How can indigenous women’s political participation in positions of authority improve? Although there have been many initiatives promoting indigenous women’s political participation in Mexico, successes remain to be scarce. This paper argues that success of these initiatives has been limited because the dynamics of masculinities among men have been overlooked and insufficiently addressed. The paper presents findings from nineteen case studies of indigenous women that were elected as municipal presidents in Oaxaca.
The findings show that recognising men as multi-dimensional beings who perform different roles is essential in order to analyse their acceptance or condemnation of women’s political participation. Men with more power experience a greater loss when women enter politics and hence hold onto their privileges more strongly. For them the benefits for supporting women in politics must compensate this loss. Men who lack political power, have less to lose and the benefits gained from supporting women in politics are often greater. The case studies illustrate how male peasants supported female municipal presidents in Oaxaca. Gaining greater economic benefits and rights by supporting women in politics, who advocated for the poor, generated advantages for them. But as men hold power and privilege in the private sphere, there was resistance towards accepting policies on women’s productive rights and freedom from domestic violence.
The case studies also show that when relational interests are involved, the sanctions for men supporting gender equality are fewer. For example, fathers who support their sons and daughters in gaining a good education and hence increase their possibilities for entering into politics is a legitimisation for subverting the gender order. Supporting gender equality in such way is better received and more public actions are allowed. Educated women are very valued in indigenous communities and enjoy privileges usually reserved for men. Male relatives’ support for women’s political participation can be high because in the community honour is transferred to all the members of the family.