Women-Owned BusinessesNonprofit organization Mary’s Pence is working towards a world of empowered women making changes in their communities. To get there, Mary’s Pence partners with grassroots organizations in Canada, the U.S. and Central America to provide funding and development programs for women-owned businesses.

Executive director Katherine Wojtan believes Mary’s Pence is different from other nonprofits because the organization not only cares for the individual women, but also oversees the sustainment of their small businesses. Mary’s Pence also values the idea of “accompaniment,” explained by Wojtan as utilizing the abilities of everyone to accomplish a long-term shared vision. This concept is applied to the organization’s execution of both the programs in the states and in Central America, focusing on improving the whole rather than the individual.

ESPERA

The program in Central America called ESPERA, or Economical Systems Providing Equitable Resources for All, was created almost 12 years ago. “Espera” is the Spanish word for hope, a fitting name for the life-changing program working with women in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

“This is very intentional, it is not about making individual women rich, but about ensuring all women have access to resources and skills to make their way in the world and earn what they need for a good life,” Wojtan said.

ESPERA aids women who were victims of domestic or gang violence or are single mothers struggling to make ends meet. By giving grants to grassroots organizations in struggling communities, Mary’s Pence creates community-lending pools which women can take loans from to start local women-owned businesses that generate income. To ensure success, the staff of Mary’s Pence teach the community loan management and help elect leaders to track the lending.

Gilda Larios, ESPERA team lead, grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico and worked with Central American refugees before starting work with Mary’s Pence. ESPERA funding gives back to the whole community, not just the women receiving aid. Instead of focusing on building credit, women realize the importance of circulating money and products.

“Their confidence grew – first they asked for a very small loan, and over time they asked for larger loans and grew their businesses,” Larios told The Borgen Project. “With their strength, they are role models for new leadership in the community.”

ESPERA and COVID-19

ESPERA has helped develop many small women-owned businesses that create jobs for their communities and generate income for struggling women. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic put many of these businesses at risk as workers feared for their lives, but the ESPERA team responded fast, changing their focus from long-term development to responding immediately to the needs of the women.

As some women panicked about their businesses and the effects of the pandemic, the ESPERA team responded with a 12-week emotional wellness series, delivered via WhatsApp, and supported stores so they could keep reasonable prices for the communities. For women in the midst of paying back loans to the community-lending pool, their status is put on hold until they have the income to continue their payment.

Despite the support network ESPERA provides, the pandemic revealed some gaps in the system. It was challenging to ensure the safety of women experiencing domestic violence. The lack of access to phones and the internet made communication between communities and ESPERA leaders challenging. However, this time of crisis also brought the communities closer and proved the importance of working together through local businesses.

In her interview with The Borgen Project, Larios told of a woman named Aminta, who is in the ESPERA program in San Salvador, El Salvador. She transitioned from working in a “maquila,” or factory, to starting her own business sewing uniforms for local sports teams. During COVID-19, she also began sewing masks to help keep her community healthy. Success stories of women-owned businesses like this one propel communities into further financial security and empower other women to do the same.

Confidence and Creating Futures

Above all, ESPERA and Mary’s Pence hope to give women confidence in their own abilities to create the future they want for themselves and for their families. For Larios, the most rewarding part of working with ESPERA women is the “feeling of satisfaction and joy to see them embrace their possibilities and capacities that before they thought they didn’t have.”

Through ESPERA and their role in the creation of women-owned businesses, Mary’s Pence continues to change women’s lives by showing them the power they already had within themselves.

– Kiyomi Kishaba
Photo: Google Images

poverty in MexicoIn 2018, it was estimated that 42% of the Mexican population lived in poverty. This figure indicates that about 52 million people in the entire nation lived in poverty. In 2015, Chiapas continued to be the poorest state and Oaxaca the second poorest, with poverty rates of 76.2% and 66.8% respectfully. An organization based in the state of Vermont called VAMOS! helps people struggling with poverty in Mexico.

Since its founding in 1987, VAMOS! has provided residents with education, food, health services and much more for free in the state of Morales. Recently, The Borgen Project was able to speak with Executive Director Sean Dougherty about the origins and successes of VAMOS! Sean got involved with the organization because his partners were part of the founding board. He says he enjoys being part of the organization because he loves hearing about the impact it has made on families.

