International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day will be celebrated around the world, as its name implies, and has been celebrated every year on March 8 since 1918. The International Women’s Day website features a simple purple logo, with the slogan "Connecting girls, inspiring futures"… a worthy goal if ever there was one. There are 239 events registered as being held in the United States in honor of International Women’s Day, and 404 in the United Kingdom. There are 1468 events registered from around the world, and at this writing, there is only one event registered in Mexico. Those of you who are familiar with our part of the world might not be surprised to find out that the one registered event in Mexico is called We Move Forward 2012 and will be taking place on Isla Mujeres, the Island of Women. We can imagine that it would be somewhat of an embarrassment to live on Isla Mujeres and NOT have an event on the International Day of Women, but we were surprised not to find more Mexican events.
History of Women’s Issues in the Yucatan
Why? Because somewhat surprisingly, women’s rights have a rich history in the Yucatan. How can this be, you might wonder? As you live in Merida and look around you, you might notice that while there are many women in government here, and many educated women in the city of Merida in particular, rural women of the Yucatan are still lacking in some basic educational, economic and cultural opportunities. This may be the situation here now, but it is not for lack of some stellar efforts back in the early 20th Century.
In 1912, a forward-thinking and intelligent young middle-class woman named Elvia Carrillo Puerto, daughter of a grocer in Motul, looked around and saw the same thing. She founded Mexico’s first feminist organization in 1919. Her group, the Rita Cetina Gutierrez League, focused on promoting women’s rights, starting right here in Merida. That’s right, dear readers! The first feminist group in Mexico was started right here in the Yucatan! The Liga Rita Cetina Gutierrez campaigned against prostitution, drugs, alcohol and superstition. The women in the league gave talks on child care, hygiene and economics, inspected schools and hospitals and helped to create the state’s orphanage. This same group founded the Western Hemisphere’s first family planning program that provided legal birth control, based on Elvia’s observations that large families kept people with limited resources from having a better life. To help the underclass of Yucatan, Elvia also ran for and won a seat in the state government. This was made possible by her brother, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, the governor of Yucatan, who passed laws allowing women to vote and hold office in the State. As an elected official, she worked for land reform to give the poor a better chance at supporting themselves. The assassination of her brother ended it all here in the Yucatan, and most if not all of the reforms were rolled back under the man who succeeded Felipe as governor. Elvia moved away from Yucatan, leaving a legacy that lives on in the names of schools and other institutions around the state.
Apparently, her spirit lives on as well. Elvia died in 1967, perhaps without ever learning about the Feminist Movement in the United States that carried on her work. And the young women and men of today who are organizing the events in the Yucatan in honor of International Women’s Day never knew her and some of them are not even familiar with her activities one hundred years ago.
In 2008, a young writer from Merida named Patricia Garfias Cáceres produced the first FemFest celebration in Merida, a commemorative event in honor of International Women’s Day. The events that year and the following three years were of a celebratory nature, and were geared toward the younger generation of Merida. This year, Patricia is producing FemFest 5 along with five others (three women and two men) and is creating a new style of International Women’s Day celebration, more in keeping with the legacy and spirit of her foremother, Elvia.
Patricia and her associates are putting on an event this year in the small Yucatan town of Timucuy. The program actually starts in Merida, on March 8, with an art opening at the Cafe Amor al Arte on Calle 25 x 58a y 21 in Colonia Buenavista, just in front of the train tracks near the Salvador Alvarado stadium. The art opening will feature performances by local singer songwriter Gina Osorno and Magali Luque from Peru. There will be drinks and botanas and admission is free. The organizers hope that this event will not only be enjoyable, but will serve to interest more people in making the short trek to Timucuy 9 days later for the additional FemFest 5 events.
Workshops for Women
Between the March 8 kickoff and March 17, the FemFest producers will conduct writing and clothing creativity workshops for any women in Timucuy who are interested in a chance to learn new skills and express themselves. These workshops are free and are the type of opportunity that has never been available to women in this small town of 6,000 souls.
On March 17, FemFest 5 will begin at 3 PM with remarks by Timucuy’s mayor, whose government has been very supportive of this event. Starting at 3:30 PM, visiting makeup and hair artists from Merida will be giving free makeovers for any women from Timucuy who are interested, and this activity will continue all afternoon. At 4 PM, there will be a conference on Women’s Rights. At 5:00 PM, a conference on Home Economics, with an emphasis on creative ways to make money from home, as most women in Timucuy have extremely limited work opportunities. At 6:00 PM, a conference on Self Esteem and Image for women will be held, no doubt also presenting the results of the afternoon’s makeover activities. At at 7:00 PM, there will be a concert by the Youth Symphonic Band, with a varied repertoire of musical pieces sure to delight the Timucuy community and any visitors as well. The events of the day should be over by 9 PM.
We are telling you the details of the program, because visitors are encouraged to attend this day of activities. The producers of FemFest 5 would like to show the people of Timucuy that women are a subject of interest and importance to the world. The residents of Timucuy will be selling food and artesanias, and any purchases made on this day will help to support them and this event.
A former colleague of Patricia’s is organizing a more traditional (for Merida) International Women’s Day event in the city of Merida, geared more to the young people of this large and more sophisticated city. The group called Ellas Crean (They Create) will hold a series of events over the two days beginning Thursday, March 8 and ending on Saturday, March 10th. These events include poetry readings, twitterfests, music, dance and other activities, even including a bicycle ride-fest starting at the Monumento de la Patria on Thursday at 5:30 PM. More details can be found below at the Ellas Crean Facebook page link.
Whatever You Do, Celebrate
We were thrilled to discover this group of young women and men who are working with such effort, dedication and conviction to bettering the situation of women in the Yucatan. Most of the producers of FemFest 5 are not lacking in opportunities… they are educated, traveled and sophisticated in their knowledge of communication and the world around them. We think this bodes well for all the women and men of the Yucatan, and of Mexico. We hope that you will take some time to observe and enjoy the festivities in Timucuy. We are sure that Elvia would be proud.
FemFest 5 blog (with videos, schedule of events)