(Leer en Español) Today we celebrate the International Day of Action for Women’s Health. We would like to shine a light on María Micaela Jimenez Montejo, a nursing student based in the community of Esperanza del Porvenir in the municipality of Tumbalá, Chiapas Mexico and one of SeeChange’s community activators of the CommunityFirst Roadmap.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated gender and social inequalities that infringe upon women’s rights to health, equality, dignity, autonomy, information and bodily integrity. Micaela has stood as an advocate and an ally to provide health information to her community throughout the pandemic. As a young woman in her field, she tells us,
“Thanks to my nursing background, I have been able to do great things. The pandemic has been a turning point for me– I have realized what I want to be and what I want to do. Humanitarian work has always been the foundation of my career.”
As one of the few Spanish speakers in her majority Ch’ol community in Chiapas, and the only person with any health training, Micaela has been single-handedly leading the response to COVID-19. She explains to us why she took on this role:
“Why? Because no one else is going to take care of my health nor the health of the people I love if I don’t do it. And my work as a nursing student is always going to be to care for and ensure the health of all my patients– in this case my whole community. But not only my community– any community that needs health assistance. And if I had the economic resources to give them all of the assistance they need, I wouldn’t think twice about doing it.
That’s why I personally took this on, but in general, if we women don’t do it ourselves, no one will.”
As a woman activist, she describes her experience.
“I have encountered people who have put more barriers in front of me than there already were. But I have also encountered people who have joined me in all of the projects that I’ve put into motion in the most amazing way.
Until now, my experience has been very fulfilling, full of new learnings and experiences. In my community, the experience was very challenging. But thanks to CEMEX (who I met through the SeeChange Activators Network), I also had the opportunity to put that bitter experience behind me and work with a community (Villahermosa) that was truly invested in the wellbeing of its people.
I worked with young people, as well as older men and women. It was incredible– overall my whole experience as a woman activist has been incredible. In the community of Villahermosa, they told me that they expected me to be much older and they were shocked when they saw me and learned how old I was. I told them, “to follow your dreams and your goals, you just do what you love to do. You don’t need to be 30 or 40 years old– you can be whatever age you are and be what you want to be. The youth told me, “Wow, I want to be like you.” And at that moment, I told them, “You can all be who you want to be. Always follow your dreams and goals.” It was incredible to be told I was someone’s role model.”
Asked whether her work has had an impact on other women in her life, she responds without a doubt,
“In my community, I am the only person studying nursing, or who has any sort of health training whatsoever. People are studying other things– accounting, business, but no one else in any health or social service. In my community, I’m not sure I’ve had that much of an impact. But in Villahermosa, there was a big impact on the women. There were more women than men in the workshops. I think being who I am at these times has been a pillar for Indigenous women. I know that I am not only me, but that I can say with pride that in my region of Chiapas, I am the first one to do this type of work. Just in my region, because in the rest of Chiapas many amazing activist women are doing incredible work. They are doing everything that the government doesn’t care about.”
When asked what does it mean to be a woman she responded,
“For me, being a woman has been and always will be one of the greatest blessings. It is amazing to be a woman simply because I can break down the barriers and stereotypes imposed by our misogynistic society, and upon which our world is built. I am incredibly proud to be not only a woman but a woman from Chiapas. I am proud of being an Indigenous woman because I love my roots, culture, and people.”
Micaela’s wish for the women in her community is “that women study, gain skills, have a career; that they are then able to defend other women who need support and that they become an example to follow of how to get things done. I want them to realize that if they want to do this, they can do it. As the saying goes, to want to is to be able to. I want all the women in my community, and all the women in Chiapas to be able to study, to become someone in life and to defend their rights. I want there to be equality, but true equality, between men and women. This is my biggest desire in the whole world.”