Education

Only 62% of Mexican children reach high school and only 45% complete their high school careers. About 38% of men and 35% of women in Mexico are uneducated and unemployed. Overall, their education rates are lower than most other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

 VAMOS! helps those struggling with poverty in Mexico to alleviate this issue by providing access to quality education, especially in the areas of Early Childhood and Primary Education.

“Education is the single-most-important driver of economic empowerment for individuals and communities,” Dougherty said. “Educated parents are able to earn an income and feed their children. Children who complete primary education are more likely to achieve food security as adults and end the cycle of poverty in their generation.”

Nutrition

A recent UN study shows nearly 14% of Mexican children under five years of age experience stunted growth. This concept means that these children are slowed in their development, often as a result of malnutrition, according to Dougherty.

 VAMOS! helps people suffering from poverty in Mexico by providing food to many families every day.

“VAMOS! Nutrition Programs operate in each of our ten Community Centers and provide a necessary and important addition to the daily diet of the poor we serve,” Dougherty said.  VAMOS! serves over 140,000 meals a year, and hosts many clean water and vitamin programs that provide a measure of food security for affected families. The organization has also managed to erase malnutrition among families that regularly visit VAMOS! centers.

Community

“On a daily basis, in our 10 community centers throughout Cuernavaca, VAMOS! is trying to create a space of love, dignity and respect for anyone and everyone who walks through our doors,” Dougherty said. “We do this by greeting everyone, welcoming each child, listening to their mothers and making sure that every child knows that they are important and that they deserve a future filled with opportunities and love.”

VAMOS! aids those wrestling with poverty in Mexico by aiding, on average, 800-900 kids and over 400 mothers per week. Since its founding, the organization has served over 3 million meals. One thousand two hundred people visit its centers per day and the staff has grown to more than 250 members to accommodate for the large size.

Future Goals

According to Dougherty, VAMOS! hopes to expand its reach to further benefit people battling poverty in Mexico.

“In our most recent surveys, our students and mothers are asking for English classes, job training, small business development, certification in computer business skills and additional programming for teens,” Dougherty said. “These are the areas we will be concentrating on as we continue to expand our programs in the near future.”

Shreya Chari

Photo: Flickr

Burden of COVIDThe most recent pandemic has wreaked havoc on countries all over the world and has stagnated, or even reversed progress in many developing communities. While officials have been trying to reduce the number of cases worldwide, there have also been many tech developments that help alleviate the burden of COVID-19. Various apps and websites allow us to spread information, contact-trace and even enforce quarantine.

6 Ways Technology Helps Alleviate the Burden of COVID-19

  1. Afghanistan- Without proper guidance, misinformation can spread like wildfire and can be deadly. For this reason, the Ministry of Public Health joined forces with the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology to create software that provides health information to Afghani citizens. Corona.asan.gov.af translates virus updates and information into three different languages, making it easily accessible for all people.
  2. Bulgaria- Local IT developers created a free app that connects citizens to health authorities to help ease the burden of COVID-19. Users verify their identity and can input various symptoms they are experiencing. A doctor will then review their symptoms and decide whether or not to send the patient to the closest medical facility for treatment. In addition to this, the app also can predict the future growth and spread of the virus. The developers are also willing to sell the software to other countries for a symbolic one euro.
  3. Germany- A Berlin-based tech startup created an initiative that would work on Android devices in developing countries throughout South America and North Africa. The project, called #AppsFightCovid would display health information on popup ads that already exist on different apps. The ads take info from the WHO website and advocate for frequent hand washing and wearing a mask in public. Because of these efforts, underdeveloped communities now have access to important COVID-19 information.
  4. Mexico- The Mexico City government created a screening service that determines how likely a user is to contract the coronavirus. The website also features a map that displays the closest hospitals and how much space is available in each of them. People can also filter the map based on whether they need a general care bed or a ventilator bed. In addition, users can input their symptoms and determine whether or not they require hospitalization. This helps alleviate the burden of COVID by reducing the number of unnecessary hospital patients during a global pandemic.
  5. United Nations- It is extremely difficult to get access to personal protective equipment and accurate information, especially for developing countries. Because of this, the U.N. partnered with the WHO and launched the Tech Access Partnership or TAP. This initiative helps reduce the burden of COVID by connecting expert manufacturers with developing manufacturers in poorer countries all over the world to share resources, knowledge and technical expertise. TAP will also aid countries in creating affordable and safe technology.
  6. Argentina- In hopes of reducing the number of coronavirus cases, a company is looking into enforcing quarantining and social distancing through a tracking app, though it is not yet operational. This would be a way to prevent the spread of COVID since the app would send an alert each time a person leaves their home. In addition, the Argentinian Ministry of Health created an application that allows people to evaluate their symptoms and see whether or not they require hospitalization.

