Indigenous Girls in Rural Mexico

A Success Story?

in Girlhood Studies

ABSTRACT

For as long as national records have been kept, Indigenous rural girls in Mexico have spent the least amount of time in school (aside from some people with disabilities). An innovative social program was designed in the 1990s that aimed to stop the intergenerational transmission of poverty through the provision of cash transfers (higher for girls than for boys) to families, conditional upon their children’s attendance at school and health clinics. We set out to assess whether or not the program had closed these gender and ethnicity gaps and found that it did narrow substantially pre-existing inequalities among rural indigenous poor girls and their families and, in some instances, reversed them. We recognize that the program does not eliminate other structural forces discriminating against indigenous Mexican girls and that prolonged education is an instrument for mobility only if these other forces are counterbalanced by more comprehensive social strategies.

The Story of Martina

Martina’s1 lifetime transitions, and the postponement of certain transitions, illustrate vividly the role played by Mexico’s largest and most technically sophisticated social program in a context marked by poverty, gender inequality, and the reproduction of poverty.

Martina is the fifth and last child of a pima or O’ob (indigenous) couple branded by ancestral poverty, rural isolation, and lack of opportunity. Her father and mother each attended school for no more than three years. Her father has been an alcoholic since she can remember and he provides only sporadically for the household. Her mother had her first child when she was 16 years old. Nevertheless, Martina struggles to get ahead in a context in which she has a few advantages over her parents. As a last-born child, she started school when her older siblings already had jobs and incomes so, thanks to their help, she had better nutrition and was able to stay in school longer. Because, unlike her parents, Martina is bilingual, she understood her school lessons better than they did because they spoke only their indigenous language when they started attending school. Also, when Martina was nine years of age and beginning the third grade of elementary school, the household was enrolled in the PROGRESA2 program. This meant that her mother received a bi-monthly grant that had to be devoted to Martina’s education, in addition to a food transfer for the entire family. Admittedly, it was a small school grant of the equivalent of US$133 a month but it increased grade by grade, and, in her case, because the program provides larger grants to girls than to boys it increased more rapidly (by the time girls reach grade 12, the last school year before they begin to attend university, the amount of the grant is the equivalent of US$90 per month). Martina’s siblings left school before they could even dream of attending twelfth grade; the household economy made this imperative. Although one of her sisters got married and stopped contributing to the household before Martina reached grade 12, her other siblings added their income to their mother’s, thus supplementing government cash transfers. Because the program’s transfers increase as children progress in school, by the time Martina enrolled in grade 12 the program provided slightly more than 30 percent of the household’s cash income (not including other sources of non-monetary income such as household production of maize and beans for subsistence, and an occasional chicken, also for the household’s consumption or for petty-trade). By this time, Martina had attended school for nine years more than her mother did, and was already two years older than her mother was when she had her first child but the toughest transition still lay ahead.

As the first child in her family to attempt to attend university, Martina lacked the know-how to navigate the complex set of requirements insisted upon by public state universities. Luckily for her, she met the father of a school friend, a teacher himself, who taught both girls how to register online for the entrance exam, helped them study, drove them to a large, relatively alien city in Sonora, and imparted the expertise they needed to achieve the score that would allow them to get into a university. Both girls succeeded. Martina had to move in with her sister and brother-in-law and their child since their home is relatively close to the university Martina attends; she travels 30 miles a day.

Oportunidades was not designed to allow the poor to get a university education. When the program was founded, rural girls had an average of five years’ schooling. The policymakers’ goal was modest so grants stop when girls reach twelfth grade. Her sister provides free lodging but Martina needed other sources of income. She enrolled as an educational assistant in Mexico’s Educational Development Council. She taught on weekends at a single-classroom school for two years. In exchange for completing those two years, the council provides her with a small scholarship (the equivalent of US$80 a month) for as long as she remains in university. She tried, too, to get a Ministry of Education grant; state governments administer these grants, and the beneficiaries are selected on the basis of both their grades and their socioeconomic status. She failed to get it the first time, but succeeded the second and this gives her additional income, the equivalent of US$70 a month. At the time of the study, Martina was well into her fourth and final year, close to becoming certified to teach at the secondary level. She was seeing a young man, also a student, but had no plans at that stage to marry and have children. She was already six years older than her mother was when she had her first child.

Has the Well-being of Beneficiary Girls Improved?

