On Women’s Day I find myself thinking of the exceptional women I have met through MMEG: how special and diverse they are.
By Reiko Niimi
“Slumdog Millionaire is one of my favorite movies, because its message -- based on the coming-of-age story of two brothers in India -- has always resonated powerfully: “You can be what you want!” Born in Aguascalientes, in rural Mexico, from an early age, I have both questioned and believed in the truth of that phrase.
I am the second child of four raised by a strong mother. The long absence of my father and the macho, class-conscious society in which I grew up has no doubt contributed to building my resilient character. I grew up hearing that there was “no money for studies, so work and earn money” or more frequently, that without a (financially) supportive family “Who can take you seriously?” Under these circumstances, I saw two options: either adapt and accept my daily reality, or counter this social paradigm with determination. I have always had to work while studying, sometimes more than 16 hours a day. This has impacted the time it takes to complete my coursework and obtain degrees, but I am not giving up; I still work for my goals!
JUSTICE is the key word underlying my doctoral thesis. A professor advised me to identify a research topic that I could feel in the pit of my stomach. So I decided to focus on the difficulties faced by women in my socio-economic situation and from rural areas to access higher education. I am linking education theory, practice and results, in order to reduce the obstacles to education and justice, currently confronted by vulnerable youth, especially indigenous women.”
Mariela Escobedo has given us permission to translate and share the above from her successful application for a grant from MMEG in 2017. After graduation from Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico, she intends to organize an NGO that advocates access to education for marginalized women.
Obstacles confronting indigenous women
Mariela’s preliminary research shows:
- The indigenous population in Mexico is more than 6 percent of the population, or 7 million people (INEGI, the National Institute of Geography and Statistics in Mexico).
- 16.5% of the population, 15 years or older, have at least one year of college, and an equal proportion of women and men were enrolled in 2003 (Cordoba, 2016).
- However, only 2.8% of the indigenous population in Mexico reached higher education in 2010. Only one in four of them are women.
Education policies regarding indigenous inclusion have focused at the primary level, particularly basic literacy (Chavez,2008). Despite this success, they do not have the same support to continue their education. Mariela’s research shows that Indigenous students fail to pass university admission exams, because of deficiencies that accumulate in high school. Women are further discouraged by community expectations, such that a college acceptance and scholarship may be declined out of family concern for her safety and social risks (e.g. unwanted pregnancies and sexual abuse) -- compared to encouragement for men to seize such opportunities. She believes that the benefits of higher education must thus be promoted through community-level awareness-raising programs, in order to increase the number of women in higher education.
Even after arriving at a university, despite the odds, indigenous women face linguistic discrimination (since Spanish is not their mother tongue), social ostracism, and lack of role models. There are few scholarships for the indigenous population, and no university programs that promote the retention of indigenous students, especially during their first year --a period that is crucial for continuing studies up to graduation.
We are proud that Mariela is looking for ways that public policy in Mexico can improve access to higher education for indigenous women!
Data of indigenous population in Mexico:
Distribution of student population in higher education, Mexico:
Cordova, Martha, (2016), La mujer mexicana en la educación superior. https://psicolatina.org/Cuatro/mexicana.html
Research of Eugenia Chávez about indigenous students:
Chávez Arellano, María Eugenia (2008). Ser indígena en la educación superior ¿desventajas reales o asignadas?,vol.37, pp.31-55.:
Mr. Trump’s Executive Order will affect many of our students coming to the US and most particularly Syrian refugees
Although she grew up in a safe and loving family, Farzana Chowdhury personally knows the many socio-economic challenges facing women in Bangladesh. And she passionately wants them to know that “You’re not alone.”
First female CEO of Green Delta and in the Bangladesh insurance industry, Farzana was recently honored by the United Nations Global Compact in a Times Square event for her pioneering contributions to the dignity of women and poverty alleviation. This year, she launched a product called Nibedita to literally insure women’s safety, regardless of economic stature, that includes a smartphone app that provides a counseling network, emergency services and safety tips.
Traditionally, women are not encouraged to claim damages after suffering trauma or being victimized (by rape, for example). Green Delta’s personal accident insurance helps to empower women, and to promote gender equity.
Farzana learned about MMEG during discussions with the IFC (International Finance Corporation of the World Bank). She generously donated to the scholarship endowment, and offers mentorship possibilities to grantees from Bangladesh or those in the finance industry.
The Margaret McNamara Education Grants is hosting its charity benefit reception at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center Oct 28, 2016 from 6 pm to 9 pm
Washington D.C. (October 24, 2016) – The Margaret McNamara Education Grants (MMEG), a Washington D.C.-based public charity, is pleased to announce our « Empowering Women Reception and Fundraiser » in honor of our 35th anniversary. The fun event will raise funds to support women’s education from the developing world and is sponsored by Trade Center Management Associates.
Professor Elizabeth Kucinich, a champion for health, human rights, and the environment will keynote the reception. A live auction, hosted by Justin Swisher will include many exciting items from holiday packages in Los Cabos and Tuscany to art pieces from world famous artists. The charity benefit event will also feature live music by Kathy Hankins and Tony Nalker, rich cultural presentations and a photo exhibition. Still photography is welcome. RSVP’s requested at www.mmeg.org/auction
MMEG is a volunteer-led non-profit organization that provides grants to women from developing countries to further their education and strengthen their leadership skills. Since its inception, MMEG grantees are making a difference in a vast array of areas, from legal and human rights, to health, education, and they are committed to the well-being of women and children and to returning to a developing country upon graduation.
Monica Vidili, MMEG’s President, said «We believe that women are empowered through education and individual women can change communities for the better. We educate one exceptional woman and she trains thousands. As we celebrate 35 years of helping women and communities in the developing world - one extraordinary woman at a time -, we are calling Washingtonians to join us to empower women through education together. »
MMEG was founded in honor of Margaret Craig McNamara’s life-long commitment to women and children and her advocacy of education. Ms. McNamara was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981 for creating the « Reading is Fundamental » program, which provided youngsters all over this country with millions of books. Over more than 30 years, 319 women from 70 countries have been awarded a total of $2 million in MMEG grants.
The event is also supported by the World Bank Family Network (WBFN), Bank-Fund Staff Federal Credit Union, and the Washington Diplomat Magazine.
About MMEG » MMEG is a nonprofit, a 501(c)(3) public charity, which awards education grants to exceptional women from developing countries. who are at least 25 years old, and enrolled at universities in the US, Canada and select universities in South Africa and Latin America. For more information, please visit www.mmeg.org