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Shining a Light of Opportunity: The Indigenous Women’s Struggle for Education in Rural Mexico

January 24, 2024

In Southern Mexico, rural Indigenous women remain at the bottom of the educational ladder. While progress has been made in recent years with education in rural Mexico, a gap persists, casting long shadows over their lives and perpetuating a cycle of poverty that ripples through generations.

The roots of this educational disparity run deep, intertwined with a history of marginalization and discrimination. Colonial legacies and persistent societal prejudices against Indigenous communities create systemic barriers. Schools often lack culturally appropriate curricula or support for Indigenous languages, alienating students and making learning a struggle. Poverty further exacerbates the issue. Families prioritize economic survival, pulling daughters out of school early to help with domestic chores, income generation, or even early marriage. Additionally, cultural norms that traditionally confine women to domestic roles discourage their education, creating a self-fulfilling cycle of disadvantage.

The Perpetuation of Poverty

The consequences of this educational marginalization are far-reaching. Lacking proper education leaves women with limited literacy and numeracy skills, hindering their ability to find decent employment and secure economic independence. They are often confined to low-paying, precarious jobs, struggling to provide for their families and break free from the cycle of poverty.

Limited education also restricts women's participation in decision-making processes within their communities and at the national level. Their voices often go unheard, hindering the development of policies that address their specific needs and challenges. This ultimately weakens Indigenous communities and prevents them from advocating for their land rights, cultural preservation, and environmental protection.

Without access to education, mothers are less likely to understand the importance of early childhood development and healthcare. This can lead to health disparities and lower levels of well-being for their children, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Limited education also restricts access to information and resources on sustainable practices, contributing to environmental degradation and further impacting their livelihoods and well-being.

Planting a Seed of Hope: Environmental Education as a Catalyst for Change

Programs like Plant With Purpose offer a glimmer of hope in this seemingly bleak landscape. Their environmentally-focused development approach, particularly the emphasis on women's participation, holds the potential to break this cycle of disadvantage.

Through Purpose Groups, Plant With Purpose fosters a sense of community and empowerment among Indigenous women. By working together on projects like reforestation, sustainable agriculture, and water conservation, women gain crucial skills in leadership, decision-making, and resource management. These skills not only contribute to environmental restoration but also translate into personal and economic empowerment. In Mexico, over two-thirds of Purpose Group participants are women!

The program's focus on environmental education provides women with the knowledge and tools to protect their land and resources. This not only improves their livelihoods but also fosters a sense of stewardship towards their environment, paving the way for sustainable development in their communities.

Plant With Purpose frequently partners with both schools and churches to help women advance. 

education in rural mexico

“I was invited to the church to learn the word of God,” tells Lucia from Oaxaca. “I go to the church that is in my community. It has been a great blessing to know God. In the church there are meetings for women, for children, but what has helped me to grow my faith more, is to visit other churches, to live with other believers. Now I know that with God's help we have the capacity to increase our faith and to make changes within ourselves.”

Education Nurtures Potential

Plant With Purpose recognizes the importance of formal education in rural Mexico. The program supports access to education by removing the barriers preventing girls from staying in school and completing their studies. This ensures that not only their environmental knowledge thrives but also their broader academic foundation, opening doors to further education and career opportunities.

By bridging the gap between formal education and environmental knowledge, Plant With Purpose empowers Indigenous women to become powerful agents of change. They are no longer just recipients of aid but active participants in building a future that is environmentally sustainable, economically prosperous, and socially just.

A Future Rooted in Equality

The journey towards educational equity for rural Indigenous women in Mexico is long and complex. However, with programs like Plant With Purpose actively nurturing the seeds of change, hope blossoms. By empowering women through education, environmental knowledge, and community participation, we can break the cycle of poverty and create a future where the shadows of inequality give way to the vibrant sunlight of opportunity.

This is not just about closing an educational gap; it's about unlocking the human potential that has been lying dormant for far too long. It's about recognizing that when Indigenous women flourish, their communities, their environment, and ultimately, the nation as a whole benefits. In nurturing their education in rural Mexico, we nourish the roots of a more just and sustainable future for all.


About Plant With Purpose: Plant With Purpose is a leading Christian environmental organization and is dedicated to reversing deforestation and poverty by transforming the lives of rural farmers. Applying a 100% locally-led, Community Designed Restoration© model, over the past 40 years Plant With Purpose’s integrated solutions have resulted in more than a half million people reversing their poverty,  60 million+ trees planted, and 2.7 million acres of land being restored or protected. With local programs in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Haiti, Malawi, Mexico, Tanzania, and Thailand, Plant With Purpose has a global team of more than 500. For more information about Plant With Purpose and its mission, please visit

About the Author

Philippe shares the stories of people living at the forefront of the climate crisis, who are working to transform their ecosystems and communities. He loves emphasizing the human experience, and keeping conversations about the environment centered on the communities most affected by it. Philippe has led storytelling trips to Mexico, Thailand, Colombia, Tanzania, South Africa, Haiti, and a number of other countries. He has previously served in similar roles at Liberty in North Korea and Mobility International.

Philippe obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies at UC Santa Barbara. He furthered his studies by earning a Master of Arts in International Studies as well as a Master of Arts in Nonprofit Management at University of Oregon. Philippe is also an illustrator, podcaster, and digital artist. Outside of work, Philippe loves spending time with his wife and their three kids.

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