This is a story of indigenous girls growing up in rural Mexico. The lives of most rural indigenous girls are defined largely by economic constraints, household poverty, ethnic discrimination, domestic violence, and early school desertion. Rural girls usually marry at a very early age and have early pregnancies with short intervals between them. In 1997 a social policy program was created in order to interrupt the process of the transmission of poverty from one generation to the next. The aim of PROGRESA-Oportunidades, the program in question, was mainly the creation of human capital (through the improvement of school attainment, nutrition, and health care) with special attention to girls, and higher grants (scholarships) for them since girls had been shown to have had less schooling than boys.

We conducted annual impact qualitative evaluations from 1999 to 2008. Here we draw from our own data and analysis in order to assess whether beneficiary girls’ well-being has improved. In 2008, we conducted ethnographic fieldwork in 12 rural communities with households that had been enrolled in the program since 1997 in order to gain knowledge about the lives of long-term beneficiaries as part of an evaluation of the program’s long-term impact. Our research findings show the impact of the program on the lives of indigenous and mestizo (mixed ancestry persons who do not consider themselves indigenous) young men and women, who grew up in beneficiary households and spent most of their childhood and teenage years not only receiving the program’s support but also as the main targets of Mexican social policy.

The social impacts of economic crises, economic liberalisation, and other local, regional, national, and global changes are gender differentiated. Women have been found to carry a heavier load of work and responsibilities when transformations in the economy occur (Benería 1992; González de la Rocha 1994). Since the 1990s, congruent with trends in Latin American social policy as a whole, programs and policies related to poverty have enjoyed unparalleled priority throughout the whole region (Abel and Lewis 2002). Social policy was redefined as a result, among others, of the post-Washington Consensus, which recognized that the social deficit accumulated during the years of crises and restructuring had to be dealt with by social policy that demanded that reducing poverty be the ultimate and primary objective of social programs (Fine 2001; Molyneux 2006).

During the late 1990s, after prolonged and successive periods of economic turmoil, social policy in Mexico experienced a significant upturn. In 1997, the Programa de Educación, Salud y Alimentación (Education, Healthcare, and Nutrition Program) was created. Known by its Spanish acronym, PROGRESA, this program was the predecessor of Oportunidades (re-named PROSPERA in September 2014) and, since its creation, has focused on the application of conditional disbursals with the aim of influencing—through improvements to diet, healthcare, and education in the country’s poorest families—the formation of human capital, and strengthening it in order to break the cycle of the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Today, the program has become the most important program of Mexican social policy and a model for many countries in South and Central Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

The poor are not a homogeneous mass and the outcomes of social policy programs are as diverse as those of crises. Previous research findings highlighted factors and processes that led to the program’s long term impact—the attainment of the objective of improving the life conditions of future generations of adults—as well as the factors leading only to short term impacts (such as improved consumption of food, clothing, shoes, medicines and so on). The analysis of data derived from annual external qualitative evaluations between 2000 and 2005 showed the program’s heterogeneous impacts on well-being. Household composition, differences in the level and type of household resources, and access to labor markets are important factors in an explanation of impact heterogeneity (González de la Rocha 2006). Household types deriving the largest and longest-term benefits from enrolment were, first, households that had received the program’s benefits since its creation (long term exposure) to which at least one regular household wage was added to the program’s transfers; second, households in which both adult men and women worked for a salary and in which there was more than one adult female, since the presence of two or more adult women4 reduces tensions from conflicting demands arising from reproductive work, waged work, and the tasks demanded by the program (co-responsibilities); and, third, households in which all or most of the children are eligible for the program’s scholarships (increased household income). In other words, households that achieve sustained higher income, and that have a favorable division of labor, make the most of inclusion in the program. At the other end of the spectrum, households experiencing the fewest advantages from the program (except in respect of short-term or minor increases in food consumption) are very young or elderly households that have precarious (low and irregular) participation in the labor market; those that have overburdened breadwinner mothers who lack the help of other female adult members to take up co-responsibilities and share reproductive work; and elderly households with members suffering from chronic diseases (such as, for example, diabetes, high blood pressure, and illnesses related to alcohol consumption).

Conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs rely on women’s (mothers’) involvement in the program’s activities that overload them with responsibilities (González de la Rocha 2005; Molyneux 2006). Most CCT programs guide their actions in terms of a traditional household model—that of women being in charge of reproductive work only—that is far removed from the facts of real life. This model leads to tensions that arise from the juxtaposition of co-responsibilities—what the program demands from women—and women’s work as both breadwinners and care providers. Our analyses and those of other scholars (see, for example, Molyneux 2006) have pointed out the complexities of cash transfer programs in contexts in which women are already burdened with a significant amount of work such as waged work, subsistence tasks, and reproductive work along with the co-responsibilities of their incorporation into a program such as Oportunidades. Without ignoring the complexities and tensions created socially around the multiple roles that women are compelled to perform, we argue that although conditional cash transfer programs do place a significant burden on women, and particularly on mothers, participation in the program has nevertheless generated a number of positive outcomes for women of different age groups. These include the gradual narrowing of the gender gap in education (to the point of actually reversing it in favor of women in some regions); the increasing availability of reproductive health services; and women’s enhanced self-esteem when they use banking services, have access to a regular income (cash transfers), attend a talk or participate in community assemblies.

Scarce attention has been given to the gendered long-term impacts that such programs have on the young generation, and even less to the ethnic-differentiated effects of CCTs. The maturity of the Oportunidades program, after ten years of operation (in 2008, when the data used in this article was collected), allowed us to assess generational changes in the educational outcomes of beneficiaries (grant holders), comparing parents and children from beneficiary and non-beneficiary households, as well as inter-ethnic outcomes in school levels amongst beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries, and between indigenous and mestizo young males and females who started receiving the program’s support in early childhood, ten years previously.5 Former grant holders are those who received the grant during a variable period of time, whether they remained at school or not. The analysis presented here focuses on the differential impact of Oportunidades among the population cohort with the longest potential exposure by gender and ethnicity.

The PROGRESA-Oportunidades Program

PROGRESA-Oportunidades, a pioneering cash transfer program, operates on the basis of conditionalities or, as we have called these earlier, co-responsibilities: in return for the entitlements provided by the program certain obligations must be met by the mother and other members of the family. The program provides cash transfers, food supplements, subsidies for school supplies, and health and education services after a selection and verification process to families below a certain socioeconomic level. In order to remain in the program, mothers and individual beneficiaries must comply with specified minimal standards of attendance at school and at health and nutrition talks, as well as fulfilling health check-up calendar requirements. The minimum transfer is equivalent to US$17 per month for a family with no school-age children, and the maximum level can reach over US$130 for families with numerous children attending school in grades 10 to12. Transfers are capped.6 Individual monthly scholarships range from US$13 per month for a third grader, to approximately US$90 for a young woman in grade 12. From grade 7 onwards, girls receive larger scholarships than boys in order to reduce the gender gap in schooling. The scholarships provided are more generous than those being provided through similar programs in other parts of Latin America. Scholarships are intended to be individual benefits, and mothers are repeatedly told to use that money to cover food, clothes, shoes, and the school costs of the child in whose name the benefit is made.

At the end of 1997 there were 500,000 households enrolled in the program. The number reached 2.6 million in 2000, in early 2005 there were just under 5 million households enrolled in the program, and by 2013 the total reached 6.5 million.

Originally, as mentioned above, the main aim of the program was to break the cycle of poverty among the poor. This meant that the program impact had to be measured in the future when those who received support from the program actively participate in social and economic life. Short-term impacts on poverty alleviation were also part of the design, but the light at the end of the tunnel lay not in permanently supplementing incomes, but, rather, in enabling the new generation to compete (with the non-poor) on a more equal footing in the labor market, to reduce gender gaps in schooling and, later, in income generation. It was therefore meant to result in benefits accruing in the long term.

To show the extent to which it achieves results in nutrition, health, and education, PROGRESA-Oportunidades has commissioned a number of evaluations and studies. They are quasi-experimental evaluations, qualitative as well as quantitative, launched at the same time as the program, and repeated every year. The evaluations showed very significant positive results. The first quantitative evaluation (Skoufias 2005) found that individuals participating in the program stayed in school longer by about one year in seven, and they also attended school more regularly and were less subject to illnesses; pregnant women, mothers, and infants were better nourished; and there were some indications that households not only had higher incomes (as a result of cash transfers) but also that the consumption of fundamental goods and services improved considerably, resulting in higher levels of well-being. Another analysis found a small but significant increase in the percentage of households investing in productive assets (Gertler et al. 2005).

