#StoryOfResistance — Mexico: Defending the rights and safety of Indigenous women

Women attending a biointensive gardens workshop. Credit: Eduardo Lucio García Mendoza/CIARENA

“They told me I had rights … they help us there, they tell us that we are worthy.” — a woman from the Chinanteca Indigenous community

Violence against women and girls remains widespread in Mexico, with 63 per cent of girls and women over the age of 15 saying they have experienced some type of violence.

Supported by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) under the EU/UN Spotlight Initiative, the organization Conservación, Investigación y Aprovechamiento de los Recursos Naturales (CIARENA — Conservation, Research and Use of Natural Resources in English) is leading a project to protect the rights of Indigenous women and girls in the Oaxaca province in Mexico (San José Río Manso, Paso del Águila, Río Chiquito, San Jacobo and María Lombardo de Caso). It is doing this by raising awareness, fostering community mobilization, improving access to multisectoral services, and challenging norms that perpetuate violence against Indigenous women and girls, particularly domestic, sexual and psychological violence.

We talked with Silvia Pérez, legal representative of the organization about CIARENA’s activities during the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout its project.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the remote Indigenous communities you are serving, and how has CIARENA responded to the challenges?

When CIARENA started its project, the COVID-19 pandemic also began making its way throughout Mexico, causing severe delays in project activities while violence continued to rise.

With movement restrictions in place, CIARENA immediately adapted by leading distance training and a radio campaign, broadcasting information on women’s rights to freedom of expression, to bodily autonomy, and to live free from violence, racism and discrimination, among other things.

When access was slowly granted to remote communities, CIARENA representatives provided basic survival supplies and psychological care, including special care for women who were grieving the loss of family members due to COVID-19. The organization also opened workshops to children of Indigenous women to teach them about gender roles, types of violence and how to prevent such violence.

Studies and testimonies during the pandemic reveal that food insecurity was a driving force of violence against women and girls. How did you address this?

CIARENA initiated a horticultural training project in Indigenous communities, led by young Indigenous women. We implemented this activity to contribute to food security and sovereignty and autonomy of Indigenous women and girls.

Horticulture was not initially part of the project, but it was included in the first readjustment made to the project, because our project started in 2020 when the pandemic began. Due to movement restrictions, people could no longer leave the communities to buy food and basic goods or meet non-relatives; the inclusion of a horticulture component is therefore particularly relevant. We considered it important to cover consumption needs and also to sell their vegetables in the community.

group of women standing and sitting in a yard, with trees surrounding them, holding banners
Workshop on “Leadership and prevention of sexual abuse in childhood” in Oaxaca. Credit: Lucio García

What support have you received to ensure survivors and those at risk of violence can seek help? What is your current goal?

CIARENA collaborates closely with women in the communities and networks of local civil society organizations to fill institutional gaps in specialist services for survivors. We support each other, attending to Indigenous women and girls who experience violence and whose lives are in danger, providing physical and health protection.

With other national networks, we organize ourselves to respond to issues of common interest and disseminate information about urgent situations in our regions, always taking care of our safety.

We would like more support to enable comprehensively our organization’s Emergency House. This space will intend to provide immediate support (for up to 72 hours) for women who are at risk of violence and who have had to leave their homes without a defined plan. We aim to provide them with support for making informed decisions and, if necessary, refer them to a shelter, the Emergency House will be a transition house to support their process and, above all, to safeguard them and their children against violence.

What challenges have arisen?

Our work as Indigenous women human rights defenders negatively affects power groups in our communities, who are often in collusion with organized crime.

A lack of institutional mechanisms to address such threats and violence in a timely fashion has led CIARENA to reduce our visibility in the communities while remaining in constant communication to continue planned activities.

However, with resilience, young and older women in remote Indigenous areas where CIARENA operates have been active participants and leaders in their own community. One of the women from a Chinanteca community said, “I already know how to defend myself and I tell other compañeras [friends/peers] not to leave [CIARENA]. I am still in CIARENA. I am here and so is my daughter. I am happy now.”

This is our motivation.

#StoryOfResistance is an editorial series during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence 2022 of the UN Trust Fund. The series features the important, lifeline work of women’s rights organizations in ending violence against women and girls, in the context of overlapping crises and rising pushbacks from anti-rights and anti-feminist movements.



UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women is the only global grant-making mechanism dedicated to eradicating all forms of #VAWG. https://untf.unwomen.org/