Women in Guatemala: breaking the cycle of violence
8 March 2020
Sunday 8 March is International Women’s Day. In Guatemala, CAFOD's Catholic family is providing economic, legal and psychological support to women to help them stand up for their rights.
“We must break the cycle of violence and find a way for women to move forward,” urges Juana.
Juana is a passionate leader of a local women’s network in Alta Verapaz in the highlands of Guatemala. She is 53 years old and a mother of five children. Like many women in Guatemala, Juana has suffered years of domestic abuse.
“I started to live with my partner when I was just 14 years old. This man beat me and did whatever he wanted with me,” she explains. “Machismo – a strong sense of manliness – still exists today.”
Fear of speaking out
Patriarchal social norms in Guatemala mean that machismo and gender-based violence against women remain very common. Guatemala has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world. Perpetrators often go unpunished. Many women are scared to report this kind of crime for fear that they will become targets of threats and violence themselves. As a result, very few crimes of violence against women are ever investigated.
Conservative values often mean that men want control over women’s lives and bodies. This results in women having very little power or say for themselves.
“Sometimes we stay at home because men are possessive over us,” explains Juana. “There are many women who don’t go to work and don’t go out to sell because their husbands won’t allow them to.”
As a result of discriminative cultural norms, Guatemalan women often have fewer educational and economic opportunities compared to men. Women like Juana also face further discrimination because of their indigenous heritage. In Guatemala, indigenous women are often looked down upon and are subsequently more likely to be poor and illiterate.
Taking back control of their lives
Thanks to our global Church network, CAFOD is responding to these challenges alongside the Caritas Social Pastoral Outreach team in the diocese of Verapaz. We are supporting Juana and other women, from 22 communities across the region, to gain greater control over their lives.
The Caritas Social Pastoral Outreach team is teaching women to be more aware of their rights, helping them to end the cycle of violence that so many of them are trapped within. Women are learning how to access justice and, through women’s leadership workshops, to better understand that they have a voice – that they are able to speak out – and that there are laws in Guatemala to support them if they continue to face gender-based violence.
Women are also taking part in savings and loans groups, as well as learning how to improve their family incomes through agricultural production. This training increases self-esteem and furthers the ability of indigenous women to take back control of their own lives.
A solution to violence
After receiving support like this, Juana decided to walk away from her abusive relationship.
“My ex-partner threatened to kill me,” she said. “When I began to take part in the training, I decided to no longer live with the man who mistreated me. I left a situation of violence.”
Juana has taken part in various training events and workshops. She has also received psychological support which she now shares with other women in her local community – in person, over the phone, or even through the local radio.
“Having left that cycle of violence, I also want other women to leave it too. I explain to other women that a solution can be found to all forms of violence. I want these trainings to reach distant villages and I would like to give training to couples because there are men who simply follow what other men do and that makes them violent. I would also like to train men and young people so that they don’t mistreat their wives in the future.”
Juana is very hopeful for the future and is already seeing a change in her community.
“Things have changed since we started the training. Before, many women didn’t go out or leave their homes because they were under their men’s heels. Now you see more women out on the streets of Chisec. As women, we must work together to move forward and break the cycle of violence. We must also work with men and young people so that relationships between men and women change.”
We need your help.
Despite the strength and resilience of women like Juana, gender-based violence is still prevalent in communities around the world. Thousands of women in rural communities are forced to suffer in silence with no recourse to justice.
International Women’s Day gives us an opportunity to celebrate women like Juana – local leaders who help other women in their communities to speak out and stand up for their rights. It is crucial that we show them support. We must all speak out against gender-based violence, no matter where in the world it happens.