Reflections on the NWI Conference and Guatemala Observatorio

After the Nobel Women’s Initiative Conference in Antigua, a group of us – Petateras, JASS, FIRE, and key international allies – conducted an Observatorio and Fact-Finding Mission on the situation of violence against women in Guatemala. 

As we heard accounts, statistics and testimony from indigenous women leaders, organizers, activists and human rights defenders, I was struck by the level of violence and the level of impunity that prevails in Guatemala. We kept hearing from the women we spoke to that the levels of violence in general are even higher today, 13 years after the signing of the Peace Accords, than they were during the internal armed conflict. I also found myself thinking about why, what are some of the root causes for the violence targeted against women - and in the Guatemalan context forms of violence that target and are especially vicious towards indigenous women, pointing to a deep-seated racism that is prevalent not only there but throughout the region. 

I remember one of the panelists at the NWI Conference, Eva Mappy Morgan from Liberia, spoke about how part of the work that they are doing is on a grassroots and society-wide level changing the way that women - women's lives, women’s roles, women’s bodies - are perceived. Creating a shift in consciousness - through education efforts and effective law-enforcement and prosecution - whereby it is no longer seen as an acceptable solution/act to rape or kill women. In the Liberian context, having a woman president and other women in all levels of decision-making is, according to Morgan, beginning to create that shift in perception, with men (and other women) accepting and seeing the added value of women in leadership roles. This was one of the things that Rigoberta Menchú spoke about as well - changing the perception of politics from being automatically corrupt and "dirty" to a shift whereby it would be plausible for a Mayan woman, not tied to corporate, military or other traditional/corrupt power structures, to be president of Guatemala. 

There is work to be done in terms of challenging images and discourse, which have an immediate, life-or-death impact on women. 

An article that I received today, about Femicide in Baja California, reminded me of that as well. The last paragraph states:

“Most local reporting on women’s murders in Baja California could be classified as falling within the school of sensationalistic crime reporting, with very little follow-up investigation or analysis of the deeper causes of violence against women.
An unscientific, online-poll conducted May 18 by the Baja California Internet news site Lacronica.com asked readers to select from several possible explanations of the murders of sex workers. Of 1092 responses, 81 percent selected two answers that explained the murders in terms of the women’s lifestyles. Slightly more than 9 percent of responses picked a serial killer as a possible reason, while a small minority- just above three percent- considered lack of law enforcement or public security as reasons for the homicides."

There are some key opportunities both to deepen and regionalize the analysis, and also to look at some of the strategies that are already in place or being developed to combat the corruption, impunity, and begin to combat some of the root causes of violence. 

During the fact-finding mission, we heard about some key strategies -- around the elections, electing new magistrates who are not tied to trafficking rings and prosecuting lawyers who are part of trafficking rings; a lot of the work that UNAMG, Actoras de Cambio and other orgs are doing around healing and empowerment for women survivors of rape and other forms of violence; the work that Moloj is doing in different areas, including indigenous women's political participation. These and other strategies should also be highlighted - it's the "trabajo de hormiga" that women do that does have an impact on individuals', families' and communities' lives, but often goes unrecognized.