Meet the Women Powering Our Work in Mexico

From the bedside to the board room, women make our work in Chiapas possible

Posted on Mar 8, 2024

Ten women wearing face masks stand outside of a wall that says Compañeros En Salud, as Partners In Health is known in Mexico. Photo by Francisco Terán / Partners In Health.
A team of community nurses gathers at the Jaltenango office of Compañeros En Salud, as Partners In Health is known in Mexico. Photo by Francisco Terán / Partners In Health.

Compañeros En Salud, as Partners In Health is known in Mexico, has nearly 100 community health workers on staff; 98% are women.

This is just one of the many ways that women are vital to PIH’s work in the Sierra Madre region of Chiapas, where we have worked since 2011 providing free health care and social support in partnership with the Ministry of Health. 

From treating patients to training clinicians to setting agendas, women have been essential to fulfilling Compañeros En Salud’s mission from day one—as doctors, midwives, executive leadership, janitors, and more.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we uplift the stories of women at Compañeros En Salud and honor their contributions to our work.

Udis Sánchez, health assistant 

Udis Sánchez, health assistant at Compañeros En Salud. Photo by Francisco Terán / Partners In Health.

As a health assistant, Udis Sánchez has faced many challenges over the years—as part of the first-ever nursing team at a rural clinic, as an infection control worker in the COVID-19 response, and as a nursing student. 

On top of all those challenges was the pressure she often felt as a woman.

“In the communities where we work, many people tell you that because you are a woman, you cannot achieve things,” she says. “You cannot study or work…you always have to be at home.”

It was a message she’d heard growing up in Laguna del Cofre, a rural community in the Sierra Madre mountains, where women in traditional households are often discouraged from pursuing their education or career.

Despite this pressure, Sánchez refused to be deterred. Last year, she graduated with her nursing degree—one of her proudest, most hard-won achievements.

“It doesn’t matter if you come from a highland community, because at the end of the day, we [women] decide,” she says. “We don’t have to be afraid.”

Gabriela Gamboa, janitor

Gabriela Gamboa, janitor at Compañeros En Salud. Photo by Francisco Terán / Partners In Health.

Gabriela Gamboa spends her day washing bedsheets, disinfecting tools, and cleaning the rooms of Casa Materna, a birthing center supported by Compañeros En Salud. Her daily tasks may seem small, but are essential to keeping the center open and ready to serve the hundreds of women who give birth there every year. 

It’s not just Casa Materna’s mission—providing dignified care for mothers in Chiapas—that inspires Gamboa in her work. It’s also the financial independence that the work affords her, enabling her to support herself, and the sense of community. 

“What inspires me in a woman is that she knows how to get ahead on her own, that she can raise a family on her own,” says Gamboa. “In general, I admire all women who fight.”

In her spare time, Gamboa has found another inspiration: leading a dance group for women and children in the community. Once too shy to dance in public, she now helps her students learn how to dance and, most importantly, to move, have fun, and express themselves.

“In the field where I work, being a woman is a unique experience that makes me feel proud,” she says. “I am very happy to be part of a team that is so committed to the health of others.”

Saira Morales, community nurse

Saira Morales, community nurse at Compañeros En Salud. Photo by Francisco Terán / Partners In Health.

Saira Morales began working with Compañeros En Salud during unprecedented times: in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. The experience challenged the young nurse, personally and professionally. Day to day, she had to contend with shutdowns, resource shortages, sick patients and staff, and constantly evolving guidelines.

Amid the chaos, Morales saw an opportunity: a chance to make her mark professionally.

“I am proud of myself in my performance as a nurse, in all that I have learned here and in my years of experience,” she says. 

For Morales, being a woman in nursing “is taking care of others, offering dignified treatment to patients…and at the same time making my potential and capacity as a nurse known.”

Nursing—considered a caring profession and with a workforce of over 70% women—has garnered more attention in recent years, as more nurses seek to take on leadership roles and make their mark on health care systems that have historically undervalued them.

As Morales continued her work with Compañeros En Salud, eventually transferring to a community clinic in Laguna del Cofre, she drew inspiration not only from the work, but from her colleagues—many of them, women.

“All the women around me inspire me,” she says. “Women are fighters. We are strong…If we want something in life, we can achieve it."

Sandra Martínez, office assistant

Sandra Martínez, office assistant at Compañeros En Salud. Photo by Francisco Terán / Partners In Health.

Sandra Martínez still remembers her first boss, Dr. Jafret Arrieta, when she began her work at Compañeros En Salud.

“I saw that she was very intelligent and capable,” Martínez recalls. “She is very hardworking, very active…an excellent person.”

To this day, Martínez strives to infuse those same values into her own work as an office assistant. She has now worked with Compañeros En Salud for 12 years.

And it’s not her only role. It comes on top of her other full-time job: being a mother.

“I feel very proud of myself, for having my children, for having raised them with love and education,” she says. “I am happy to have the job I have, which allows me to support us.” 

Balancing work and motherhood is no small feat. But Martínez is thankful for the sense of community—and home—she’s found at Compañeros En Salud.

“It is having many responsibilities, working a lot, but at the same time enjoying it, because I am with the people I love,” she says.

Though daunting for some, she wouldn’t trade her lifestyle for anything.

“Above all, [I am proud] to be a woman,” she says.

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