Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Access to Elementary Education for Indigenous Girls

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Access to Elementary Education for Indigenous Girls

Article excerpt

The ethnic identity of Indigenous girls affects their access to elementary education. Elementary education provides the possibility of modifying girls' futures, particularly if the school becomes a place where there is dialog between custom and equity. Therefore, in order to build more promising futures for Indigenous girls, teachers and planners in elementary education must take into consideration the girls' social and cultural environments to encourage their participation in formal education.


If sexism is discrimination based on sex, marginalization is inequality based on poverty, racism is discrimination based on racial and/ or ethnic origin, and ageism is discrimination based on age, the discrimination that combines all four is more than a quadruple discrimination. It is in this magnified intersection of inequalities--ethnic, class, gender, and age--where the Indigenous girls live. These intersecting forms of oppression shape the girls' daily lives, limiting their alternatives and choices, including their access to basic education.

Fortunately, there are both national and international efforts to combat this reality. For instance, in Mexico, the Programa Nacional de Desarrollo Educativo (National Program for Educational Development) outlines the government's commitment to eliminating all forms of discrimination against women. Among the United Nations' eight Millennium Development Goals, two reflect commitment to women's education and equality: 1) to achieve universal primary education; and 2) to promote gender equality and empower women. Furthermore, in February 2006, the member nations of the E-9 (the nine most populated nations), among them Mexico, made the commitment to ensure that by 2015 all children have access to free, quality primary education and to suppress gender disparities in primary and secondary education.

The importance of women's education as a means to achieve development is widely recognized. Women's access to elementary education, for instance, is fundamental to reducing poverty, malnutrition, and fertility rates as well as increasing women's access to the labour market (Prawda, 2004). Investment in women's education has an impact that goes beyond simple educational statistics, it affects the whole of society. However, as educational programs are developed, the focus should be the education itself, rather than education as a means to these larger goals. When the focus is the larger goal, there tends to be neglect of the quality of the programs. National and International institutions measure the number of schools built or the faculty-to-student ratio. However, there is little attention paid to the effectiveness of the programs. A focus on the larger goals, that is on the effectiveness of the educational program, requires that planners and teachers pay attention to the local Indigenous culture and social organization. It is necessary to work within these contexts to be able to attract girls into the school and keep them there. Without such considerations, the institutional investments in education are ineffective.

In this study we explore the obstacles Indigenous girls of western Mexico face in order to attend elementary school. We analyze the challenges that elementary education faces in its attempt to guarantee equality in education and eliminate gender inequalities. In the first section we address gender discrimination and in the second the Indigenous girls as students. We seek to understand the girls' experience based on adult women's stories of the difficulties they confronted in order to attend school. To do this, we must consider the meaning that formal education has for the community itself.

This research is based on studies conducted in the Wirrarika community, also known as the Huichol, of the Sierra Madre Occidental of Western Mexico, in the state of Nayarit. The Wirrarikas are descendants of the original Indigenous peoples of the American continent. …

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