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Indigenous women in Mexico face more religious discrimination than men, new study suggests

27 May 2022

Some discrimination affects women exclusively, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports


Participants from Jalisco

Participants from Jalisco

INDIGENOUS women in Mexico experience more religious discrimination than their male family members, new research into the lives of religious-minority women has found.

Some discrimination against religious minorities affects women exclusively, and has been under-reported until now, the charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said.

The charity’s report Let Her Be Heard compiles violations of the right to freedom of religion and belief for women. Women who refused to join the majority Roman Catholic faith have faced harassment and exclusion from the justice system, government benefit programmes and services, and prenatal health care.

The report says that, although the Mexican constitution guarantees freedom of religion or belief and other human rights to all its citizens, in practice, violations are a common occurrence in certain regions: in particular, for indigenous communities that are governed under the Law of Uses and Customs.

The law was intended to protect indigenous communities’ rights to maintain their cultural and traditional methods of governing, with a caveat that this must accord with human-rights legislation. In practice, however, this is not monitored. “As a result, in many communities a religious majority attempts to enforce religious uniformity, with consequences ranging in severity for members of religious or belief minorities who do wish to practise a faith of their choosing or no faith,” the report says.

CSWParticipants from Hidalgo

Most violations of human rights and freedom of religion or belief go unpunished, it continues, owing to a “culture of impunity”.

CSW held focus groups and interviews with women from indigenous communities to explore their experiences.

One participant, Maria Francisca Martínez Hernández, a Protestant, told researchers that, after her family refused to sign an agreement renouncing their religious beliefs, in January 2019, the local authorities removed their access to water, sewerage services, government benefit programmes, and the community mill for one year. She developed a lump, and had to have surgery, and was forced to recover at home without access to water or support from friends or family, as local authorities threatened to cut off the services of anyone who helped her.

Anna-Lee Stangl, from CSW, said: “Let Her Be Heard shares the often unheard perspectives of indigenous religious-minority women in Mexico. Many of the women who feature in the report have been waiting over a decade for a response from the government, whose duty it is to uphold provisions in the law and to ensure that the local authorities are held to account for illegal actions.

“The fact that the majority of these cases are ongoing and unresolved shows that the government has essentially abdicated its responsibilities.”

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