In Mexico, refusing to take men for an answer

In some of the country’s rural towns, women have no voice and no vote. A Oaxacan villager didn’t accept that, and she took on the system.

OAXACA, MEXICO — Many years ago, when she was still a tiny girl in braids, and not the professional she is today, Eufrosina Cruz heard the story of how her father married off her sister to a stranger at age 12: She wondered if a man might come to claim her too.

Being a girl isn’t easy in Santa Maria Quiegolani, a poor rural village where Zapotec is the native language and most girls are lucky to complete grade school.

Cruz left to eventually become a college-educated accountant. But now, at age 27, she has returned to her old village in the mountains of Oaxaca, and stirred up a gender war.

Her struggle, at first personal and local, has sparked the governor of her state and Mexican President Felipe Calderon to back her call for legislation that would grant thousands of women in Oaxaca state the right to vote and run for office in about 100 rural towns. Male-only assemblies run those communities, which follow indigenous customs that predate the Spanish conquest.

“We have to help those women who are still in that place where you don’t have any rights because you’re a woman,” she says. “The women who live in the mountains are shouting that someone listen to them. . . . I don’t want any women to ever feel alone as I did.”

Cruz’s effort began with her decision to run in the election last November for mayor of Santa Maria Quiegolani, a mountain community of about 1,200 people. It gained momentum on election day, when the votes for her were tossed out.

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