• Improving human development among indigenous peoples: The Chiapas success story | Magdy Martinez-Soliman

    22 Aug 2012

    Improving human development among indigenous peoples: The Chiapas success story | Magdy Martinez-Soliman
    Indigenous peoples in Chiapas, one of Mexico’s poorest states, have seen improvements in human development after the adoption of MDG-focused social policies. (Photo: UNDP Mexico)

    In many ways, history has been hard on the southwestern state of Chiapas, home to Mexico’s largest indigenous population. Poverty has been persistent, with the state lagging behind on most socio-economic indicators.   

    In recent times however, Chiapas has led the way in setting an agenda to improve the life of its citizens. In 2009 the state adopted the Chiapas-UN Agenda and amended its constitution, making it the first in the world to mandate a Millennium Development Goals-guided social policy. As a result, addressing poverty and its causes became a priority in Chiapas, with a strong emphasis on initiatives to improve health, education, environmental sustainability and extreme hunger.

    Following this constitutional amendment, public spending from the government at the federal, state and local levels followed the MDG priorities, producing some impressive results in a short period of time. Chiapas experienced progress in education, measured by literacy and enrolment rates from 2008 to 2010. During the same period the state also had the fastest improvements in life expectancy at birth.

    Many indigenous communities of Chiapas were at the origin of the Zapatista uprising in the 1990’s, which succeeded in obtaining new rights for indigenous peoples but also divided and displaced much of the indigenous peoples of the state.

    This MDG-guided policy, however, contributed to the adoption of a recent law to address internal displacement among indigenous peoples. It also resulted in concerted efforts to increase birth certificates for indigenous peoples.

    Although Chiapas is still struggling to eliminate extreme poverty, particularly among its indigenous communities, it provides a clear example that change is possible if governments, civil society and people are willing to embrace it. Today not only is Chiapas a better place to live, but it is also in a path towards improved livelihoods.

    Talk to us: What steps can be taken to boost human development among indigenous peoples while preserving their culture and identity?


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Magdy Martinez-Soliman is Deputy Director of UNDP's Bureau for Development Policy.