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The heart of gender justice in New Mexico

SANTA FE, N.M. — At a time when political leaders at the national and state levels are defunding programs critical to women and communities most impacted by inequity, the health and economic wellbeing of women and girls in New Mexico is under siege.

In response, NewMexicoWomen.Org (NMW.O), a program of the New Mexico Community Foundation, recently teamed up with University of New Mexico scholars to examine the current status of health equity and economic security. Over the past year, we engaged with women and communities around the state on this topic.

The results were overwhelming: The social determinants of “where and how women and girls live, work, learn, pray, and play,” as a World Health Organization commission concluded in 2008, profoundly shape their wellbeing. We found that the factors of structural racism, patriarchy and misogyny were significant root causes of inequity in New Mexico.

But what stood out to us most in our research findings was the depth of historical trauma from layers of colonization that has contributed to the vast inequities and disparities in health and economic wellbeing. The historical trauma, spanning from New Mexico’s rich history dating back to the conquistadors of 1598 and continuing throughout the U.S. Territorial period and statehood, has had a genuine and devastating impact on the subsequent generations of the state’s women.

Further, communities across the state impressed upon us that in order to address the historic significance, NMW.O must also acknowledge the need for healing. The evidence was so clear that we decided to shift our priorities away from the more limited phraseology of “women’s rights” and its narrower version of feminism to the heart of gender justice, and the role that history and politics has played in shaping women’s lives.

New Mexico women and girls navigate, and have navigated for generations, a multitude of race and class identities. Gender justice will target the various structures, institutions and systems – the social, economic and environmental elements – that are shaping our lives. We understand that healing is a process of restoring physical, mental and emotional health, and are determined to incorporate it in our mission.

In Gallup, we learned how colonization led to the decline of breastfeeding and the resulting related negative health consequences. Among its many proven benefits, breastfeeding strengthens a baby’s immune system, reduces the risk of adolescent and adult obesity and diabetes, and helps a mother bond with her child. But, as Amanda Singer, Executive Director of the Navajo Nation Breastfeeding Coalition, explained: “Our ancestors were taken away from home. They were put in boarding schools … that’s where we started losing the breastfeeding.”

In Española, a transgender participant pointed out that dominant gender norms that are reinforced by regressive patriarchal and historic policies put transgender people at risk. Policymakers have a responsibility to consider these gender realities.

To zero in on gender justice and healing is to acknowledge that race, class, history, immigration status, sexual identity and the environment have enormous and inextricable effects on health outcomes and quality of life for women and girls in New Mexico. We believe our shift is groundbreaking, as NMW.O sharpens its concentration on gender justice and healing in our commitment and movement to end patriarchy and misogyny.

This month, NMW.O will publish the results from the research mentioned above, “The Heart of Gender Justice in New Mexico: Intersectionality, Economic Security, and Healthy Equity.” To download the full report, visit:

Felice Gonzales is a volunteer and co-founder of NewMexicoWomen.Org, a program of the New Mexico Community Foundation.