The program’s achievements in terms of schooling have been remarkable. In Mexico in general, the gender gap in schooling narrowed at the elementary level, and disappeared in grades 7 to 12 by 2005 (Escobar and González de la Rocha 2008). This could be explained, to some extent, by international migration (boys did not need to prepare for skilled jobs, since there are unskilled, relatively well-paid jobs available in the United States); a general reduction in fertility (girls are less discriminated against in smaller families); and the increasing incorporation of women into the paid workforce. Although in poor rural areas the differential persisted by 2005, communities participating in the program were making rapid progress towards the elimination of this gender gap.

Gender and Oportunidades

Analyzing processes of change as households are exposed to state policies has been one of the main goals of our long-term research. From our perspective, state intervention may affect households directly or indirectly. We have analyzed household resources and the extent to which the Oportunidades program has broadened them. We have concentrated on showing whether or not the State, through the operation of cash transfer programs, provides people with the means and opportunities to strengthen their livelihoods (Nussbaum and Sen 1993). The incorporation of households into the Oportunidades program is understood as a change in the economic, social, and political context in which these households are embedded, with repercussions for the resources they command, their social organization, their access to public health and education services, and their participation in community life.

Since its inception, households that are to benefit from the program have been selected according to technical criteria based on poverty indicators and by establishing, as a condition of entering the scheme, the obligation of each beneficiary to hold co-responsibility. The disbursals are made bimonthly through bank accounts or directly to the mothers in households who are the titulares (legally entitled beneficiaries) under the program. The support is provided on condition that the beneficiaries fulfil certain requirements: regular school attendance by the children; medical appointments kept by all family members; and punctual and regular attendance at the health chats. Although not formally part of the requirements, many female titulares must also participate in collective work organized by the doctors and nurses, with the aim of cleaning up schools, clinics and the town’s public areas such as the central plaza or the streets, for instance, or get involved in campaigns like community sanitation schemes to combat dengue fever and other diseases.

The program offers different types of support. Selected households receive supplemental nutritional in-kind assistance for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers; for all infants between six months and two years of age; and for young children, aged between two and five, who show signs of malnutrition. In addition, the selected families receive cash disbursals to complement household earnings in order to promote a better diet (the nutritional cash support) and educational grants (also in cash) for school-age children from the third year of primary school. Until 2001, education grants were restricted to students in grades 3 to 9. In 2001 the scholarships were extended to include grade 12. The grants increase as students progress in school with females receiving more financial support than males. (This gender differential begins in grade 7 as an affirmative action against gendered differences in school attendance that, when the program was created, were observed to have been caused by girls and young women leaving school before boys).

Questions and Analysis

Short-term impact studies have pointed out the rise in school attendance among children of beneficiary households; the increase in consumption (particularly food); and housing improvements. Three variables are crucial to the analysis we present here: the long-term exposure to the program; ethnic ascription; and gender. This is the first study, in the entire history of the program that deals with ethnicity in order to assess different impact results amongst indigenous and non-indigenous populations. Individuals who started receiving the program’s grants when they were third year primary schoolchildren in 1998 were, in 2008 (the ethnographic present), old enough to have finished school and some of them were fully incorporated into the labor market. Ethnographic fieldwork was conducted in four Mexican states—Chiapas, Chihuahua, Oaxaca, and Sonora—characterized by ethnic diversity (namely, the co-existence of indigenous people and mestizos). An analytical sample was created in order to collect information of a balanced number of households (case studies) according to ethnicity (indigenous and non-indigenous) and status within the program (long-term beneficiary households since 1998, and non-beneficiary households).7 Beneficiary households were selected only if they had had at least one child in third year of primary school from 1997 to 1998, and if they had started receiving the program’s grant then. Non-beneficiary households had to be as similar as possible in terms of access to land and other productive assets, parents’ education and occupation, and housing characteristics to beneficiary households in 1998, when they joined the program. This similarity also included the age of their children and their levels of education at that time but, since these households were not incorporated (that is, they were non-beneficiaries), they had to have had at least one child in third year of primary school who did not receive the grant. In 2008, when the research was conducted, those children were between 18 and 20 years of age and they provided us with fertile quasi-experimental analytical possibilities.

