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Results Briefs October 31, 2021

Going the Extra Mile: Empowering Indigenous Women Living in Mexican Forest Landscapes During the COVID-19 Crisis


Women in Oaxaca, Mexico Photo: Jessica Belmont

Mexico’s Indigenous peoples and local communities, frequently living under conditions of poverty and with limited access to water and sanitation, have faced particular challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. To meet these challenges and to build resilience among these communities, successful efforts were made to expand sustainable natural resource management projects, led by the Indigenous peoples and local communities themselves, and to provide capacity-building workshops for developing income-generating projects based on available natural resources.


COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Mexico’s rural communities. Compared to urban areas, rural areas in Mexico have a larger proportion of people living in poverty, with lower levels of education, less access to water and sanitation, and higher COVID-19 case and mortality rates. 

In addition, Indigenous peoples have suffered disproportionately from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Domestic workers and cooks, most of whom are women from Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLC), make up 60 % of Mexico’s job losses due to COVID-19. The nation’s response required meeting both sides of this global crisis and doing so in areas with populations already at risk from economic, health, education, climate, and other challenges.


In October 2017, the Rainforest Alliance piloted the Mexico Dedicated Grant Mechanism (DGM) for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, in alignment with Forest Investment Program (FIP) guidelines, focusing on five Mexican regions with high-value ecosystems, active local communities, and at high risk of deforestation. Women in rural areas represent 50.5 % of the population, yet only 26 % are landowners and 21.3 % are decision-makers in their communities. Thus, gender was an integral part of the design process: workshops were gender-sensitive, and women were proactively sought for community engagement efforts and as potential project leaders.  

The DGM approved 51 sustainable natural resource management (NRM) projects led by IPLCs and provided capacity-building workshops in which participants developed income-generating subprojects. The onset of COVID-19 in 2020 challenged the project to develop alternative implementation schemes to support IPLC activities. This was especially important for women, who rely most on natural resources for income to support their families and communities. Empowering IPLC women to engage in productive activities has built resilience that has proven essential during the pandemic as well as having long-term impacts on livelihoods. 

The COVID-19 pandemic forced this project to become fully virtual. With increased pressure to support forest-dependent communities during a global economic crisis, the team adapted and innovated, developing customized training opportunities for counterparts, project staff, and beneficiaries. This effort specifically sought to increase the number of female participants, providing them with voice, agency, and productive capacities that will have long-term impact on their lives and those of their families and their communities.


The DGM for IPLC has provided important funding to complement public sector investment toward the sustainable recovery of rural and indigenous income levels:

• Benefits at scale: From December 2017 to December 2020, 520 people received direct monetary benefits from the project, with an additional 3,500 people receiving direct non-monetary benefits (e.g., employment, capacity building, organizational strengthening, etc.). When nonmonetary benefits are taken into account, project beneficiaries increase six-fold, and project impact is expected to expand in upcoming years as female-led subprojects continue to be developed.

• Strengthened rural women’s participation in NRM: Women-centered project design led to a four-fold increase in women participating in the process and 22 more female-led projects. 

• Developed capacity of Indigenous and rural community leaders: The project was focused on creating female role models who could serve as technical allies for the new subprojects. On average, 17 % of technical leaders in Indigenous and rural communities are women, yet 79 % of the project’s extensionists supported and hired through this project are female and continue to provide technical guidance and leadership for subprojects during the pandemic. 

• Empowered rural and Indigenous Peoples: Between February and November 2020, despite the pandemic, 51 mostly female-led technical proposals were developed. This process included virtual meetings with each working group to validate technical proposals; participatory impact diagnoses for productive activities; and meetings with their communities to ensure enabling frameworks were in place.

Bank Group Contribution

Through the Forest Investment Program, one of three main WB-administered programs within the Strategic Climate Funds (SCF), the Bank provided a grant in the amount of US$6 to support Mexico’s Dedicated Grant Mechanism (DGM) for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. A multi-donor fund established in 2009, FIP’s contribution to this program aligns with both its mission to assist Indigenous peoples’ groups to enhance their capacity to design and lead projects and its focus on contributing to local, national, and international dialogue and actions toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions by countering deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). In addition, the World Bank’s technical advice and implementation support during the pandemic led participants to the adoption of innovative implementation and supervision tools and to mainstreaming cutting-edge gender actions. 


The partnership among the key implementing agency, the Rainforest Alliance, the Government of Mexico, and Indigenous and rural communities was strengthened through the DGM and the World Bank via the Forest Investment Program. 


Laura Pérez Pérez is from the Ixtlán Community in Juárez de Oaxaca. Laura is part of a group of nine Indigenous women who proposed a subproject under the DGM funding window launched during the pandemic to produce biodegradable soaps, shampoos, and lotions from plants and flowers found in their natural environment. “We were lucky to be selected, even more so because we participated in workshops to learn how to develop a viable technical proposal so our idea can become a reality. In these workshops we learned about the social, economic, and environmental angles and the importance women have in supporting our community’s sustainability. This strengthens us as women: not only does this contribute to our home’s economy but we can also add value to our community by protecting the environment and believing in ourselves. We have much to learn, but with the support from these institutions we hope to make our dreams come true.” 

Moving Forward 

Delays due to the pandemic have affected IPLC implementation capacity. By April 2021, 79 %  of beneficiaries surveyed said they had been affected by COVID-19: 24 % reported reduced sales, 22 % reported reduced employment, 13 % noted the company's contributions to the community had decreased, and 15 %  of workers were infected by COVID-19 or died from it. Nevertheless, almost all beneficiaries indicated a positive outlook about their capacity to recover from the crisis. Counterpart endorsement led to the immediate adoption of remote supervision and surveying tools; local ally support allowed beneficiaries to provide honest feedback through online platforms; and capacity building enabled all parties to internalize the use of these technologies and eliminated the need for on-site visits. Project implementation continues, and World Bank support is key to enhancing IPLC capacity to recover from the pandemic and establish long-term income-generating activities. 

Learn More

The Rainforest Alliance (2021) Agroforestry group wins National Forestry Merit Award in Mexico

MDE Mexico (2021). Participatory Development of Technical Proposals under the Social Inclusion Window (VIS, per Spanish acronym). 

MDE Mexico (2020). Remote Capacity Building for Local Community Extensionists

MDE Mexico (2020). MDE and the pandemic: innovating to move forward

MDE Mexico (2020). What is Mexico’s MDE? 


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