community development process that they are realizing.

The conceptual framework explored in the investigation were models of empowerment by Joe Rowlands (Empowerment and Rural Women, 1997), Sara Longwe (The Empowerment focus in the Development Process, 2000) and Rae Lesser Blumberg (Gender


Stratification Theory, 1982). The theoretical framework used in the investigation was geared toward the focus of the gender stratification theory created by Rae Lesser Blumberg. It is also worth mentioning that the conducting threads in the investigation were the gender perspective and ethnic identity.