A Call to Protect Mexico’s Women Climate Leaders

As we commemorate the anniversary of Mexico’s human rights law, let us honor the sacrifices of women on the frontlines of environmental defense.

(Courtesy of Women’s Earth Alliance)

Twelve years ago, Mexico enacted the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists law, a legislative promise to protect activists and reporters from violence and repression. Today, this promise remains unfulfilled.

Mexico remains one of the most dangerous places for human rights defenders—particularly for women climate leaders, who face targeted violence, threats and attacks, with little to no effective protection from the state.

Just last month, Mexico elected its first female president, Claudia Sheinbaum, an environmental scientist who has led on climate change throughout her career. While this election may mark a shift towards better protection and support for women climate leaders, there is a tremendous amount of work to be done to protect them—not only for their sake but for the future of our planet. 

Mexico remains one of the most dangerous places for human rights defenders, particularly for women climate leaders—who face targeted violence, threats, and attacks, with little to no effective protection from the state.

Women’s leadership is crucial for addressing the climate crisis. Their work is critical to preserving the health of the land, water and communities that surround them, yet they face immense danger. 

Of the 67 women environmental defenders killed globally between 2020 and 2022, 11 were Mexican, and nearly half were Indigenous. This crisis stems from two realities. 

  • First, climate activism in Mexico is especially hazardous due to powerful vested interests in industries like mining, logging, avocado monoculture and berry farming. Corruption exacerbates this danger, leading to harassment, intimidation and murder of activists. Eighty percent of all environmental defender murders in the world occur in Latin America, with Mexico topping the list.

  • Second, femicide rates in Mexico are among the highest globally. Over 3,000 women are murdered in Mexico each year, a crisis that is fueled by systemic gender disparities, pervasive domestic violence, deeply rooted machismo, and a justice system where police apathy, inadequate investigations and revictimization by prosecutors and judges are the norm. 

Women’s leadership is crucial for addressing the climate crisis. Their work is critical to preserving the health of the land, water, and communities that surround them, yet they face immense danger. 

Women environmental defenders face compounded risks from gendered, racial, ethnic discrimination and violence, yet they continue to step forward to answer the needs arising in their regions. Mexican women-led organizations are driving transformative change across sectors including ocean conservation, food sovereignty, indigenous lifeways, health equity, eco-entrepreneurship, and more. Through the Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA), we’ve had the privilege of working with many of these resilient leaders. 

Take AfroCaracolas, an anti-racist and Afro-feminist collective in Guerrero, dedicated to protecting and promoting the human rights of Black and Afro-Mexican women. Despite their constitutional recognition in 2019, Afro-Mexican women continue to face triple marginalization: invisibility, educational limitations and economic inequalities. In states like Guerrero and Oaxaca, women suffer from high illiteracy rates and economic hardship, especially in sectors like fishing, where they lack resources and face gender discrimination. They also struggle with limited access to land ownership and technology, hindering their participation in agricultural programs.

Nonetheless, Afro-Mexican women are organizing to promote gender-focused and intercultural policies. AfroCaracolas’ work focuses on increasing women’s political participation and economic autonomy, advancing Afro-centric and antiracist narratives, protecting reproductive rights, and fostering environmental justice. They seek greater inclusion in community decisions and demand recognition and respect for their individual and collective rights.

Another example is Poj Kää, a women-led organization in the Sierra Mixe of Oaxaca, which supports Indigenous Ayuujk women, girls, and young people in agro-ecology: cultivating medicinal plants, and protecting land rights. By preserving biodiversity and ancestral knowledge, Poj Kää plays a crucial role in sustaining cultural heritage and environmental stewardship.

Another group, Sirenas de México—a collaboration of Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI), Sirenas de Natividad, and Centro Comunitario de Investigación y Monitoreo Submarino (CECIMS)—is a dynamic network of local women from the Mexican coast who, despite limited access to formal education, are emerging as powerful leaders in their communities. These women are at the forefront of marine conservation and sustainable fisheries management, driving initiatives that protect marine ecosystems and enhance the livelihoods of coastal communities. By equipping women with tools for citizen science and ensuring their safety in the industry, they are fostering a new wave of female leaders in ocean conservation.

The resilience of the women leading these organizations exemplifies the power of grassroots movements in driving social change. 

When we fail to protect these leaders, we all lose. Empowering women’s leadership is crucial for addressing the climate crisis—and ensuring human rights for all. When equipped with the necessary tools, resources and support, these women not only impact their local environments but create ripples of positive change that lift entire communities across the globe. That’s why, since 2006, WEA has provided technical, entrepreneurial, and leadership training to women leaders around the world, equipping them with skills and tools to protect our Earth and strengthen communities from the inside out. 

As we commemorate the anniversary of Mexico’s human rights law, let us honor the sacrifices of those on the frontlines of environmental defense, amplify their voices, advocate for their safety, and ensure that their courageous work continues.

Together, we can create a world where women, the Earth, and our collective human rights are protected and ensured.

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About and

Daniela Perez is the director of North America/Pacific programs at Women’s Earth Alliance. She began working in the environmental field and in food sovereignty 11 years ago as a community organizer, working for community-based organizations, educational gardens and farms. Perez grew up in Tijuana, Mexico, and identifies as a transborder Mexican-American. Throughout her career, she has worked on a range of issues including food sovereignty, regenerative agriculture, sustainability leadership, social justice, and gender equity. Perez's holistic leadership style is relational, informed by her culture, and can be identified by her warmth and deep love for the natural world. She holds a master of science in leadership for sustainability education from Portland State University.
Laura Vigil Escalera Mier currently serves as Women's Earth Alliance's Mexico regional coordinator. A dedicated feminist and environmentalist, Escalera Mier is passionate about applying her interdisciplinary background in environmental sciences and gender studies to strengthen women’s leadership and foster environmental justice for generations to come. Since 2018, she has been actively engaged in managing programs that involve the active participation of young women, girls and boys from rural communities, driving progress towards an environmentally and gender-just world. Prior to joining WEA, Escalera Mier worked as an administrative coordinator and gender consultant at EnraizArte, and as a gender climate tracker (GCT) intern at the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO).