In October of last year, Irma Lopez Aurelio arrived at a state health clinic in Oaxaca, Mexico, in labor with her third child. The doctors at the clinic told her to come back, that her labor was not advanced enough and no doctor was available to help her. Irma, who is Indigenous, spoke little Spanish and was unable to communicate how advanced her labor was to the monolingual doctors. After hours of waiting, Irma gave birth on the lawn outside of the clinic.
In the past nine months, seven Indigenous women in Mexico have been documented having their babies in the yard, waiting rooms, or front steps of state clinics. The vast majority have occurred in Oaxaca, the third poorest state, with the largest Indigenous population in the country. These are some of Mexico’s most marginalized people, women who are economically, linguistically, and racially disenfranchised. In spite of repeated cases, the Mexican government has only recently taken notice of the phenomenon, after local citizens used camera phones to publish videos and photos of these human rights violations to social media.
The government’s response has taken the traditional tact: condemning what they describe as individual cases of mismanagement. Oaxaca’s Health Secretary German Tenorio Vasconcelos has fired four physicians and declared a “zero tolerance” policy for such infractions. This, of course will not address the systematic problems that bar Indigenous women from accessing the reproductive health care they need. In order to understand these cases, it is important to contextualize them within a framework that is larger than discrimination from one individual against another. The state of reproductive justice for Indigenous women in Mexico speaks to a larger history of colonization, during which Indigenous people were enslaved, and women were raped as a weapon of war.