 

Though the novel coronavirus has thrown us all for a whirlwind, many countries are doing their part to alleviate the burden of COVID by using technology. Whether it is through self-assessing symptoms, tracking hospitals or enforcing quarantine, government officials everywhere are trying to flatten the curve through the use of technology.

– Karin Filipova
Photo: Unsplash

Milpa farms
For more than 4,000 years, the Mayan practice of milpa farming has thrived in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Now, researchers believe that studying milpa farms could offer new solutions to many of the lingering problems plaguing modern agriculture.

An Ancient Practice

The milpa system’s origins lie in the ancient domestication of maize. Maize, also known as corn, is a particularly nutritious grain that rapidly became the staple crop of the Americas. From tortillas to popcorn, maize offers a wealth of different uses even today, making it widely appreciated for its versatility.

A key difference that sets maize apart from other grains like wheat and rice is that maize is open-pollinated, meaning that it relies on the wind for its dissemination. In practical terms, this means that maize can spread its seeds around a wider, less restricted area. Thus, maize often grows in mixed fields alongside other plants like beans and squash, practicing a kind of mutualism.

Maize benefits from the presence of the beans, for example, whose roots process the nitrogen in the soil that maize requires, while the beans themselves gain the opportunity to climb the tall maize stalks and soak-in the sun. Observing this natural pattern, Mesoamericans extended the concept to their own fields of maize, creating the first milpa farms.

How Milpa Works

So, what is it that makes milpa farms so sustainable? In a word: diversity. Modern agricultural techniques typically rely on rotating fields of single-crop yields, which, while productive, place enormous stress on the soil. Over time, as repeated cultivation leads to intensifying erosion, the fields become less capable of absorbing the nutrients necessary to sustain healthy crops. Milpa farms avoid this problem by hosting an assortment of different crops within the same field. This mimics the real-life diversity that exists in nature.

In a traditional milpa farm, farmers plant around a dozen crop varieties simultaneously (most commonly maize, beans and squash). Because each plant provides the nutrients that another requires, the soil never fully depletes. As a result, there exist fields in Central America which have seen continuous cultivation for 4,000 years without a loss of productivity, something unheard of in other parts of the world

Benefits of Milpa Farms

The milpa’s enduring success has led researchers in recent years to turn to it as a potential model for tackling some of the biggest problems facing modern agriculture. Indeed, while it is unlikely that the milpa’s exact circumstances can function on an industrial scale, researchers believe that further study could potentially lead to major improvements in the way farms operate.

For one, the genetic diversity of the crops the milpa produces brings with it comparative advantages. Crop varieties that have seen traditional use in milpa farms are known for their tolerance and highly resilient nature. This helps them overcome pests, competition and resource limitation in a way that less-diverse modern varieties struggle with. Additionally, as this is process done without need of fertilizer or pesticides, it also prevents pollution of nearby groundwater. This makes it easier for local populations to maintain access to clean drinking water.

Tackling Food Insecurity in Mexico

While a full shift from modern agricultural techniques remains infeasible at the moment, researchers believe that strategic adoption of the milpa system could offer a potential solution to some of the food security issues that plague modern Mexico, where more than 10 percent of the population lacks access to adequate food supply.

For one, small farmers who operate traditional milpa farms are typically far more self-sufficient than those who use the alternative. Furthermore, a lack of need for expensive modern fertilizers and machinery makes milpa more cost-effective for those in Mexico’s impoverished rural regions.

Most crucially, however, milpa farms also require significantly less land than the large-scale industrial efforts that dominate Mexican agriculture. In a country increasingly pressed to make efficient use of its land resources, strategic adoption of the milpa system could benefit millions of Mexicans.

James Roark
Photo: Wikimedia

Challenging Poverty Issues in Mexico
Mexico is in the southern area of North America. It is a beautiful country famous for its cuisine and tourism. However, the country is continuing to address several challenging poverty issues in Mexico.

