Having a capable, trained midwife can be the difference between life and death for Indigenous mothers in Mexico. Before the Casa de la Mujer Indigena (CAMI) opened in 2006 in Chalchihuitán in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, 50 women were dying in childbirth each year in this community of fewer than 15,000 people.
As of January this year, that number has dropped to zero.
The organization behind this centre for Indigenous women’s health—and others like it elsewhere—is K’inal Antzetik (“Land of Women” in the Tzeltal Mayan language). They are partnered with the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) to support Indigenous midwives and community health workers in southern Mexico.
These midwives and community health workers lead workshops on gender issues and women’s reproductive health, accompany women through pregnancy, make sure women with high risk pregnancies are connected to the health care system, and advocate for Indigenous women in that same system.
“There is a lack of cultural sensitivity in public policy,” says Lina Rosa Berrio, the executive director of K’inal. “Our goal is to make social inequality visible, and to ensure better conditions in sexual and reproductive health for indigenous women.”
One particular woman—who was working in the fields right up until the beginning of labour—took a 10-hour bus ride to the nearest hospital only to be told to go home and wash.
“A lot of women and children were dying because the medical system didn’t have any compassion or understanding that these women have to work in the fields right up until their water breaks,” says Simon Chambers, communications coordinator for PWRDF, who visited southern Mexico this past January.
Thankfully, the presence of midwives in local hospitals has made a definite and positive difference. “There is a mutual respect,” says Jose Zarate, manager of PWRDF’s Indigenous communities and Latin America and Caribbean development program. “The doctors in the hospital understand the role played by the midwife. Through the time spent by the midwife with the woman at the hospital, she learns how the hospital works. So it’s a combination of ‘western’ science as well as traditional health.”
K’inal Antzetik’s midwives and community health workers receive training in the form of courses and workshops at their local CAMIs. “It doesn’t in any way discount the traditional knowledge that they have,” says Chambers, “but instead says ‘Here’s some of the science behind it, here’s some of what the doctors will be talking about, so when you go to a hospital you can talk in language that doctors understand and not be looked down on.'”
Marta Perez Perez, one of the newer midwives at the CAMI in Chalchihuitán, is eager to work and to learn in her chosen field. “I strongly believe that the CAMI provides a better method of supporting women’s health needs. Fewer mothers are dying in childbirth now; this is important work,” says Perez. “I want to learn, to participate in any workshops or courses that will let me provide better service to the women of the community. I’m proud to be part of the team of midwives!”
In the Gifts for Mission catalogue—bundled with the October 2013 issue of the Anglican Journal—you can directly support training and networking opportunities, helping them learn how to combine their traditional knowledge with ‘western’ medicine in a way that gives them the best of both worlds. To request an advance copy email Jacqueline Beckford or call (416) 924-9199 ext. 299.
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