There is little data on indigenous people around the world. Nonetheless, it is estimated that “indigenous peoples make up 15 percent of the world’s poor,” according to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Indigenous people are a highly marginalized group and are often neglected. This is the case of Chiapas, Mexico.
The state of Chiapas is one of six states with the highest indigenous populations in Mexico. According to the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Geografia (INEGI), there are five predominant indigenous groups in Chiapas: the Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Ch’ol, Zoque, Tojolabal. Fifty percent of the indigenous women in Chiapas are illiterate compared to 28 percent of the indigenous men.
Many indigenous homes do not have running water or electricity, and have dirt floors. Most of the indigenous population live in rural areas and work in agriculture. The indigenous population in Chiapas face discrimination with in their own country. However, the indigenous women are the most affected group. These women are limited to land and decision-making, thus limiting their economic prosperities. In 2005, a group of indigenous women gathered at the United Nations and said, “indigenous women in Latin America feel that they are discriminated against by their governments and society”.
In his book, The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs said many countries fail to achieve economic growth due to several factors. One is the demographic trap: a high fertility rate in which families cannot afford to invest in their children’s health and education. One way to avoid the demographic trap is to educate girls and women. “Education, law, and social action empower women […but] all of this requires money.”
In my next blog I will discuss an NGO or nonprofit that focuses on empowering women. These women deserve an opportunity to learn the basics of business and how they can sustain for themselves and families, whether it is by selling artifacts or purchasing land to grow crops to sell. Empowerment of women and education are key components to the reduction of poverty.