Obesity Problem

Of all the challenging poverty issues in Mexico, obesity and the related health risks are the most common. The January 2020 OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) report states that 72.5 percent of the population is overweight or obese. Poor diet has increased the obesity rate from one in five in 1996 to one in three currently; specifically, 34 percent of adults are morbidly obese. Childhood obesity has increased from 7.6 percent in 1996 to 15 percent in 2016.

Subsequently, diabetes-related hospitalizations occur at a rate of 249 per 100,000 people. Also, heart disease mortality is currently at 27.5 percent.

The OECD’s main concern is the accessibility of healthy foods for low-income households. The report recommends healthy lifestyle investment policies to restore health care resources, that the obesity pandemic is currently draining. A 20 percent calorie reduction has the potential to save as much as MXN$1.99 million per year in health care costs. Additionally, reduction of taxing sugary drinks and high-calorie non-essential foods would likely improve obesity rates.

Poverty Eradication

The next most challenging poverty issue in Mexico is that a large number of its population is in poverty. Of the 129.2 million citizens, an astronomical 52.4 million people are living in poverty and 9.5 million are living in extreme poverty.

For the year 2020, the government has mapped out a plan to address the complex poverty issues in Mexico. Specifically, devoting MXN$470,626 million to 25 ministry programs and trusts to reduce the poverty rates in the nation. Some programs will receive more funding than others, with 60 percent of the overall budget allocated for local government and pensions. The Well Being Ministry plans to distribute MXN$ 126.7 million for pensions to 6.8 million elderly and MXN$11,600 million to people with disabilities.

Health Insurance Problem

Another poverty issue in Mexico is health insurance coverage. With 89.3 percent of the population with health insurance coverage, the total out-of-pocket expenses are typically 41 percent.

The Health Ministry plans to distribute MXN$79,900 million to health care for marginalized communities through the Seguro Popular program. In 2018, this program reached 52.8 million people that Mexico’s Social Security Program did not cover. Seguro Popular provides primary and secondary care through state-run facilities. The goal is to reach as many uninsured citizens as possible, especially those over the age of 50, who now rely on institutions that the Secretary of Health manages.

The Elephant in the Room

The most challenging poverty issue in Mexico is the immigration of refugees from the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) which consists of three countries: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Some 500,000 desperate people have taken the perilous 541-mile journey to flee the violence there only to find more violence en route.

In a heroic effort to help meet these poverty issues in Mexico, Doctors Without Borders maintains a large presence. Mobile clinics patrol the network of freight rail lines, dubbed La Bestia, that runs the length of Mexico from the border of Guatemala all the way north to the United States border. Migrants risk their life and limbs to jump the trains and shorten their trip to the United States. In the past, men typically used the railway, but women, children and sometimes entire families are increasingly using the route.

Besides the railways, and in many cases collaborating with the Ministry of Health, Doctors Without Borders maintains a presence across Mexico. Clinics for migrants and refugees exist at the northern border in Tijuana; the eastern border in Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros; Coatzacoalcos on the gulf coast; Mexico City in the central-lower peninsula; Chalchihuitan and Tenosique in the lower peninsula; the Norte, Centro and Tierra Caliente regions of Acapulco; and Guadalajara on the western side of the upper peninsula.

The clinics provide food, medical and psychological care, occupational therapy, referrals for social assistance, legal advice and employment. Treatment for travel-related injuries and illnesses among the migrants and refugees run the gamut from respiratory infections, skin infections, foot injuries, injuries from falls and physical and psychological violence. In Mexico City, Doctors Without Borders runs a safe shelter specifically for victims of extreme violence and the Acapulco clinics have shifted focus to emergency response and treatment for victims of sexual violence.

Despite the challenging poverty issues in Mexico, the country is making real progress to ensure that its citizens get health care and opportunities that will help them rise above the fray. People should commend the Mexican government and the Mexican Health Ministry for their accomplishments and continued work under such difficult circumstances.

One way U.S. citizens can make a difference is to contact congressional leaders and voice a desire for an improved relationship between Mexico and the United States. An improved relationship will address poverty issues in Mexico through foreign aid.

– Lorna Kelly
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Mexico
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) is an elusive term that describes homelessness in Mexico. Although the term seems straightforward, there is not an international standard definition for homelessness, and the concept and qualifications for homelessness vary from state to state. In general, those who are homeless (or internally displaced) are rough sleepers or those who live in the accommodations often available for street dwellers such as emergency temporary accommodations or homeless shelters.

