This profile was prepared when Diana Damian was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2003.
The New Idea
Diana sees that the existing efforts to educate indigenous women about health and rights run into problems on one of two main fronts. On the one extreme, they target women’s rights head-on and in so doing, alienate the woman from her family and community; on the other, they adopt a strictly clinical approach to sexual and reproductive health that decries, rather than builds on, ingrained cultural views of and toward women. Working through midwives and a network of local government-sponsored “health promoters,” Diana teaches basic health to indigenous women by connecting modern approaches to care—use of contraceptives, cures for sexually-transmitted diseases, attention to maternal nutrition—to ancient, perhaps forgotten, beliefs that establish a foundation of respect for women. Rather than focusing on the individual woman (an approach which has proved ineffective in these largely communal villages), Diana involves the whole community, including village leaders and locally-appointed authorities, in addressing women’s health and related rights issues, such as domestic violence. Having begun her work in earnest two years ago, Diana is now reaching beyond the state of Chiapas and adding program elements such as sex education in secondary schools. She sees an application for her idea in indigenous communities of various traditions throughout Mexico and Central America.