Date of Graduation

Fall 12-14-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in International Studies (MAIS)


College of Arts and Sciences


International Studies

First Advisor

Brian Dowd-Uribe

Second Advisor

Adrienne Johnson


Development projects that aim at empowering women have gained popularity among many actors and institutions in the field of development for their capacity to contribute in development and economic growth. Nevertheless, the concept of empowerment has also gained critics from various stands claiming it to be too technical, and not taking into account social relations in contexts where other epistemologies exist. It is necessary to adapt these kind of terms taking into account local world-views. This thesis explores the dynamics of women's empowerment in Tzeltal Mayan communities in Chiapas, Mexico. It aims at understanding the way empowerment is manifested in this particular place, in order to generate a way of understanding concepts like these through incorporating local knowledge and epistemology. This ethnographic study adds to ongoing conversations about doing research in indigenous communities and how to empower locals through allowing for their participation in the research process. Furthermore, this thesis looks at the possible role of Solidarity Economy initiatives on women's empowerment. In my findings, I have made a tentative view of what can be seen as Tzeltal-inspired ideas of empowerment, through three points that characterize their empowerment process. I also find that these empowering points are identifiable in various Solidarity Economy initiatives in Tzeltal communities.