Impoverishment, drug wars, corruption and violence are the norms for nearly 127 million Mexican civilians. Although only 12 percent of Mexico’s entire population lives in what some consider “adequate housing” (dirt floors with tin roofs and mud walls), an overwhelming 53.3 million internally displaced persons cannot afford to live in decent housing and experience homelessness in Mexico. Many of these families must leave their homes due to criminal violence.

Criminal Violence and Displacement

Sebastián Albuja, head of the Africa and the Americas Department of the Norweigan Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, stated that “Displacement of civilians has been a significant effort of the drug war in Mexico.”

As drug trafficking organizations fight for territory and drug routes, thousands of civilians have to leave because of criminal violence. Criminal violence, including sex trafficking and systemic, large-scale kidnapping, poses a serious threat to the lives and sustainability of those in cartel territories.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement identifies IDPs as any persons who flee “situations of general violence.” In other words, IDPs are groups of people who must flee their homes or places of habitual residence to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of violence or violations of human rights. The guide also states that those displaced due to natural or man-made disasters qualify as internally displaced.

Sources reveal that the proportion of individuals leaving violent municipalities, like Tijuana, are four to five times higher than those leaving non-violent municipalities. Many of these IDPs seek government protection and provision, namely housing accommodations, land and property rights, opportunities for a decent livelihood and access to basic necessities (i.e. food, shelter and health care services).

Many largely undermine the reality of homelessness in Mexico. The Mexican government historically neglects and ignores the circumstance of homelessness and internal displacement, leaving IDPs to their own devices for sustenance and security.

Indigenous Mexicans Are the Most Vulnerable

In 2017, Guerrero’s indigenous communities made up less than 6 percent of the total population, yet accounted for more than 60 percent of all forcibly expelled persons during a large displacement event. That same year reports determined that Guerrero’s highest rate for internally displaced persons was 168.3 per every 100,000 people.

Indigenous Mexicans are most susceptible to falling victim to forced displacement. They often live in isolated communities with inconsistent phone services and poor road conditions, making it difficult for authorities to reach them with assistance or protection. In addition, many speak little to no Spanish.

Entire communities will vacate and abandon homes in response to drug-related crimes and violence. Sources describe small towns in known DTO territories as ghost towns.

According to the Mexican Commission in Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, it considers displacement events, like the Guerro episodes that the press covered, as significant if displacement affects no less than 10 families or 50 people

The media and press are the primary entities that track displacement events because the government overlooks the issue of internal displacement. Press coverage does not track individual families or persons when reporting displacement numbers. Therefore, the number of internally displaced Mexicans is much higher than many perceive.

In fact, the only IDP cases the government accounts for are the ones that people file directly with it. The Congressional Research Service reported that civilians who experienced clashes between armed DTOs abandoned their homes because of intergang violence, direct threats and Mexican security forces. However, many IDPs do not file a case describing the circumstance of the evacuation because many municipalities do not consider criminal violence to be a political or national crisis.

As aforementioned, new interpretations of legal norms concerning internally displaced persons vary from country to country and municipality to municipality. To qualify as an IDP under the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, there must be evidence of coercion. Many consider that the violence in certain localities is only generalized violence and falls outside government mandates or mission statements of humanitarian agencies.

Displacement in Mexico is largely a consequence of criminal violence. Getting the necessary aid is difficult if evidence does not legally qualify an IDP as coerced into displacement. Internal displacement in Mexico is the essence of a “Catch 22.”

Marissa Taylor
Photo: Flickr

The Tarahumara Runners of Sierra Madre mountain
Since the 16th century, the Tarahumara or Raramuri have been living in the alpine valleys of the Sierra Madre mountain range in Mexico. The name Raramuri roughly means “those who run fast.” Author and journalist Christopher McDougall popularized the tribe’s tradition of long-distance-running in his 2009 best-seller, “Born to Run.” The ethnography follows the search for a mysterious man nicknamed Caballo Blanco, who people said had spent many years living with the Tarahumara runners. McDougall’s book helps the Raramuri gain international recognition as a culture centered on running. Every day Tarahumara villagers traverse steep rocky paths to grow crops, herd goats or attend school while wearing thin leather sandals called huarache. However, the on-going spread of drug violence, mining, malnutrition and extreme poverty in the region threatened their livelihoods.

