Guatemala: Two Women Murdered Every Day

Guatemala has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world, with over 670 reported cases in 2017 and 711 reported cases in 2016 (Guatemalan Women’s Group).  The prevalence of women being murdered throughout the country demonstrates the level and severity of discrimination and inequity faced by half the country’s population.

For Indigenous women in Guatemala, discrimination is double-faceted: they are marginalized not only due to their gender, but also for being Indigenous.

Comadrona Household Visits-164347.jpg

The oppression of Indigenous peoples in Guatemala dates back to the Spanish conquest over 500 years ago, however the most recent expression of this discrimination was during the 36-year civil war, which saw the genocide of more than 160,000 Indigenous peoples. As well, more than 100,000 Indigenous women were victims of mass rape and forced into sexual slavery for the military.

Picture1.jpg

This history of violence against Indigenous peoples can be observed presently in the significantly higher rates of poverty and lack of access to basic services like health and education. Nearly 80% of Indigenous peoples in Guatemala live in poverty (less than $2 US/day).

For Indigenous women, these barriers are exacerbated by high rates of violence that continue to plague their daily lives. Living in a “machista” culture that treats women as inferior has normalized the violence and murder of women.

These alarming rates of gender-based violence persist throughout Central America and Mexico. Like Guatemala, many of these countries have experienced a history of violence, with 20th century civil wars emanating from centuries of oppression suffered by the poor, working class. Furthermore, regional cultural attitudes of “machismo” towards women continue to devalue and disregard their humanity. These countries have deep wounds that continue to harm the most vulnerable parts of the population.

 Between 2010 and 2015, three countries from Central America, including Guatemala, had the highest rates of femicide in the world. Credit: The Economist.

Between 2010 and 2015, three countries from Central America, including Guatemala, had the highest rates of femicide in the world. Credit: The Economist.

Despite these deeply rooted challenges, Indigenous women continue to fight to make change. Horizons supports several local organizations fighting for women’s rights, including their right to a life free of violence, throughout Central America and Mexico.  Over the next month we will feature these organizations through a series highlighting their plights to end violence against women in their communities and throughout their countries. 

The first partner organization we are featuring today is the Association of Health Promotion, Research and Education (PIES) located in the Western Highlands of Guatemala in the Department (province) of Totonicapán. The majority (93%) of the 500,000 inhabitants of Totonicapán are Indigenous Maya K’iche’, of whom more than 80% live below the poverty line. A large percentage of the population also lacks access to basic services like healthcare, education, clean water and sufficient food.

 PIES Health Educators visit Indigenous families in some of the most remote and rural communities of the Department of Totonicapán to provide workshops and personal counselling on women's and children's health, including their rights to a life free of violence.

PIES Health Educators visit Indigenous families in some of the most remote and rural communities of the Department of Totonicapán to provide workshops and personal counselling on women's and children's health, including their rights to a life free of violence.

Indigenous Maya K’iche’ women are even more susceptible to poverty and lack of access to basic needs due to gender discrimination. Cultural attitudes continue to devalue women, limiting their decision-making and putting them at a higher-risk of violence. 

Valenzuela, a traditional Indigenous midwife working with PIES, shared her story of gender-based violence growing up in Totonicapán:

Valenzuela grew up watching her father violently assault her mother. His attacks were both verbal and physical, often telling Valenzuela and her mother that they were useless women. This violence resulted in Valenzuela’s mother experiencing several miscarriages. It was seeing her mother experience this loss at the hands of her father that marked her for life. This story captures how gender-based violence has resulted in significant consequences for the wellbeing of women and their children in Totonicapán.

PIES is working to improve gender equality and respect for women through their current Maternal, Newborn and Child Health: Transforming Indigenous Lives (MNCH) project by providing education to women, their partners and other family members on the rights of women, including the right to a life free of violence. PIES uses Health Educators, traditional Indigenous midwives, and Community Health Commissions, to provide training through workshops as well as personal counselling sessions to women and men on gender equality.

 Valenzuela, a traditional Indigenous Maya K'iche' midwife, shared her story and experiences with Canadians during the MNCH project's most recent Knowledge Exchange across Ontario and Québec.

Valenzuela, a traditional Indigenous Maya K'iche' midwife, shared her story and experiences with Canadians during the MNCH project's most recent Knowledge Exchange across Ontario and Québec.

Valenzuela is one of the midwives working in the MNCH project to spread the message on the need to end violence against women. Along with attending to prenatal consultations, births and postnatal checkups, she also provides counselling to women on issues of violence in the home. Her experience as a young girl watching her mother being assaulted has driven her to provide assistance to other women so they do not suffer the same abuse.

Currently, Valuenza and 32 lead traditional midwives from the project are training 931 other traditional midwives on best practices for providing maternal and child health care. This includes training these midwives to council women and their families on respect and recognition of women and their rights.

The MNCH project is also working to sensitize and train male community leaders so that they can promote gender equality within their communities, especially with regards to ending violence against women. So far, 758 male leaders have participated in training sessions to better understand the realities that women and children are facing in their communities and are planning culturally-pertinent solutions to improve gender equality.

 Eusebio spoke at numerous public event during the MNCH project's most recent Knowledge Exchange. He shared his experience promoting gender equality and challenging machismo in his community.

Eusebio spoke at numerous public event during the MNCH project's most recent Knowledge Exchange. He shared his experience promoting gender equality and challenging machismo in his community.

Eusebio, a male community leader, recently shared his hopes for his community during one of the MNCH project’s recent Knowledge Exchanges to Canada:

“It is a challenge engaging men. But I am hopeful that if we continue with training and put this training into practice, we can make a change. I will not be around forever, but I hope that my kids can grow up better than I did.”

To help support the efforts of Valenzuela, Eusebio and the work of PIES to end violence against women donate today!

Hannah Matthews