Activist Spotlight: Luz Méndez, Guatemala
Luz is a women’s rights activist and peacemaker from Guatemala. She has long advocated for the recognition of women’s rights in peacebuilding efforts and bringing to the surface a long-hidden dimension of war: sexual violence against women. Luz is renowned for being the only woman member of a delegation to sign the Peace Accords ending Guatemala’s 36-year long civil war.
Between 1991 and 1996 Luz participated in the peace negotiations as part of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity’s delegation. In this process she dedicated special attention to the incorporation of gender equality in the accords’ commitments. Specifically, she worked on highlighting the crimes of sexual violence committed by state forces – of which the overwhelming majority were indigenous women. Her successes included the inclusion of the penalization of sexual harassment in the accords. Yet Luz emerged disappointed from the peace accord process because sexual violence as a weapon of war has been excluded.
Luz described a sense of dissatisfaction and ‘personal debt’ with the resulting accords, saying “[Y]ears later I became involved in the struggle for justice of women in the world because of the debt in that past.” Since then, she has provided her expertise at the negotiation table—stressing the inclusion of women’s perspective—in peace negotiations around the world. From Tanzania to Darfur, her message is the same: “Empower women so they know this is not something like our fate, to be victims of sexual violence… It is our right to be free of sexual violence, not only in wars, but also in so-called peaceful times.”
Over three decades of civil war have left Guatemala with high levels of impunity and a weak justice system. Locally, Luz works to provide ‘alternative’ justice for the women survivors of sexual violence, to speak out and demand justice and reparations from the Guatemalan judicial system. Today she is the vice-president of the Executive Board of theNational Union of Guatemalan Women (UNAMG), which works for gender equality, social justice and peacebuilding. Luz’s ultimate aim is to enhance women’s participation and ensure women’s rights are recognized in building democracy and building peace. After all:“No peace can be built with out justice for women.”