High and Dry in Copper Canyon

Some 60,000 Raramuri reside in Sierra Madre and many of them live in extreme poverty. Their lack of resources comes mainly from the community’s isolation. Most of Copper Canyon is still inaccessible by 4×4 vehicles and helicopters. This makes travel by foot and horseback the only reliable source of transportation in many parts of the region.

Food Crisis

With limited access to economic opportunities or primary education, 60 percent of the Tarahumara remain illiterate. In addition, many suffer from malnutrition. In 2011, a severe drought combined with an especially cold winter ruined villagers’ crop harvests. As a result, a health clinic in the small town of Creel treated 250 Tarahumara children of malnutrition, including 25 severe cases. Along with the spoiled crops, the slow response in sending aid from government officials may have worsened the famine conditions as well.

Caught in Drugs and Mining Disputes

The Tarahumara runners have also experienced difficulties due to Mexico’s ongoing drug war and mining disputes. State and Catholic Church authorities have blamed cartel gangs as the main problem from getting aid into the region. Drug traffickers will extort Raramuri villages into growing marijuana or poppies by threatening them with violence and land theft. Additionally, mining operations in the area have displaced the Raramuri.

Some suspect that Canadian corporation Minefinders displaced 60 families to open a silver and gold mine in the small town of Madera. Corruption likely played a role in the Raramuri’s exploitation. Consequently, the community has limited options in seeking relief and support from local governmental authorities.

The Silver Lining

The Mexican federal government is planning to set up a new education system in Copper Canyons that teaches Spanish. In addition, the Mexican federal government is planning to preserve the Raramuri indigenous language along with expanding schooling in the area and implementing a $95 million road-improvement plan that the World Bank cosponsored. This plan intends to connect the Tarahumara to nearby towns and to help them utilize their forested lands.

Nonprofit organizations are also joining the effort in helping the Raramuri. NGOs like GlobalGiving distributed food packages of corn, rice, beans, sugar and oil to 542 families in 2012. The extra food is essential during the region’s drought period and can act as a backup meal supply for up to 2 months. In addition, GlobalGiving delivered prenatal vitamins to pregnant women and new mothers to help prevent infant and maternal mortality. With the aid that the nonprofit gave, the Raramuri can continue to live healthy lives and inspire the globe with their ancient tradition of foot races.

Those Who Run Fast

The Raramuri live to run. A story exists that states that they escaped the Spanish conquistadors by running into the Sierra Madre mountains over 400 years ago. Additionally, they have run ever since. Lorena Rameriz, a 24-year-old Tarahumara ultra-runner, is the focus of a new Netflix documentary titled, “Lorena, Light-Footed Woman.” The film consists of Lorena’s homeland Copper Canyon. Also, the documentary features how her family and rural lifestyle have pushed her to become one of the top winning indigenous athletes of the era. She stands out from other runners because of the traditional skirt and sandals she wears while racing in 50 and 60-mile marathons. Lorena Rameriz is taking the running world by storm while embracing her Raramuri heritage.

Extreme poverty threatens the Raramuri still living in the high mountains of Mexico. But, government development programs and charity work are helping to make a difference. The people who “run fast” have inspired a new global sporting trend of minimal footgear and barefoot running. The Tarahumara runners continue to dominate in 90 km races. Hopefully, their villages will begin to win battles against poverty as well.

Henry Schrandt
Photo: Flickr

Women's Health in Mexico
Mexico has seen its fair share of issues in women’s health over the years, including a lack of access to affordable healthcare and gender inequalities. Recently, Mexico has made significant progress in addressing women’s health, making it a priority for the country. Here are seven facts about women’s health in Mexico.

