CGIAR Gender

CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research

Expanding economic agency amid sticky gender norms

In Atayiki, a small indigenous village in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, women learn to make tortillas at a very young age.

Judith Sánchez Coronel was just eight when she began helping her mother flip tortillas, standing on a block of wood to reach the top of the kitchen stove. Selling tortillas at local markets can be an important source of revenue for women.

Now 27, Judith still enjoys the work—and the economic independence that accompanies it.

“It is very hard work,” she says, “. . . mostly because of the heat of the fire, and the smoke that hurts your lungs. It also hurts your eyes. . . . But I like the work [and] . . . would like to continue with it because I feel comfortable doing it and I enjoy spending money.”  

Like elsewhere in Mexico, in Atayiki making tortillas remains a female task.

“Only women make tortillas because from the time of our ancestors they did this,” Judith says. “So women are the ones who have the right to make the tortillas, and this custom continues up to today.”

In contrast, Judith’s father and younger brother spend most of their time performing traditional “male” chores, such as cutting firewood and plowing the land with bulls.

However, in many ways, Judith is the product of a shifting gender climate in rural Mexico, in which women’s ability to move about freely and pursue own-account economic opportunities has increased.

"It is only recently we women began to do this tortilla business. In the time of our grandfathers they were very jealous and didn’t let women go out to sell tortillas in the market. . . . Nowadays I don’t worry about going to the market to sell tortillas because my family has given me permission to do so. I have the freedom to go out and sell tortillas and earn my own money."

- Judith Sánchez Coronel, Atayiki, Mexico

While some young women, like Judith, now have their family’s permission to earn their own money, Judith only knows one male tortilla seller.

“But they criticize him a lot because this work is not for men but for women,” Judith says. “That’s the way it is. We differentiate a lot what is male and female, and each has different work.”

Not all norms change at the same pace.


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