Women in Oaxaca cultivate the land and grow the nation's produce but are limited to legal rights to arable land.
In Mexico it’s men who own most arable land, and it's the nation's laws that inhibit women from gaining access to agricultural plots.
The country’s National Agrarian Registry (RAN) shows that 51 percent of Mexico’s land is within an "ejido," or collective agricultural plot, but only 1.3 million women own land within an ejido, compared to 3.6 million men — that’s 26.3 percent of the total.
Minerva Cruz Vasquez works 12-hour days to cultivate her family’s tomatos, alfalfa and amaranth on an ejido in Santiago Suchilquitongo in the state of Oaxaca, but the family’s portion of the collective land is still in her father’s name. "In those days only men could have (land). The documents only came with my father's name," Cruz tells El Universal.
She has been working this plot for more than 20 years, but she has no legal rights over the ground. In fact, her father, who is 93 and care for by Cruz along with Cruz’s 83 year old mother, has bequeathed the land to Minerva’s nine brothers who all migrated long ago. It’s Cruz, however, who keeps the land producing and who manages the family’s part of a 25-member irrigation system managed mainly by men.
Anabel Lopez Sanchez, a former member of the Oaxacan Women's Institute says women’s agrarian rights in Mexico demonstrate an "abysmal structural inequality" that leave them totally vulnerable.
"The right of women over property remains a great uphill battle, they have no right over land. The 1992 reform of the Agrarian Law (reinforced) that men be the sole custodians of those rights," says Lopez.
According to the expert, prior to 1992 and after the ejido system was introduced in the 1910s, families had usufruct rights to the land. But the neoliberal 1992 law tried to do away with the communal nature of ejidos and allowed them to be privatized, allowing men (who’s names are on paper) to sell or modify the land away from their intended agricultural use.
Lopez says there are only three ways that woman in Mexico can get access to ejidos: by inheritance (mainly from a male partner or family member); she can acquire it, but this must be approved by a mainly male assembly, or the assembly can grant a person a plot.
"Peasant women are the ones who produce a major part of the food, but they have no right whatsoever over the land," adds Lopez.
This is the case worldwide. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization “women makeup on average 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries” but only hold between 3 and 20 percent of all land.
"Some men feel competition from women and do not like us to work the land, because they feel overwhelmed. There are some still with that macho culture, but little by little, women have been able to cultivate their own plots,” Cruz says to El Universal.
She and other women in the mainly rural and largely Indigenous state of Oaxaca are not only without legal rights to land, but agricultural resources, such as loans.
On top of this, says Lopez who now works for the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples, females find themselves doubly vulnerable because 40 percent of them are victims of domestic violence but can’t leave the relationship lest risk destitution.
"They want to separate but there is no way to divide the goods. Women face triple vulnerability: they are in a situation of violence and they can not keep the family property (of the ejido) because it belongs to the man and if they want rights to it they have to go to agrarian trial where they would be revictimized " explains Lopez.
In Oaxaca 28 percent of ejidos are in the hands of women, higher than other agrarian-focused states in Mexico, but this is mainly linked to migration from the region over the past 30 years.
For Luz Andrade Calderon of the Oaxacan Women's Secretariat (SMO) there have been legislative advances but, in practice, women continue to be denied agrarian rights. "It is so naturalized that it is not observed, agrarian rights are strategic. They enable other rights and a place at the table on representative bodies."
According to the RAN, only 18.4 percent of ejido assemblies are occupied by women, and in Mexico, local agrarian rights are highly linked to municipal-level political rights.