7 Facts About Women’s Health in Mexico

  1. Femicide: Femicide is defined as the murder of a woman for gender-based reasons. The rate of femicides in Mexico has nearly doubled since 2007. Citizens of Mexico, along with the government, now refuse to ignore the issue. In March 2020, millions of Mexican women went on a 24-hour strike to stand up against gender-based violence. Through these strikes, women aim to criminalize femicides nationally,  as opposed to states deciding for themselves.
  2. Affordable Healthcare: Annual fees for healthcare in Mexico are, at most, $500 per family, with participation costing $40 per month per person. Each major city in Mexico has a first-rate hospital, and the healthcare system is not based around profit. On average, prescription drugs cost between 30 to 60 percent less than the same drugs in the United States. Mexico’s status as a developing country makes this especially promising. 
  3. Improved Sex Education for Rural Regions: Though many indigenous women living in rural areas in Mexico do not have access to formal healthcare, nonprofit organizations throughout the country offer assistance. Mujeres Aliadas, a non-profit organization, has worked with over 9,000 women in 40 rural communities in central Mexico to educate them on sexual and reproductive health. The organization offers workshops, talks, and even safe spaces for women to give birth. With improved education, women can empower themselves and learn about their bodies.
  4. Fair Start in Life: “Fair Start in Life,” an initiative launched in 2001, was created to address maternal mortality and the health of young children. This program gave expecting mothers access to safe blood, nurses, necessary drugs and healthcare networks. The initiative also led to proper monitoring of maternal deaths and women of reproductive age. Between 2000 and 2006, maternal deaths dropped 2.7 percent.
  5. Emergency Contraception: After a discussion between hundreds of organizations and members of the public, emergency contraception was officially included in the essential drug list in July 2005. The office of the President of Mexico, as well as women’s rights advocacy groups, supported the initiative. Advocates stated that acknowledging the importance of emergency contraception would decrease unwanted pregnancy, disease and sexual violence. 
  6. National Center for Gender Equality and Reproductive Health (NCGERH): In 2003, the Ministry of Health (MOH) established the National Center for Gender Equality and Reproductive Health (NCGERH) in order to acknowledge the equality gap between men and women’s health in Mexico. This institution has the ability to suggest, monitor and evaluate sexual and reproductive national policies. The NCGERH also has the authority to monitor the quality of reproductive health services across the country. 
  7. Cervical Cancer Screening: Mexico has made a significant effort in preventing cervical cancer among Mexican women. In 2012, 48.5 percent of women ages 25-64 were screened for cervical cancer, an increase of more than 4 percent from 2006. The country has also given all girls access to the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine since 2008, which prevents a virus that causes various types of cancer in women. 

These seven facts about women’s health in Mexico highlight that although Mexican women have faced challenges in their healthcare, the country is working hard to make changes. Moving forward, it is essential that Mexico continues to prioritize women’s health, paving the way for more progress. 

– Alyson Kaufman
Photo: Pixabay

HIV/AIDS Stigma in Mexico
As of 2018, approximately 230,000 people in Mexico were living with HIV. About 75 percent of people with HIV in Mexico were aware of their status and about 70 percent were accessing antiretroviral therapy (ART). While ART does not cure HIV, it is a combination of drugs that is able to suppress the virus and significantly reduce transmission rates. HIV is highly prevalent in certain populations in Mexico including sex workers (specifically in the Tijuana red light zone), prisoners, gay men and the transgender community. As a result, there is a significant HIV/AIDS stigma in Mexico.

Since 2003, The Universal Access to ART Program has guaranteed access to ART in Mexico through the national health system. Additionally, this policy ensures the availability of HIV tests for individuals without social security. These governmental actions are significant steps towards reducing HIV prevalence, but 30 percent of individuals living with HIV in Mexico are still not accessing treatment. This is in part due to stigma and fear surrounding the social implications of receiving testing or treatment.

Implications of the Stigma Surrounding HIV

The social stigma around HIV and discrimination based on sexual orientation in Mexico is one of the issues that discourage many people from getting tested. Tradition and religion, especially in rural and poorer areas, are major obstacles to destigmatizing HIV. At the root of this issue are the “machismo” culture and anti-gay beliefs.

As a result of this stigma, people have associated getting tested for HIV with being gay or promiscuous. Consequently, many people are unaware of their HIV status and are not receiving treatment out of fear of discrimination. About 20 percent of patients who are undergoing treatment for HIV do not keep up with their treatment plans or their follow-ups which is also in part due to stigma and discrimination.

Mexico should prioritize the addressing of HIV/AIDS stigma. There is no point in putting resources into treatments and facilities without first ensuring that people obtaining testing or complying with their treatment plans. The quality of the treatment and health care is crucial but will not matter without patient cooperation.

