“The word violence does not exist in Zapotec or Mixtec”: Evi Hernández

24 March, 2017
24 March, 2017 adminsemillas

“The word violence does not exist in Zapotec or Mixtec”: Evi Hernández

Ever since she was a child, Evi pictured herself transforming the way her world worked.

"As a child, I wanted to be a scientist and discover the cure for cancer and all other diseases. We would do chemical experiments. This was what I wanted. But seeing the context of violence within the school setting, I changed."

Born in San Mateo Sindihui, Nochixtlán, she was the second youngest in a family of 11 siblings. Her parents granted her the freedom to make her own choices. Her father has always been her example of initiative and drive. Her mother “was a person who said what was on her mind, she was very noble. She always listened to us. She taught us to find solutions to our problems, find another way to relate to others”. She always allowed Evi to play, run, and climb trees with other boys and girls.

When she finished elementary school, her parents gave Evi the option to study in the city. She never imagined what she would have to face in middle school.

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“A whole new phase of discrimination and bullying began. Extremely violent teens would call me a ‘barefoot Indian’ and ask ‘what kind of primitive village do you come from?’ I thought ‘My parents don’t live in the city of Oaxaca, I am not rich, I’m not as strong nor do I have the physical traits of others, but I have the brains.’ And, well, I kept on studying and began to develop an interest on why people are bullied in that way, why young people and teens discriminate, humiliate, and make others feel bad. And so I began to study Social Work in order to understand where this violence originates.”

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Map to reach the hospitals closest to San Mateo Sindihui.

Evi encountered the rejection of both community and education authorities. They did not want her to give human rights workshops to women and children. “This inspired me to keep on studying in order to know how to react, what to say or do when these situations of abuse, violence and injustice presented themselves. And so I decided to study Psychology.”

Her work at women’s shelters presented Evi with even greater questions. Once, a woman told her: “I feel trapped. I am the victim and still I feel trapped. What is the point?” Evi was unsettled but she agreed: “Men should have to take responsibility for their actions, shouldn’t they? But when the woman leaves and takes the children with her, he is suddenly free. Then another woman replaces the first and more violence ensues. The story repeats itself. We must do something to keep it from happening.”

“We realized the word ‘violence’ doesn’t exist in Zapotec or in Mixtec. Therefore, violence has to be described.”

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Evi coming out of a workshop with indigenous women.

In 2010, Evi joined Ixmucane AC, an organization that works with indigenous communities in Oaxaca. Informing women was not enough; it was necessary to help them become empowered, “teaching women to recognize themselves and giving them the tools to help them think of themselves as people, as people with rights.” Thus she began to impart workshops to indigenous women. But she faced another challenge:  “We realized the word ‘violence’ doesn’t exist either in Zapotec or in Mixtec. Therefore, violence has to be described.” To do this the feedback of girls and young women who worked as simultaneous interpreters was pivotal.

“If you tell them ‘I come to speak about women’s rights’ or ‘about preventing gender based violence’ they won’t let you in. Men are afraid of losing their privilege, on the one hand, but on the other they were taught to act this way. Therefore, we must say we are there to speak about ‘healthy relationships’. This changes the community’s outlook on what we do and we begin to work and generate change with everyone. Because we believe that the work should not only take place with women but also with the children, teenagers, key decision makers, and teachers.”

Evi is currently the director of Ixmucane and works towards transforming the living conditions of women and men. “Violence is a symptom of everything that lies beneath; it is related to this patriarchal system and stems from the abuse of power and imposition. The whole narrative of what it means to be a man or a woman and how to become one originates from this. We should search for answers, reeducate ourselves, relearn, and build healthier relationships, ones which strive towards negotiation and where emotional intelligence is developed.”

In order to strengthen her work, she currently participates in the program “Building Advocacy Skills to Support Women’s Rights in Mexico” which is financed by the European Commission and collectively implemented by Fondo Semillas and The ILSB.

This is how Evi fulfilled her dream of transforming the reality around her while simultaneously giving back the joy that has filled her life ever since she was a child.

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Violence in numbers.

  • In Oaxaca, 28.4% of married or coupled women who have experienced violence through the course of their relationship have suffered from extreme violence from their partners.
  • 6% of them have been kicked by their husbands or partners; 40.4% have needed medical attention to recover from the harm caused by the attack; 27.6% have been tied up, attacked with a knife or suffered from attempts to be hanged or choked, or have been shot with a firearm; and 26% are women whose partner has used physical strength to force them into sexual intercourse.
  • 4% of married or coupled women who speak an indigenous language and who were attacked by their partners experienced emotional aggression; 56.5% economic; 53.9% physical and 21.9% sexual.
  • 23% of women over the age of 15 from Oaxaca who attend or have attended school have suffered incidents of school violence, such as humiliation, physical aggressions, and sexual propositions in exchange for good grades, or were forced into sex or punished for denying these propositions.

Sources: INEGI, ‘Panorama de violencia contra las mujeres’, (Mexico: ENDIREH, 2006).