Mujeres Aliadas: Working for sexual and reproductive health in Mexico

This post was written by Dinora Ambriz and Ondine Rosenthal

Sexual and reproductive health is a key issue to address in many communities and cities of México. Mujeres Aliadas,  a Mexican non-profit organization, works with more than forty communities located in the Lake Pátzcuaro area, in the state of Michoacán, to empower women through different programs of education and healthcare.

As a result of a research study by epidemiologist Richard Ferguson in collaboration with Mujeres Aliadas that examined the health system in the area, the region was identified as one with very low levels of medical attention, especially concerning the sexual and reproductive health of women.

In these communities exist unacceptable rates of maternal and child mortality and cervical cancer. Some women live years with common ailments, such as vaginal infections, that could be cured in weeks with appropriate medical attention.

These problems are due to poor access to affordable, dignified and quality health care. For many, particularly the indigenous women, the cost of travel to a clinic, or even a small fee for care, is simply unaffordable.

What motivates our work is to empower women and young girls so they can have a better quality of life. Their empowerment not only helps them on an individual level, but also encourages them to be actors in the construction of a better community.

For us, a path to achieve empowerment is to share information and education with women in order to promote an integral understanding of the value and honor of taking care of our bodies. Informed women have more tools to strengthen their decisions, fight for their rights, increase their self-esteem, and improve their quality of life.

One of our main goals is to promote the midwifery model of care in the public health system, under the philosophy of MA_2respect and humanized attention, where the woman is the most important figure in making decisions concerning her own sexual and reproductive health, actively participating and exercising her human rights.  We believe that this model is a much more human, harmonic and fair way to attend women’s sexual and reproductive health needs.

The name of our health center Mintzita Uarhïti means “woman’s heart” in purépecha, the native tongue of the main indigenous group in the region. At the center we provide women with gynecological and obstetric care. We also run the second school in the country of Professional Midwifery, where women from different health areas specialize in providing a professional midwifery model of care.

Our midwives help women find their strength while giving birth surrounded by their loved ones. Women can choose to give birth at their homes, or in our birth center where one of the alternatives is water birth.

As part of our work, we also run a permanent community program with workshops for women and adolescents about different topics concerning their sexual and reproductive health.

MA-3Over 9,000 women have attended the workshops, and from their testimonials we notice how much they’ve learned and how important the programs are.

From my point of view, the talks that Mujeres Aliadas gives are very good because we who are mothers can now explain better to our daughters… As for me, I liked the talks very much, not for me so much as for my daughters. For me – it’s too late now – but I hope my daughters don’t suffer like I did in hospitals where no one cared for me.

Most women say they have never been taught the things we talk about in the workshops, and have never been given the opportunity to ask questions and participate. And as Luz María said to us after telling us her story of obstetrical mistreatment:

You have to have these talks, you have to go out to the communities so that the women wake up and realize that there are lots of things that aren’t normal, that it’s not only because the doctor says so, and that we simply have to assert ourselves as to who we are.

In Mujeres Aliadas we want to show women another way, to give them back their power, give them back their control, give them back their families and their support, by empowering women who are completely disempowered. The best way at the grassroots level to get women to change, to grow, to develop is to provide women and girls with humanized, dignified care.

All images by Miguel Maldonado for Mujeres Aliadas.