COVID-19 Fieldwork Program
Mexico was unprepared and surprised by the size and scope of the ongoing pandemic. PSYDEH was somewhat better prepared to deal with some of its effects like an almost 100% cut in Mexican government funding, but we had to cancel most of the 2020 fieldwork. This dual reality – reaping the fruits of our years-long strategy to diversify income streams like our crowdfunding while seeing an almost total freeze on fieldwork progress – is the backdrop for our multi-level COVID-19 fieldwork program to empower indigenous women and their twenty marginalized rural communities in the Otomi-Tepehua region of Hidalgo.
Our goals are to (1) mitigate the social and economic consequences of the pandemic on women partners and their communities, while (2) cementing the progress we have made in incubating a novel Network of women-led collectives since 2015-2016.
We provide women with the tools they can use to produce their own rights-oriented solutions to their own problems, with ideas discussed in their own unprecedented regional forums and codified in their unique development agenda. It is novel because we know of no other Network that works with civil society in this way to grow self-reliance in Mexico. Specifically:
(1) PROVIDES direct, consistent and personal human contact and professional support to women and their Network.
(2) MAKES WOMEN THE LEADERS AND ENTREPRENEURS THAT THEY ARE, seen by themselves and others as an important and necessary voice in the sustainable development of their own communities.
(3) STRENGTHEN communities vis-à-vis COVID-19 through practical information sharing and storytelling.
Objectives and mechanisms
In the fourth quarter of 2020, PSYDEH worked with women partners to forge this plan:
Objective 1: Provide the necessary support to women partners and their Networks.
Mechanism 1: To stand up our body of indigenous women in the field, locally sourced and professional (IWFC).
Mechanism 2: Implement “Casa Siempre Viva”, a safe space for the IWFC and women partners to produce work free from violence and political party influence.
Objective 2: Empower women to take on their role as leaders and entrepreneurs
Mechanism 4: Supporting the Network’s local organizations – Flor del Bosque, Mujeres con Futuro, Nuevo Amanecer y Yolki Ino Yolo – in the production of micro-impact projects, while supporting the Network’s regional organization, Siempre Viva, to do the same.
Objective 3: Strengthening resilient rural and indigenous communities
Mechanism 5: Develop and deliver a series of workshops for women and twenty communities on how to use local resources to strengthen food security.
Mechanism 6: Organize a series of COVID-19 episodic information in Spanish, English and indigenous languages for Hidalgo and the Republic.
Mechanism 7: Produce a short film(s) about how the pandemic challenges women partners and their communities.
Where are we after seven weeks?
In mid-March 2021, PSYDEH moved to the new Casa Siempre Viva (mechanism two) in Tenango de Doria, Hidalgo. It has already hosted workshops for our Indigenous Women’s Field Corps (IWFC) (mechanism one) co-led by women such as Jazmín Manrique Vigueras and Celia Florencia Galindo, while also being the residence for the two new volunteer trainers of the Corps. You can read the first report of the trainers here.
The social enterprise “Bordamos Juntos” (mechanism three) was launched on March 8, International Women’s Day 2021. This collection of hand-embroidered and hand-woven textiles by women partners has been sold in a pop-up store in Mexico City, as well as in our e-commerce store and on the Etsy site. In just six weeks, we have already sold half of the collection and expect to sell all pieces in North America and the UK by June.
We published the first episode of our informative COVID-19 series (mechanism six) in April 2020. One year later, we have published 13 episodes and counting.
Three Mexico City-based film directors and producers have agreed to join PSYDEH to produce one to three short films to be released in the fall of 2021 about how female couples navigate the ongoing pandemic (mechanism seven).
Context and expected results
Mechanism 1 & Mechanism 2: Most indigenous women in rural areas feel isolated and abandoned, without support as leaders. Their remote areas make collaboration difficult. Historically, insufficient funds mean that women receive sporadic in-person consultations from PSYDEH and are not offered personal counseling, psychological or legal consultations. Since many of them already lack access to telephones, Internet, computers or constant signal and electricity, the pandemic-induced closure of months meant even less contact. The result is that very few women are able to appropriate their natural role as public problem solvers. For women to succeed in this program and, in general, to sustainably solve their own and their communities’ problems, they need/we need Casa Siempre Viva and the services of the IWFC.
Mechanism 3: We know that if women lack economic resources, they cannot make use of their freedom of association, among other human rights. They struggle to do things on their own, often controlled by husbands who hold the purse strings and without the cache to convince men and government officials of their role in problem solving. Our own recent survey of indigenous women revealed that a large majority earn less than MXN 1,000 (USD 49) per month. There is no industry and therefore no decently paid work. This survey also tells us that women value learning while earning money, and fighting gender inequality through culturally expressive artisan work. One Otomi woman states:
“… [PSYDEH] teaches us to be independent women. And this helps us to get away a little from the machismo in this community. They teach us to be better businesswomen and to have more self-esteem”.
This mechanism puts money in the pockets of indigenous women, and all net profits go back into a fund that finances more social entrepreneurship initiatives like this one. How do we know this will work? This is not the first time we have done this. We were successful with the first round in early 2020.
Mechanism 4: For the above reasons, indigenous women demand these opportunities to combat their own inequality. With the Mexican government investing directly in the “pueblo” without intermediaries like PSYDEH, we want the same. However, we know that communities and women are not prepared to obtain and maximize the benefits of this funding. Our program equips women with the experience and knowledge to access resources and use them wisely. Not to mention, the fact that women gain immediate benefits means they are more likely to sustain their commitment over the long term.
Mecanismo 5: In our target area, one of the most marginalized and poorest in Mexico, COVID-19 addresses food security. However, there are local resources, natural and female, that with the right support can be used to solve nutrition problems. We produce workshops now because indigenous women demand the skills and knowledge they need to forge better local food security during and after the pandemic.
Mecanismo 6: Information is power. This is especially true for rural and indigenous Mexican communities trying to navigate COVID-19. Therefore, we produced this series for two audiences:
(1) the indigenous women partners and their Network, and.
(2) marginalized rural communities throughout the Republic and the world.
We are not experts in infectious diseases, but we do understand the development of rural and marginalized communities. And we know that with citizens’ rights come responsibilities, that multilingual information is needed, and that non-profit organizations in Mexico and around the world have a key role to play in this struggle.
Mecanismo 7: Information is most powerful when it is delivered in a digestible form, directly from the source. This is especially true when high-quality online content is a key to organizing and building autonomy to address the side effects of COVID-19. Because PSYDEH does not speak for women partners and their communities, and to maximize their chances of getting the resources they need during and after the pandemic, we produced this activity for three audiences:
(1) Indigenous women partners and their Network, as well as rural and marginalized communities around the world.
(2) non-indigenous, urban-based Mexicans and citizens of the world interested in how the pandemic affects rural and indigenous areas.
(3) Mexican government and international agencies positioned to forge the policies that rural and Indigenous citizens need to make for themselves.