One hundred and eighty-three case studies, with the life histories of every household member focusing on the factors of vulnerability and the changes that the program might have produced in people’s well-being, formed our data universe. The analysis of case studies provides in-depth understanding of the lives of indigenous families in poor rural communities in Mexico. In order to be able to show the patterns of change, however, we decided to build a database with information from all parents and children or other household members aged from15 to 25 from the 183 case studies of households; these individuals totalled 793.8

Research Findings

Gender and ethnic gaps are social facts in Mexico for the adult generation, and more so for the elderly, particularly in the context of the economically deprived. Women from the parental generation attained lower levels of education than men, and the non-indigenous are favored in most social and economic indicators vis-à-vis members of indigenous groups. The analysis of data collected in four rural ethnically diverse regions (with both indigenous and mestizo populations) where the Oportunidades program has been in operation since 1997 shows, first, that the gender gap has reversed among the generation of young men and women who were exposed to the program since they were eight or nine years old and, second, that the ethnic gap has closed significantly in the case of males and has reversed in the case of females.

Intergenerational mobility in school levels rose by two years under the influence of the Oportunidades program. This means that while non-beneficiary children surpass their parents’ educational attainment by three years, those exposed to the program exhibit an increase of five years relative to their parents. The greatest impact in terms of the intergenerational mobility in schooling is found among the indigenous population, mainly because indigenous parents show lower levels of schooling than non-indigenous parents, and indigenous beneficiaries are attaining similar or higher levels of schooling than mestizos, with indigenous young women heading this new trend: the attained school level of male indigenous beneficiaries is 9.639 (equivalent to almost one year over secondary school, compared with 6.48—just primary school—among the non-beneficiary indigenous males), and indigenous female beneficiaries reached 9.73 as opposed to 6.82 for non-beneficiaries. Among non-indigenous beneficiary children, men reached 10.04 with 8.74 for non- beneficiary mestizo males, while women studied up to year 8.91, compared to 8.50 for those who were never exposed to Oportunidades. These results underestimate the final school impact of the program since around one-quarter of former beneficiaries were still at school at the time of the fieldwork (many of them, especially women, were pursuing a university degree in 2008): 22.9 per cent of former male non-indigenous grant holders, 26.6 per cent of indigenous males, 28 per cent of indigenous women, and 32.7 of mestizo women declared study to be their main occupation and, in 2008, were engaged in formal studies. Although the gender gap also decreases among the mestizo non-beneficiary children or the never-exposed population, the gender gap is not inverted in favor of women as it was among children exposed to the program, and the ethnic gap is even more evident than the gender gap among children who never received the program’s grants.

The analysis of 183 household case studies shows that the program’s impact on schooling among beneficiaries (children with the longest potential exposure) is shaped by the following factors: (1) the presence of schools of all levels in the community or the micro-region (the proximity of schools positively affects educational attainment, especially among women); (2) quality and cultural pertinence of education (including the capacity of schools to retain students and to motivate them to stay); (3) parents’ capabilities to act as breadwinners and to generate incomes (the death or incapacity of the father or main provider is a clear factor against children’s education); (4) the existence of productive assets and monetary income (for example, the remittances from migrant older brothers/sisters) in order to cover school-related expenses such as transport to the towns where high-schools are located, and internet-computer rental; (5) the individual’s position in the reproductive cycle of the household (being the youngest usually favors a long school trajectory and being the oldest usually implies dropping out in order to help the family with a waged income); (6) good health or lack of diseases in the household; and (7) the individual’s sex because of gender-differentiated obligations that males and females have within the household economy and domestic division of labor. Young women are not considered, as are young men, to be potential income generators for the household economy, and this favors their schooling achievements.10

Given the historical subordination and marginalization of indigenous populations in Mexico, at the outset of the study we expected to find differential outcomes of the program favoring the non-indigenous population. Findings contradicted our research hypothesis. It is precisely the lack of economic options that makes cash transfers so effective, even with the extra burden to mothers of conditional responsibilities. Today, regular and secure income from the program has become one of the main economic pillars sustaining these indigenous poor households. Mothers and grandmothers want their daughters and granddaughters to have different lives than theirs, with more opportunities and more independence, because, as they say, “Nobody knows what type of husband they are going to get.” Children’s regular school attendance has become the best way to secure an income in the present (through cash transfers) and, at the same time, higher school achievements as a tool for the future. Paradoxically, women’s disadvantages—associated with gender-stereotyped views of women as inferior economic providers—are working towards some advantages for young women.

