Beyond Bargaining: Women´s power in the indigenous community of San Felipe del Progreso

Covarrubias, Arlette (2016). 'Beyond Bargaining: Women´s power in the indigenous community of San Felipe del Progreso' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

The objective of the paper is to analyse the power women of San Felipe del Progreso have over four strategic areas of their lives: their sexuality, movement, work and household income. To achieve this qualitative information was gathered through in depth interviews and focus groups.
Empowerment of women is of intrinsic value for women´s well-being and for social and economic development of a country. ‘Empowerment entails a process of change. People who exercise a great deal of choice in their lives may be very powerful, but they are not empowered… because they were never disempowered in the first place’(Kabeer 1999).  For an empowerment strategy to be successful, it is necessary to fully understand the mechanisms, strategies and dimensions of power of women. Especially important is to assess the power dynamics of women in poor and marginalised areas.
San Felipe del Progreso is an indigenous (Mazahua) and rural area in Mexico, which consists of 121,396 people. According to national measurements (CONEVAL 2016) 80.6% of the population of this area was moderately poor, and 43.4% was extremely poor. To understand the power dynamics of women, 40 in-depth interviews to adult women of all ages and 4 focus groups, one of single mothers, one of married women, one of separated and divorced women and one of migrants’ wives were carried out in this area.
To understand the power dynamics of women, and men the three-dimensional view of power of Lukes (2005) is used. It basically consists of the following aspects:
One Dimension: Some forms of power can be observed by identifying specific outcomes to see who actually prevails in the decision-making. It is assumed that decisions involve direct actual and observable conflict over selected issues that are controversial. The conflict is between preferences that are assumed to be consciously made, exhibited in actions and thus to be discovered in observing people’s behaviour.
Second Dimension: Creating barriers that prevent decision-making from being actual and manifesting itself as non-decision-making can reflect power. Someone can succeed from preventing someone else from bringing up an issue. It therefore includes covert conflict. For example, a man may have such authority over his wife that even if she desires to work for waged employment, if he does not want her to work she will not explicitly express her desire.
Third Dimension: There are also socially constructed and culturally patterned behaviour of groups, and policies by institutions.  A may also exercise power over B by shaping his wants by control of information through mass media and through the process of socialization.
Both for the first and second dimensions of power, the mechanisms a person can use to obtain it are coercion, influence, authority, force and manipulation. Thus, research focuses on women´s relational power in every one of these dimensions in the four strategic areas of women’s lives: their sexuality, movement, work and household income.
Also, traditional forms of acquiring power are distinguished from “empowerment”. For instance, traditionally, in San Felipe del Progreso, women can acquire power to but things, even if their husbands don’t want them to, through the financial help of their sons. They could also decide to acquire the same good, if they have a job and an income to do it, this is without depending on anyone else.

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