Mexican woman fights for voting rights

Eufrosina Cruz runs for mayor, says Constitution trumps indigenous laws.

Women in this Indian village high in the pine-clad mountains of Oaxaca rise each morning at 4 a.m. to gather firewood, grind corn, prepare the day's food, care for the children, and clean the house.

But they aren't allowed to vote in local elections, because – the men say – they don't do enough work.

It was here, in a village that has struggled for centuries to preserve its Zapotec traditions, that Eufrosina Cruz decided to become the first woman to run for mayor – despite the fact that women aren't allowed to attend town assemblies, much less run for office.

The all-male town board tore up ballots cast in her favor in the Nov. 4, 2007 election, arguing that as a woman, she wasn't a "citizen" of the town. "That is the custom here, that only the citizens vote, not the women," said Valeriano Lopez, the town's deputy mayor.

Rather than give up, Ms. Cruz has launched the first serious, national-level challenge to traditional Indian forms of government, known as "use and customs," which were given full legal status in Mexico six years ago in response to Indian rights movements sweeping across Latin America.

"For me, it's more like 'abuse and customs,' " Cruz said as she submitted her complaint to the National Human Rights Commission. "I am demanding that we, the women of the mountains, have the right to decide our lives, to vote and run for office, because the Constitution says we have these rights."

Mr. Lopez acknowledged that votes for Cruz were nullified, but claims they added up to only eight ballots of about 100 cast in this village of about 1,500 people. Cruz says she was winning – and wants the election to be annulled and held again, this time with women voting.

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