Future research will have to include a comprehensive study of the longer-term impact on their lives of these girls and young women. Whether former grant holders are finding jobs and whether being awarded academic degrees is a profitable credential to enter higher niches in labor markets, are issues that new research will clarify. The evidence collected so far shows that former grant holders are located in higher echelons of the occupational hierarchy. Young women are, again, the main actors in these new processes while men tend to follow traditional paths of, for example, international migration or agricultural activities. But labor markets and the economy as a whole shape employment opportunities with the threats and constraints of new and deeper crises acting as barriers to people’s social and economic improvement. Economic crises produce social responses of various types (González de la Rocha 1994, 2000, 2001). In Mexico, the rural and urban poor have revealed their resistance and their resourcefulness to crises with strategies that include, among other elements, using children’s labor to enhance household income. But such short-term survival strategies actually undermine the mechanisms (such as schooling) that contribute to long-term achievements. Research is demonstrating that social policy programs, when they are efficiently operated—when money actually reaches the beneficiaries—can help poor families and households in the long term to avoid the trap of short-term survival strategies. Martina, whose story inspired this analysis, is just one example of the many girls who are becoming young adults in indigenous communities in rural Mexico with an array of tools their mothers and grandmothers did not have, and that their non-beneficiary peers lack.

We end this article with short accounts of other successful young indigenous women.11 As they show, factors and contexts differ. Two remaining constants, however, are the girls’ tenacity, and their being enrolled in the program.

Carmina is a Tojolabal girl from Las Margaritas, a Zapatista enclave in Chiapas. She is the last of eight children. In her community, education for women is perceived as “a waste, too much sacrifice to be lost to a man [in marriage].” The prevailing attitude is that “since they are girls, we don’t insist they study.” Also, parents worry they will be attacked or harassed en route to high school: “they have to cross the mountain.” Carmina’s three older brothers, who lacked program support, finished twelfth and ninth grades, but her older sisters barely finished sixth grade. Carmina enrolled for the scholarship while in fourth grade. When she finished sixth grade she had to transfer to another school in a village at about an hour’s walking distance. Her mother opposed this, arguing the risks on the trail. Carmina convinced a friend to register at that school, and together they succeeded. Her transition to high school (grade 10) was more complicated in that the school was even farther away and no one in her community wanted to attend it, so she and a girl from a neighboring community got together. By then she was convinced that education would be useful: she had learned that women could become teachers, too, although in her community the teachers were all male. She told her mother, “The government’s money is intended to give me an education.” Among the factors she thinks enabled her to pursue her education she lists her father’s and brothers’ support, especially her brother in the US who sent remittances labelled for her education, and the presence of sisters-in-law in the household (her older sisters had already married), which meant that she did not have to contribute to doing the housework.

Throughout Mexico we have found that mothers, not fathers, are supportive of their daughters’ education but not so in indigenous Chiapas, where a young bride well versed in complex peasant household tasks and very poorly versed in formal education is most highly valued. Educated women are thought to be rebellious and unwilling to marry at their parents’ pleasure; they are seen to pose a divorce risk. But Zapatista communities depart somewhat from this norm, with some fathers supporting their daughters, in spite of negative community appraisal of women’s education. A father in another Chiapas community, pointing at his university-enrolled daughter visiting for the holidays asked, “Do you think I will get a cow for this girl? No way! Only an anthropologist would want her!”12

Aurora is a Wixarika (or Huichol) 20-year-old woman living in San Andrés Cohamiata in Mezquitic, Jalisco. Her grandmother, her mother and father, and three half-siblings live in her household. Two of these are older and one is younger than Aurora. Their own mother lives elsewhere in the same community, but these older girls and the boy have gradually moved into Aurora’s household. The older girls did enjoy a scholarship. The oldest finished twelfth grade, but the second one abandoned eighth grade when she became pregnant. Her younger half-brother dropped out of school when he lost the scholarship. Since then, he has been unable to pay for his various school expenses. Aurora, for her part, always kept the scholarship, finished twelfth grade, and may go on to university. Her mother was always supportive but her father was not. He argued that Aurora could “find men” in high school (he should know: he raped and impregnated Aurora’s mother when she was 15). Aurora’s mother, on the contrary, decided that the scholarship was a way to teach Aurora to become responsible for herself, and she passed on to her daughter almost the entire cash transfer. Aurora says her expenses amounted to much less, so she decided to start saving. She invested her savings in two things—a house for herself and a traditional gala dress for her high school graduation. She finished the house (however rustically) with the program’s last cash transfer, an amount that is set aside by the program for the student when she or he finishes high school. Once Aurora graduated from high school, her mother was thinking of leaving the program. It involves too many chores and none of the children are enrolled, making program income very low. She thinks the program was vital in helping Aurora to finish high school. Aurora emphasizes that the program helped her to start saving and become economically independent.