Recent Progress

UNAIDS set forth the 90-90-90 goal for HIV treatment in 2015. This target mobilized efforts globally to test 90 percent of people living with HIV, to provide 90 percent of those people with HIV treatment, and to achieve viral suppression for 90 percent of those by 2020. Mexico has made significant progress towards this goal but has yet to achieve it.

Recent policies have addressed the HIV/AIDS stigma in Mexico, such as the code of conduct from the ministry of health, which includes training to prevent discriminatory behavior and promote respect and patient confidentiality for HIV cases. This code of conduct aims to reduce stigma and discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation in health centers throughout Mexico.

A study in 2016 that examined the prevalence of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Tijuana, Mexico concluded that there is an urgent need for new testing methods. These interventions include non-stigmatizing, confidential testing for younger and less educated MSM, as well as timely referral to HIV treatment. Confidential HIV testing will not necessarily reduce stigma, but it has the potential to increase the number of people who are willing to obtain testing and have access to ARTs. In addition to these testing methods, Mexico could implement community-based HIV awareness programs that educate and destigmatize HIV to target HIV/AIDS stigma in Mexico and encourage testing.

Overall, Mexico has made significant progress to decrease the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Mexico. The country has been making great strides to overcome various obstacles, including socioeconomic inequality and HIV/AIDS stigma in order to increase the number of people receiving testing and treatment.

– Maia Cullen
Photo: Pixabay

3D Printed Houses in Mexico
Tabasco, Mexico, a state located in the southeast of the country, hosts a population of over 2.5 million people, and more than half of the population lives in rural areas. As with many poverty-stricken countries, struggles with poverty hit the rural areas of southern Mexico disproportionally hard. While residents of Tabasco report among the highest levels of life satisfaction, unemployment and poverty create undue challenges, especially in rural populations. Luckily, 3D printed houses in Mexico are providing residents of Tabasco with affordable homes.

Living in Tabasco, Mexico

Tabasco first became a state in 1824 and now consists of different governmental areas called municipios. The region experiences a rainy season, in which the land is subject to flooding due to its mostly low and flat relief. Heavy rains and floods can be particularly devastating for those living in poverty in Tabasco. Oftentimes, residents who cannot afford to purchase housing will craft their own out of wood, metal and other scavenged or purchased material. When heavy rains come, these homes can flood drastically, sometimes for months at a time.

A New Look at Affordable Housing

In December 2019, the struggle for affordable, safe and durable housing took an innovative turn in one neighborhood in Tabasco where residents live on an average of $3 a day. Developers have begun using a large-scale 3D printer to build houses for residents in the neighborhood, planning to complete the construction of 50 new homes by the end of 2020. The prospect of these 3D printed houses in Mexico has numerous implications for Tabascan residents and the fight for affordable housing at large.

These massive printers emit a sturdy concrete that one can layer into a wall, with the complete simultaneous construction of two homes taking only 24 working hours. The homes feature 500 square-feet of living space, with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and a living area.

The Organizations

The three foundations that are collaborating to make these 3D printed houses in Mexico a reality are ICON, a construction technology company; New Story, a San Francisco-based nonprofit; and ÉCHALE, a Mexican nonprofit.

ICON focuses on revolutionizing the construction of homes, utilizing printers, robotics and other technology tools to contribute to efforts surrounding affordable housing construction. ICON developed its first commercially available construction printer, called the Vulcan II, in 2018.

ÉCHALE saw its beginnings in 1985 and has since become a successful organization that works for social housing and community development in Mexico. ÉCHALE focuses on the main sustainable development goals for 2030, including ending poverty, promoting gender equality and responsible consumption and production.

Founded in 2014, New Story aids families in need of housing and shelter. Since then, New Story has built over 2,700 homes using traditional construction methods in Haiti, El Salvador, Bolivia and Mexico. ICON and New Story first collaborated on a 3D printed home in Austin, Texas in March 2018.

Most importantly, these three organizations that are creating 3D printed houses in Mexico have worked with residents of the Tabascan neighborhood every step of the way. They hired local construction workers to complete aspects of building such as land clearing and installing windows and roofs, ensuring that printing homes do not take jobs away from residents. The design of the homes also came from a collaboration with the very same residents that will live in them, ensuring that these houses will meet the specific needs of the community. This type of community involvement is critical for the long-term success of affordable housing programs, and one that can serve as a model for future technology-based affordable housing solutions.

Elizabeth Baker
Photo: Flickr