Women in Resistance–introducing the delegation

In the words of the artist Emily Willard, this sculpture represents “the Guatemalan indigenous woman, who is often used as a tool of war, experiencing violence, torture, rape, and genocide. She has suffered as well as her children, family, community, her home and her land. However, through the violence she has suffered, she continues to thrive and hope for a future of peace and beauty for her children. Out of the ashes she is reborn.”

I recently returned from the Guatemala Human Rights Commission’s (GHRC) annual delegation “Women in Resistance.” The delegation weaves together Guatemalan women’s intertwining struggle to defend their traditionally owned land with their commitment to protect their bodies from abuse and violence.

Guatemala’s struggle for land rights has deep historical roots that reach to the present day. One current problem is Mega-projects in which transnational corporations develop on land traditionally owned by Guatemala’s indigenous communities. Among the mega-projects underway in Guatemala, are high voltage electric cables, open-pit mines, and mono-crop agriculture. The corporations claim their projects benefit the communities, ushering in “progress.” In reality, the communities fail to reap the benefits of electricity, employment, and edibles. Moreover, these projects wreak devastating harm–mining corporations have evicted and brutalized entire communities, and agricultural companies have rendered farmlands unviable due to chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Violence against Guatemalan women is also a complex issue, and the mixing together of many factors including machismo culture and impunity in the criminal justice system has yielded horrific murders of women known as femicides, as well as many domestic relationships involving physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. An additional form of violence that Guatemalan women are prone to experience is economic violence, in which the abuser controls the abused partner’s access to money. This dynamic forces many Guatemalan women to stay in abusive relationships because their abuser is their means of financial support.

Over the course of nine days, my fellow delegates and I met with a diverse array of woman working to address these intersecting issues. The methods these women applied to defend their land and bodies were as varied as the women themselves. We met with women whose ethnicity ran the spectrum from Maya to Xinca, to ladina; whose geographic location ranged from urban Guatemala City to rural countryside; whose speaking style could be characterized as analytical discourse or casual conversation; and whose scope of work was as local as a single community or as broad as the international stage.

From these meetings I learned a wealth of information about the struggles contemporary Guatemalan women experience. However, the larger impacts of the delegation were not educational but emotional. I felt a strong sense of connection to the many stories I heard, and I hope to show my support and solidarity for these women and for the weighty challenges they balance with such courage by sharing their stories on my blog. These new bonds I formed in my nine days in Guatemala encircle not only the Guatemalan women I met, but also the delegates who sat beside me as these women shared their stories.

Like the women we met, my fellow delegates and I came from diverging backgrounds. But united in our desire to learn about Guatemalan women’s struggles, our time in Guatemala connected us to one another, and affirmed our commitment to advocate with Guatemalans in pursuit of justice. A few of my fellow delegates expressed interest in writing about their delegation experience on EdgyAmelia, and I hope that this forum can provide an opportunity to share their stories from the delegation as well as my own.

Source Notes

1. “For Women’s Right to Live: Delegation to Guatemala.” Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA. http://ghrcusa.org/Programs/ForWomensRighttoLive/Delegation.htm

2. Willard, Emily. “Multi-media sculpture made of clay, nails, and plastic flowers.” http://www.monitor.upeace.org/archive.cfm?id_article=893

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