Final Remarks

Although we underlined the program’s contribution to narrowing the inequality gap and disrupting the reproduction of poverty, it is clear that girls like Martina, Carmina, and Aurora have advanced a few steps in terms of broadening their life chances although many factors still work against them. First, the quality of schooling and health services for the poor, and the rural poor especially, is severely deficient. Second, market-based discrimination, especially by private employers, means that the rural poor will not be chosen for positions if they compete against white or mestizo individuals. For this reason, many indigenous boys and girls who study prefer the public sector where such discrimination is weaker. Third, opportunity-capture through social relations among those families that already have the right networks is working to exclude newcomers from professional occupations. A stagnant labor market at this level has made this worse. Fourth, wage increases per each additional year of schooling are dropping, particularly at grades 9 and 12. At this point, it is necessary to remind ourselves that specific programs must work as part of general strategies, and that social policy, therefore, must work together with a new approach to employment and income.

Notes
1

All the names used in this article are pseudonyms. Martina’s trajectory is a composite narrative taken from various case studies. It was put together with information from interviews and observations conducted during ethnographic fieldwork carried out between 2008 and 2009.

2

PROGRESA was renamed Oportunidades in 2002, and PROSPERA in 2013. In each case some changes were made: scholarships for high school were added when it became Oportunidades, and support for home-based businesses were added when it became PROSPERA.

3

All dollar equivalents reflect the exchange rate in September 2014.

4

In Mexican indigenous households it is common to find more than one adult woman. This may be the husband’s mother, or an unmarried sister of a spouse, or another person.

5

Impact on the occupational position of beneficiary and non-beneficiary members of the children’s generation, as well as changes in reproductive patterns such as the age of female former grant holders at first pregnancy/delivery, compared to those who have never been beneficiaries have also been studied. The focus here, however, is limited to educational attainment.

6

The maximum transfer is capped at an amount defined by the combination of students attending school in different grades.

7

In some very poor communities, almost all households belonged to the program. Therefore, we included some short-exposure households to the sample as controls.

8

The variables included in the database are state, region, locality, household ID, sex, name, age, kinship (father, mother, son/daughter, others), program status (beneficiary or non- beneficiary), ethnicity, language, place of residence, civil status, maximum school level attained, main occupation, secondary occupation, and, in the case of women, their age at first pregnancy/delivery.

9

Group averages are derived from non-random sampling including only very similar household cases among beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries. Significance levels should therefore not be estimated for this sample.

10

Wages typically earned by women in Mexican indigenous communities are far lower than those of men, thus increasing the current value of their scholarship and education. However, since traditional indigenous men prefer to marry unschooled, obedient women, the long-term value of a woman’s education is a matter of family debate. Education regularly involves migration and marrying out of the group (see Carmina’s story).

11

The two final narratives correspond to actual cases; they are not composites.

12

Actually, this father did support his daughter’s education, and the remark was made in jest. Our researcher was, of course, a male anthropologist.

References

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  • EscobarAgustín and Mercedes González de la Rocha. 2008. “Girls, Mothers and Poverty Reduction in Mexico: Evaluating Progresa-Oportunidades.” Pp. 267289 in The Gendered Impacts of Liberalisation: Towards ‘Embedded Liberalism’? ed. Shahra Razavi. London: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • FineBen. 2001. Social Capital and Social Policy. London: Routledge.

  • GertlerPaulSebastián Martínez and Martha Rubio. 2005. “El efecto de Oportunidades sobre el incremento en el consumo de los hogares a partir de inversiones productivas en micro empresas y producción agrícola.” Pp. 103152 in Evaluación externa de impacto del Programa Oportunidades 2004 Vol. 4 ed. Bernardo Hernández Prado and Mauricio Hernández Ávila. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública.

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  • González de la RochaMercedes. 1994. The Resources of Poverty: Women and Survival in a Mexican City. Oxford: Blackwell.

  • González de la RochaMercedes. 2000. Private Adjustments: Household Responses to the Erosion of Work. New York: United Nations Development Programme.

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    • Export Citation
  • González de la RochaMercedes. 2001. “From the Resources of Poverty to the Poverty of Resources: The Erosion of a Survival Model? Latin American Perspectives 28 no. 4: 72100.

