Indigenous Women in Oaxaca

Indigenous Women in Oaxaca


Indigenous populations and especially indigenous women are often discriminated against. Photographer Lucero Gonzales points her lens at a community of indigenous women in Oaxaca, Mexico and explores the ways these women contribute and thrive, despite discrimination and disadvantages.

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Photographs by Lucero Gonzales

Although I was born in Mexico City, I spent my childhood in Oaxaca and feel very connected to that region. I return to Oaxaca every summer. It's like paradise to me, and I love to reconnect with the indigenous people who I met as a young girl through my father, an epidemiologist who worked with the indigenous community.

Now as an adult, I try to balance two professions as both a sociologist and photographer. I want to create visual narratives that reflect the condition of women in these indigenous communities. My approach is always one of reciprocity: I learn from them and they learn from me. Though there are differences of culture, age, and occupations, there is a bridge between me and my subject because both of us are women. Through that, we have common struggles, as well as the shared desire to move forward in life with dignity and strength.

I am honored to feature these women doing their daily work, be it weaving, washing corn that becomes food for the family, singing, or selling her harvest. I hope that through my photographs I can contribute to the generation of new ideas in people that will help to change hearts and minds and improve the quality of life for indigenous women.


About 10% of Mexico's population, or about 12 million people, are indigenous, with women making up about half of the indigenous population. Most of them do not speak Spanish, and instead speak an indigenous tongue. (There are 62 indigenous languages still spoken in Mexico, including Nahuatl, Maya, and Zapotec.) Indigenous peoples are found across the country, but the indigenous population is especially high in areas like Campeche, Hidalgo, and Oaxaca.

Today, Oaxaca is the second poorest state in Mexico. Economic hardship and social inequality lead many men to leave Oaxaca to find work, and the women are left behind. There is little recognition of women's contribution to the economy, although they are full participants, working both in and out of the home.

In an area like Oaxaca that is already facing economic hardship, the indigenous population (and especially indigenous women) is at an extreme disadvantage. Education levels among the indigenous population are much lower than the national average, and indigenous women are much more likely to be uneducated compared to men. In fact, 35% of indigenous women are illiterate, compared to 20% of indigenous men. Discrimination against indigenous populations is common, and is most frequently due to their inability to speak Spanish, which leads to employment discrimination in Spanish-speaking areas. Indigenous peoples are also over represented in low-income jobs.

Indigenous women are further disadvantaged because they face twice the discrimination: first for being women, and also for being indigenous. In their indigenous society, women frequently face patriarchal structures such as machismo and sexism. Oppression and violence against indigenous women is common, affecting their freedom to make decisions, their access to resources, and their ability to mobilize for action.

However, there are organizations created specifically to support indigenous women, including Protección a la Joven de Oaxaca (Supporting Young Women in Oaxaca), which offers safe housing, job training, education and a supportive environment for young indigenous women who come from families with little economic resources, and El Circulo de Mujeres A.C., a nonprofit that encourages women small business owners, leadership among women and provides literacy training to adult women.


Lucero Gonzalez is a women's human rights activist, photographer, and the Director of the Museum of Women Artists in Mexico. To learn more, visit


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