It was a total inspiration to meet this lady today. Maria Del Carmen Cruz Martinez is the president to of a women’s cooperative based in Nuevo Sitalá in Chiapas. She took the time to come and meet us in San cristobal as the coop is based 7 hours into the north and is treacherous to get to throughout the year apart from between March and May.
The name Skinal Nichimetik means land of the flowers. The cooperative is formed of 20 women and began in 2005. Carmen took time to tell us about the pros and cons of running a cooperative and about the importance for her to give autonomy and independence to women who would otherwise have no way of making a living. What is different and kind of exhilarating about Maria is that she went against the grain and decided she didn’t want to get married and have children, she wanted to work and to be independent to support herself.
Hearing about the difficulties and the criticism Maria and the other indigenous women receivd when they decided to run the project solely with women was quite emotional but at the same time filled us with great inspiration. Here is a small part of the interview here.
…” About 4 years ago we began to build our little workshop where we weave, but the community made it hard for us, everyone, they’d say, ”How is it possible that women are building”, ”Where have you seen women capable of doing anything?”, ”They are out of control”, ”They are in touch with bad influences”. They wanted to take down the house, they cut our electricity wires, they painted the walls calling us whores. A lot of things … That’s why women have never tried to work, it’s just, you have to fit into the same old female role.
But well for us, i’d say at the beginning we didn’t think like that either, but we started to open our minds little by little, with the view that it’s not just men who can work, but as women we can work aswell. There is also a lot of domestic violence towards women in the community, they are very chauvensitic, and sometimes (as a women) your not bringing any income to the home, well then there is nothing that you can say (have an opinion on), your work is to take care of your children, and if you’re not married then you take care of your brothers and sisters.
And have you noticed changes in the women throughout the processes of fighting for their rights? … Yes, I think that we are growing together. In the beginning we didn’t even really know what we were doing, or where we wanted to go. I think that along the way our creativity was awoken, at the start our main interests were in sales, we just wanted to sell, without really caring too much about if it would be any use or if it would last for the customer. But afterwards we realised how important it was that our products were well made and to be open to trying new things.
Can you tell us some of the positives and negatives of working in a collective? The positives, well, we support each other and it’s not so much a kind of group support, its more like a family. I can count on them emotionally just as much as I can count on them in the work itself, because, like I said, our objective at the beginning was to just sell sell sell, but after we realised that it wasn’t just about the money, it was about us, as women we could support each other, between ourselves, listening to each other if any of us had any problems. Once, one of the women told me, before she was in the group, if she had a problem would go out to the coffee plantation and she’d forget about it, while she wasn’t at home, but then when she came back well the problem was right there waiting for her, with her husband. With the group, she would arrive, she could talk to another woman, she’s receive support, so returning home it had passed a little, someone had listened to her, she was somewhat relieved, so it was better. We have each other, because we share, we listen, we listen to each other… And that’s the value that we’ve seen in having each other close, as a group.
If you would like to read more about the group, they have a great website: https://skinalnichimetiken.wordpress.com