Cutbacks in Mexico put centers for indigenous, Afro-Mexican women at risk

Centers in Mexico providing vital healthcare and support services to indigenous and Afro-Mexican women are running out of money and could be forced to close due to government spending cuts, organizers say.

The 35 mostly state-funded houses for indigenous and Afro-Mexican women (CAMIs) provide health care during pregnancy, traditional births, advice for victims of violence, translation services and a safe space for marginalized communities.

One CAMI was already forced to close temporarily and others are at risk if funding does not arrive within weeks, said Nelsy Ku Chay, director of a national network through which most of the CAMI centers collaborate.

She said the centers had become particularly necessary during Mexico’s coronavirus outbreak, which has caused 14,000 deaths and has not yet peaked.

Since the country’s COVID-19 lockdown began, the CAMIs have helped hundreds of women with home-based prenatal care and births to domestic violence issues, according to a document created by the centers.

“They play a fundamental role in our communities,” Ku Chay said. “When women decide to leave their houses because of a situation… like violence, the first place they go is a (CAMI).”

Mexico’s state-run National Institute for Indigenous People (INPI), which channels funds to the CAMIs, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it would ensure each center received between 200,000 and 300,000 pesos (about $9,200-$13,800) within eight days.

Before a presidential decree in April slashed large swathes of public spending, they had been due to receive between 700,000 and 1 million pesos.

Patricia Rosete Xotlanihua, a public policy consultant on intercultural issues, said that many CAMIs had reached breaking point in recent weeks, with some operating without electricity or internet because they could not pay the bills.

“They no longer have resources,” she said. “Almost all of them have to pay expenses and were about to close.”

Almost 26 million people identify as indigenous in Mexico, which has a total population of nearly 130 million, according to government statistics.

Another 1.3 million Mexicans identify as Afro-descendants, according to state statistics agency INEGI. The first center focused on Afro-Mexican women was officially inaugurated earlier this year.

For many women, CAMIs are the only places where they can access health services, especially in the countryside, said Blanca Estela Pelcastre, a researcher at the National Institute of Public Health.

Only 1.5% of Mexico’s public hospital facilities are in rural areas, according to a 2018 report by the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL).

And even when health centers are available, nurses and doctors rarely speak local indigenous languages, Pelcastre said, making the CAMIs’ translation services especially important.

Run by women who are leaders in their communities, they are also a vital source of support for domestic violence victims wary of reporting abuse to male officials.

“They’re women who are recognized and respected in the communities themselves,” Pelcastre said.

Reporting by Christine Murray and Oscar Lopez; Editing by Helen Popper; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit

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