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    • Export Citation
  • González de la RochaMercedes. 2005. “Familias y política social en México. El caso de Oportunidades.” Pp. 245274 in Políticas hacia las familias protección e inclusion social ed. Irma Arriagada. Santiago de Chile: CEPAL.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • González de la RochaMercedes. 2006. Procesos domésticos y vulnerabilidad: perspectivas antropológicas de los hogares con Oportunidades. Mexico City: Publicaciones de la Casa Chata.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • MolyneuxMaxine. 2006. “Mothers at the Service of the New Poverty Agenda: Progresa/Oportunidades, Mexico’s Conditional Transfer Programme.” Social Policy and Administration 40 no. 4: 425449.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • NussbaumMartha and Amartya Sen. 1993. The Quality of Life. New York: Clarendon Press-Oxford University Press.

  • SkoufiasEmmanuel. 2005. “Progresa and its Impacts on the Welfare of Rural Households in Mexico.” Research Report No. 139Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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Contributor Notes

Mercedes González de la Rocha is a social anthropologist interested in poverty, household organization, and social policy. She is a senior researcher at CIESAS, a member of the Mexican Academy of Science, and a Level III top member of the Mexican Researcher System.

Agustín Escobar Latapí is a social anthropologist and sociologist. He is the General Director of CIESAS. His main research interests include international migration, social policy, and poverty. He is a member of the Mexican Academy of Science as well as a top member (Level III) of the Mexican Researcher System.

Girlhood Studies

An Interdisciplinary Journal

  • AbelChristopher and Colin Lewis. 2002. “Exclusion and Engagement: A Diagnosis of Social Policy in Latin America in the Long Run.” Pp. 353 in Exclusion and Engagement: Social Policy in Latin America ed. Christopher Abel and Colin Lewis. London: University of London, Institute of Latin American Studies.

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    • Export Citation
  • BeneríaLourdes. 1992. “The Mexican Debt Crisis: Restructuring the Economy and the Household.” Pp. 83104 in Unequal Burden: Economic Crises Persistent Poverty and Women’s Work ed. Lourdes Benería and Shelley Feldman. Boulder: Westview Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • EscobarAgustín and Mercedes González de la Rocha. 2008. “Girls, Mothers and Poverty Reduction in Mexico: Evaluating Progresa-Oportunidades.” Pp. 267289 in The Gendered Impacts of Liberalisation: Towards ‘Embedded Liberalism’? ed. Shahra Razavi. London: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • FineBen. 2001. Social Capital and Social Policy. London: Routledge.

  • GertlerPaulSebastián Martínez and Martha Rubio. 2005. “El efecto de Oportunidades sobre el incremento en el consumo de los hogares a partir de inversiones productivas en micro empresas y producción agrícola.” Pp. 103152 in Evaluación externa de impacto del Programa Oportunidades 2004 Vol. 4 ed. Bernardo Hernández Prado and Mauricio Hernández Ávila. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • González de la RochaMercedes. 1994. The Resources of Poverty: Women and Survival in a Mexican City. Oxford: Blackwell.

  • González de la RochaMercedes. 2000. Private Adjustments: Household Responses to the Erosion of Work. New York: United Nations Development Programme.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • González de la RochaMercedes. 2001. “From the Resources of Poverty to the Poverty of Resources: The Erosion of a Survival Model? Latin American Perspectives 28 no. 4: 72100.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • González de la RochaMercedes. 2005. “Familias y política social en México. El caso de Oportunidades.” Pp. 245274 in Políticas hacia las familias protección e inclusion social ed. Irma Arriagada. Santiago de Chile: CEPAL.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • González de la RochaMercedes. 2006. Procesos domésticos y vulnerabilidad: perspectivas antropológicas de los hogares con Oportunidades. Mexico City: Publicaciones de la Casa Chata.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • MolyneuxMaxine. 2006. “Mothers at the Service of the New Poverty Agenda: Progresa/Oportunidades, Mexico’s Conditional Transfer Programme.” Social Policy and Administration 40 no. 4: 425449.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • NussbaumMartha and Amartya Sen. 1993. The Quality of Life. New York: Clarendon Press-Oxford University Press.

  • SkoufiasEmmanuel. 2005. “Progresa and its Impacts on the Welfare of Rural Households in Mexico.” Research Report No. 139Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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