Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Sexual and Reproductive Health: Perceptions of Indigenous Migrant Women in Northwestern Mexico

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Sexual and Reproductive Health: Perceptions of Indigenous Migrant Women in Northwestern Mexico

Article excerpt


This article presents results of a broader investigation concerning the perceptions of sexual and reproductive health of indigenous migrant women living and working in the San Quintín valley, one of the two main agricultural valleys of northern Baja California, Mexico. This research aimed to learn about the perceptions that these women have regarding their own body, the stages of female growth and development, knowledge concerning family planning methods, traditional approaches to menstrual discomfort, care during pregnancy and puerperium, as well as their understanding of sexual and reproductive rights. Their experiences with the health services, as well as their understanding of some aspects of their sexual and reproductive health are discussed.

Over the past forty years the San Quintín Valley has become come to be an important agricultural exporter to the US market and a major centre of attraction for migrant jornaleros (day labourers). The intensification of commercial agriculture traditionally required a migrant workforce. The latter came from South-East Mexico, mainly from Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Veracruz, with mixteca, triqui, zapoteca and nahua ethnicities. Initially, the migration of agricultural workers was of a more temporary nature and gradually there has been a process of permanent settlement (Zlolniski, 2010). The proportion of women jornaleras in relation to men has increased in agricultural work because, as Lara-Flores (1995) points out, there has been a process of feminisation of agricultural labour, mainly because the female workforce is cheaper, and seen to be more docile and flexible.

Most of the studies carried out in the San Quintín area have documented that, in agricultural work, both men and women face a life of extreme poverty and working conditions below the minimum established by law, particularly if they are indigenous migrants (LaraFlores, 2003, 2008; Velasco, 2007; Velasco, Zlolniski, & Coubes, 2014). The migrant families of the San Quintín valley live under precarious economic circumstances, specifically regarding the conditions of their homes and access to medical care. Their houses are often unsafe since some are built with waste material, without concrete flooring, with little or no ventilation and do not have basic public services (PDH-BC, 2003). Over half (57%) of the total population lacks medical attention or health services, and nearly one-third (29%) of the population 15 years of age and over, have not completed primary school studies (PDR, 2011).

In this region, most of the female migrant population has at some point in their lives worked in the agricultural fields. Some of them engage in activities such as the sale of embroidery and food as an alternative source of income. Women of early-to-advanced ages join the agricultural work force. In the case of pregnant women, they often work until the last trimester of their pregnancy. Younger girls combine agricultural labour with employment in shops or with their high school studies. Their status as women imposes additional tasks on them such as getting home after work to perform household chores and childcare. Thus, they are subjected to a double shift of paid work outside the home in addition to unpaid labour within the home. The living and working conditions of indigenous women do not allow them to have greater opportunities for well-being, and this has affected, among other things, their health. Furthermore, they have little access to health services and social security benefits, and the medical care they receive can be discriminatory and fail to meet their needs.

In addition to the marginalised nature of their lives, indigenous women also face a monocultural health care system, particularly regarding sexual and reproductive health. This gives rise to a professional indifference and disinterest in recognising women's own knowledge about their health. Regarding this, Langer and Tolbert (1998) point out that both the community and individuals should be able to have the necessary information to guarantee their freedom of choice in accordance with their cultural beliefs and practices, and have access to health and education services that protect cultural integrity. …

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