#MeToo and #UltraPoverty

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Leticia (not her real name) knew that her parents were depending on her to move the family out of the poverty that had snared them for generations.  They had sacrificed to make sure that she could stay in school as long as possible.  And it looked like their investment was going to yield dividends, as Leticia had been able to get a job shortly after she turned 14.  Every day she rode the bus down the mountain and into the city.  There she switched to a trolley, which took her to the restaurant where she waited on tables.

Young and beautiful, she had begun to imagine life for her in the city, far from her village up in the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico.  Men began to notice her.  The man who took her fare on the trolley seemed to pay special attention to her.  She could feel his eyes following her as she took her seat.  But she was not interested.  She was still a girl, and his job paid worse than hers.  She had a responsibility to her family, to use her new status to marry someone who could help provide for them all.

One morning she looked around as she queued for the trolley but didn’t see him.  She moved forward in line, about to get on board, when she heard a commotion behind her.  Before she could turn around, someone slipped a bag over her head.  Then she felt two men pick her up and drag her to a waiting taxi.  They stuffed her inside, and the car began racing back up the mountain.

The young man who had taken an interest in her, knowing that he could not win her heart, decided he would have her another way.  He enlisted the help of his brothers, and together they abducted her, taking her far from her village to a remote shack where no one would find them.  They kept her there for a week, using her in ways that made it unlikely any other man would want to marry her.

Her abductor then took her to his village.  By this time, she had lost the only regular job she ever had.  He claimed her as his wife.  But neither of them had work, and he owned no land.  He waited till her father’s anger had begun to subside, then borrowed money from his family to give a gift to her dad and ask for his forgiveness.  Leticia’s father did not give forgiveness, but he did accept what he could not change.

A few months later, with their first child on the way, Leticia and her husband moved into a tiny plot directly behind her mother and father, building a shack out of scrap lumber.
parallax background

The #MeToo movement has taken off at this time in our history for many reasons, including:
  • We have means of communicating now where women can tell their own story, rather than having it filtered through men in power.
  • We have women in power who have experienced sexual harassment and abuse themselves and who believe the stories they hear from others.
  • We have a legal system, that, as imperfect and slow as it is, has found men guilty of abuse.
  • We have women with enough economic means and courage to tell their stories in public, inspiring others to join them.

  • For women living in ultra-poverty, the #MeToo movement may still be far away.  They do not have the means to tell their story.  They do not have the economic power to defend themselves against retribution.  They do not have a legal system that will believe them.

    In most every country where I interview people living in ultra-poverty, I find most of them are women.  Why?  Often because their husbands have departed, leaving them to care for the children.  That means that any income the woman obtains must feed many more hungry mouths.  But I wonder how much the constant vigilance against sexual violence, as well as the trauma experienced by its survivors, limits the range of opportunities that these women can pursue.
    Today, Leticia receives support from the Mexican government’s anti-poverty program called Prospera.  She has enrolled in an application of the Ultra-Poor Graduation approach linked to Prospera with advice from an innovative nonprofit called Fundacion Capital.

    Leticia meets every other week with a support group made up of other Prospera recipients.  A Prospera staff member leads the group in exercises to define their life dreams and then develop a business plan to enable them to achieve those dreams.  Leticia enjoys being able to dream again, she had stopped dreaming shortly after she got married.  Now she wants to be able to go back to school and finish her studies.  She wants her son to be able to go to university.  And she wants to have a house with a cement floor, brick walls and an iron roof.  She has already saved enough to buy the sheets for the roof.

    Leticia has joined with other women in her group to start raising goats.  This will give them enough income to provide for their families and save up for their future dreams.  The income also gives her the ability to guide her own future, something she had lost when she was taken from that trolley 25 years ago.

    I asked Leticia about how she was able to stay married and raise a boy after the violent start to her marriage.  She shrugged her shoulders and said, “It happened.”


    1. Jeffrey Ashe says:

      Larry, Thanks for this. Truly a heart rending story. Jeff

    2. Anne Hastings says:

      Thanks, Larry, for shining a light on the intersection of violence against women and ultra-poverty. Some of the saddest stories I ever heard in Haiti had to do with women — girls really — who were raped by MINUSTAH soldiers from countries all over the world. Often they became pregnant, but the soldiers had left the country to go home. They had little or no recourse but to raise the child, even when everyone could see that it was not a purely Haitian child. So the child suffered discrimination as well. Truly sad.

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