Robin Schmid,WJI’s Development and Communications Coordinator
Across the globe, we must continue fighting for gender equality. Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent, and devastating human rights violations today. This is especially true in Guatemala which faces some of the highest levels of violence against women and girls in the world with 1 in 3 women facing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner and the third highest rate of femicide globally. The Women’s Justice Initiative (WJI) works everyday to support rural indigenous Guatemalan women and girls to live free from violence and have the ability to assert their rights.
WJI addresses the significant challenges indigenous Maya-Kaqchikel women face to achieving gender equality by providing free, culturally grounded, bilingual education, leadership training, and free legal aid in rural Guatemala. Over 9,500 women, men, and girls have participated in its programs since WJI began its work in 2011, causing significant changes in attitudes and behaviors towards women’s rights in local communities.
One participant in WJI’s programs, Laura, graduated from WJI’s Women’s Rights Education Program where she took part in a six-month legal literacy and empowerment course that educates women on asserting and protecting their rights. We sat down with her in her home and she recounted her experience:
“Before, [the WJI course] I almost never talked with other women. I was embarrassed to talk to them because I suffered violence and I was ashamed… But after participating, I began to talk with other women and I encouraged them and told them it was very important to love yourself.
I learned many things in the meetings, for example the rights that a woman has. Every time I returned from the workshop, I shared what I learned that day with my children. My oldest son told me it was great that I was learning about these things and that I needed to share it with them.
The program has helped me to improve my communication with my husband. It opened my mind… Through the program, I started to value myself more and found the courage to talk to my husband about our problems. I told my husband that as a woman, I also have dignity and value and that he should treat me with respect, like I do with him. He listens to me now and he treats me better. He also encourages me to continue participating in the program and to motivate other women to join.”
Laura was so motivated to continue fighting for women’s equality in her community that she trained to become one of WJI’s local Community Advocates and is now advocating for women’s rights for her peers and accompanying women seeking legal services with WJI.
Laura’s story is an important reminder that with the right tools women can begin to change relationships in their homes and communities. WJI is increasing the leadership and skills of indigenous Maya girls and women and developing their social capital so they have greater decision making power and agency as individuals. Although we realize achieving gender equality is a long process, WJI’s work seeks to begin the difficult task of breaking the cycles of violence and inequality in Guatemala.
To learn more about the fight for justice in rural Guatemala, visit womens-justice.org.