Chiapas research examines women and governance


Oaxaca Magaloni
Oaxaca, Mexico
Photo credit: 
Beatriz Magaloni

We sat down with recipient of the FSI Global Underdevelopment Action Fund, Professor Beatriz Magaloni to learn more about her research plans and how her work will address the larger issues of poverty and governance in Latin America and beyond.

Beatriz Magaloni, associate professor of political science at Stanford, senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI), and director of the Program on Poverty and Governance (PovGov) at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, was recently awarded a grant through FSI's Global Underdevelopment Action Fund. Over the past ten years, Professor Magaloni has pioneered cross-national comparative research focused primarily on Latin America and Mexico. Leading the PovGov program, Professor Magaloni launched research projects examining political incentives for heath improvements, the role of women and family-planning decisions, public goods provisions in indigenous communities, and drug-related violence in Mexico.

We sat down with Professor Magaloni to learn more about her research plans and how her work will address the larger issues of poverty and governance in Latin America and beyond.

Professor Magaloni, tell us more about the work you are conducting with the support of the FSI Global Underdevelopment Action Fund?

We are using the support of the FSI Action Fund to expand a governance project that we started in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2009 to the Chiapas region. The Oaxaca research project focused on examining the effects of political institutions on public goods provision. In 1995, the state of Oaxaca allowed indigenous communities to decide if they wanted a form of traditional indigenous governance called “Usos y Costumbres,” or party governance. Our team studied the variations in these two forms of municipal governance and how they shape the provision of welfare-enhancing public goods, such as clean water, sanitation and sewage, and roads. The findings in Oaxaca showed that traditional governance leads to higher levels of civic engagement in collective decision-making and better provision of public goods. However, one key finding revealed that women enjoyed significantly lower levels of participation in civic life and governance overall. 

Why might this be?

More traditional structures of governance in indigenous communities were disempowering for women but the research carried out in Oaxaca revealed a positive effect on social and political participation among recipients of conditional cash transfers through Oportunidades.

For those of us unfamiliar with the Oportunidades program, please tell us more.

Oportunidades is a social program funded by the Mexican federal government that provides conditional cash transfers to poor women in exchange for their direct engagement in activities related to child nutrition, health, and education.

Why are you expanding the study to Chiapas?

A policy prescription that emerged from our results in Oaxaca led us to re-evaluate the possibility of establishing “Usos y Costumbres” beyond Oaxaca, and this grant will allow us to study the state of Chiapas. The state of Chiapas is traditionally party dominated but has a strong blend of traditional forms of governance. The baseline survey will be designed in Chiapas to understand how traditional governance practices are integrated into the party governance. We will ask if poor indigenous communities are better or worse off by choosing to govern themselves through customary law and participatory democracy, versus delegating decisions concerning the provision of public goods to political parties. This will allow us to identify how governance and patterns of civic engagement differ in both of these states and the effect on provision of local goods.

Stanford graduate students and post-doctoral scholars will be integral to our efforts to administer the survey and perform subsequent analysis.

How will women be central to your study in Chiapas?

The main addition to the survey will be a substantial segment devoted to the role of women in civil society with the goal of answering a number of questions regarding civic and political participation. Conducted at the household level, it is designed to gain a fuller picture of how women in Chiapas are influenced and shaped by the Oportunidades program.

In addition, our study in Chiapas will examine the following factors pertaining to women and governance:

1. The dynamics of governance in Mexico's indigenous regions and the ways in which women participate in collective decision-making and influence the distribution and access to public goods and services in the community.

2.  The relationship between Oportunidades and women's decision-making role in the provision of public goods.

3. The effects on health and educational outcomes that may be associated both with conditional cash transfer programs and women's participation in collective decision-making.

4. The policy implications for economic development and promoting human capital.

Who are you collaborating with on this project?

Ewen Wang is the co-investigator on this project. She is an associate professor of Surgery/Emergency Medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine and will be instrumental in collecting new data on health and education for children who are recipients of the Oportunidades program. We also are engaging inter-institutional collaborators from our partner universities, including; Alberto Díaz-Cayeros, Associate Professor of International Studies at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego; and Vidal Romero, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM).

What are the expected results or outcomes of this study?

The outcomes of this work have both theoretical and policy-relevant implications. The data we collect on the effect of participatory governance in indigenous regions in Mexico and how conditional cash transfer programs enable civic participation of women will have much broader application beyond Mexico's borders. A lot of other governments are experimenting with the use of conditional cash transfer programs and the result of this study should help inform public policy.

In Mexico, a policy brief highlighting the results of the survey will be prepared and presented to policymakers to describe the effects of local governance, civic engagement, and their impact on economic development. Policy recommendations will be presented to advise Chiapas (as well as other states in southern Mexico with a high prevalence of indigenous populations) on constitutional reform that gives autonomy to indigenous communities with respect to municipal collective decision-making.

Finally, a book-length project will be under development that describes how traditional governance in indigenous regions of Mexico shapes civic engagement, participation of women, and impacts the provision of public goods and services. The new data generated by this study will present new findings on how governance shapes the status of maternal and child health services in Chiapas, having much broader implications in the field of health policy.