In the last decade Guatemalan society has seen a substantial increase of social and environmental conflicts around extractive projects. The opposition of rural communities to the presence of extractive projects on their land is due to the social, natural and environmental impacts that those projects cause in their territories. These projects modify ecosystems which are the basis of the life, culture and the economic livelihood of these communities.
The rule of law in Guatemala is weak and the judicial system rarely works in favor of women victims of violence. A lot of murders are related to domestic violence. Investigations suggest a less personal pattern in many cases. The judicial system doesn’t bring attention to, nor supports, women that have been violated. Sexism in our culture is a big problem.
The threats and crimes against Guatemalan women human rights defenders have the apparent objective of sending a message of terror and intimidation. This intimidation may lead women to retreat from participation in public life, gained with so much effort, and limit themselves again to the private world, abandoning their indispensable role in national and international development.
Just in 2014, 10 Guatemalan women human rights defenders received threats. Some of them had been prosecuted by criminal courts, faced unfair trials, and were put into jail. As was Barbara Díaz, a community leader in San Juan Sacatepéquez, a small town 45 minutes away from Guatemala City. She was arrested and accused for the murder of a man that occurred in 2007. She is innocent, but she was put into jail because she and her community were giving a huge opposition to a cement mine that was setting up operations in their community without their permission.
The day she was put into jail, I went to visit her. She cried, she was sad, because her kids will be alone. I will not forget her words. When I asked her what she wanted, she said: “I have a dream, I just want my children to reap the land and sow their own food. I want them to be able to go to school and grow up peacefully in the community. I want them to have clean water in the community. I want to be able to take care of my children so that they can dream peacefully.”
The road to peace, justice, equality and access to better opportunities for women in Guatemala is long and hard. But there are several initiatives, NGO’s, leaders, and communities working hard with the same dream of Bárbara Díaz. The struggle of women to build a better country will be nonstop until we get better conditions and solutions to the different types of violence we face.
I have the same dream, too. The road to bring justice for women and to end impunity will be long, and hard, but we must stay strong, build networks, share our stories and help each other.
The future of women’s rights in Guatemala depends on us and our efforts today.
Andrea joined us in Ottawa for the 2014 Sister-to-Sister Mentorship Program. She completed six weeks of communications and advocacy training alongside two young women activists from South Sudan and Sudan. Andrea is now continuing her work to defend women’s rights in Guatemala.