Skip to content

International Women's Day: Defending women’s rights in Guatemala

8 March 2023
Latin America-Guatemala-Zoila

Zoila proudly stands next to her pigsty outside her home in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. 

International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate women’s achievements around the world and call for equal rights for women and men. In Guatemala, CAFOD's Catholic family is providing economic, health and psychological support to indigenous women to become more resilient in the face of economic hardship, climate change and violence against women.

"Everything has become more expensive and as women we have very little money to make a living,” explains Zoila, an indigenous Mayan Q'eqchi' leader and mother of five from Alta Verapaz in Guatemala.

Many Guatemalans are currently living in poverty, particularly those living in rural and indigenous areas. Around half of Guatemala’s population self-identify as indigenous, mainly from the Mayan culture. Indigenous communities in Guatemala often face high levels of prejudice leading to a repression of their culture and fewer economic opportunities.

Rising prices

Like Zoila, many indigenous women earn a living through small-scale farming which is becoming increasingly difficult due to climate change. Rainfall patterns are becoming more unpredictable while frosts, hailstorms and droughts are making it harder to grow crops. Malnutrition is common in Guatemala and rising food prices is making it harder for families to feed all their family members. The cost of basic household staples like soap and cooking oil continue to rise.

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 with perpetrators often going unpunished. Conservative values often mean that men want control over women’s lives and bodies which results in women having very little power or say for themselves.


Eulalia, a farmer in Alta-Verapaz is growing startfruit, black pepper and guava in her back garden.

What is CAFOD doing to change gender injustice?

Our vision is a world where diverse women and girls are safe and respected, and where women and men share equally in shaping their societies.

Gaining economic independence

In response to these multiple challenges, our partner Caritas Social Pastoral Outreach team in the diocese of Verapaz are supporting women to become more independent by raising awareness of women’s rights and training women on sustainable and climate resilient farming practices to improve their incomes. By becoming more economically independent, women are less dependent on men and have greater control over their lives, often helping them escape the cycle of violence.

I have been supporting women who face violence from their husbands. I tell them I know what it’s like as I’ve also suffered from violence.

Zoila, an indigenous Mayan Q'eqchi' leader

To support women’s economic independence, The Caritas Social Pastoral Outreach team are training indigenous women like Zoila on how to raise livestock like chickens, pigs and how to grow crops in an environmentally friendly way. Although many women own very little land, our church partner are training women on how to use small plots of land outside their homes to generate an income. Families are also learning to diversify their fruits and vegetables so that they can make more nutritious meals.

“Being able to raise our animals has improved our income, we are raising chickens and pigs, some of which we sell and some we eat. I currently have 28 animals which are large and healthy. We are learning to make organic fertiliser and we have received seeds to grow fruits like papaya, lychee, star fruit and spices like cinnamon and cloves” says Zoila.

Women are also taking part in savings groups which helps them to become more economically independent and more confident in managing their own money. “We are learning how to better save, spend and invest” explains Zoila.

Zoila trains women on how to protect themselves against violence.

Zoila trains women on how to protect themselves against violence.

Defending women’s rights

In addition to raising her animals and crops, Zoila is very passionate about defending women’s rights and helping women in her community to protect themselves against violence.

Zoila and other indigenous leaders speak with families three days a week to foster dialogue and challenge harmful gender norms which encourage violent behavior.

“I have been supporting women who face violence from their husbands. I tell them I know what it’s like as I’ve also suffered from violence,” shares Zoila. By speaking to leaders like Zoila, families are learning more about women’s rights and harmful community attitudes which often normalise violence.

“Through dialogue we have united families and saved many homes,” Zoila proudly explains.

Zoila is determined to see women and girls in her community live with dignity and hope.

“What we are fighting for are equal rights- equal rights for young girls, boys and all adults. We need to respect and value one another,” urges Zoila with a passionate smile.