Although Peace Accords were signed in 1996, putting an end to 36 years of internal armed conflict, the people of Guatemala still do not live in peace. While it's true that organized citizen groups have made great gains in access to justice and human rights, violence has increased over the past years due to the spread of abuses by powerful drug cartels, organized crime and state security forces. The nation’s femicide rate is now among the highest in Latin America, with more than 5,000 women and girls murdered between 2008 and 2015. The political and justice systems are generally weak and corrupt. Often blind to violence against women and poor and indigenous communities, they leave thousands of cases of human rights violations unresolved and even uninvestigated. Moreover, harsh conditions of poverty affect millions of women, especially indigenous women, and discrimination dating back centuries severely limits their social and political participation and economic advancement.

In this alarming context, women are at the center of social movements in defense of human rights, land and territory, democracy and peace. They've also played a critical role in the anti-corruption mobilizations and many are leading movements to bring to justice those responsible for crimes committed against them and their families during the country’s long civil war. Following a CIA-backed coup in 1954, hundreds of thousands of people were killed or tortured, 90,000 disappeared, and a million went into exile or were displaced from their homes. More than 300 villages were completely wiped out--especially in indigenous areas that make up the majority of the country--through brutal military operations aimed at exterminating opposition. Sexual crimes against women, particularly indigenous women, remained hidden under decades of pain and a system that refused to acknowledge its responsibility. Only recently have some military officers been tried for massacres and other crimes committed during this period. JASS and its partner organizations are working to support the fight for justice and an end to impunity for crimes committed against women in the past and present.

As women increasingly play key roles in Guatemala’s grassroots movements, powerful interests have targeted them with physical attacks, threats and public slander. The many indigenous and rural women leaders who have organized to defend their lands and their communities against the illegitimate incursions of mining companies and development megaprojects face unprecedented backlash. Women activists confront violence and reprisals from private security forces employed by transnational corporations, drug cartels and also from corrupt military and government officials. In addition to violent represssion, the state has turned to filing false criminal charges against women activists or cruelly targeting their families.

In the face of this violence, women continue to resist and seek out new strategies to advance their work and protect themselves.      

JASS Training & Organizing

To address this complex context, JASS Mesoamerica provides leadership training and tools for alliance building through our regional education and learning initiative, Alquimia. We support activists and women human rights defenders from a broad range of movements and organizations, and we create spaces for diverse indigenous and rural women leaders to exchange experiences and strategies. JASS collaborates with indigenous and women's organizations to train activists in creative approaches to conflict resolution, how to use communication technologies (ICT), and ways to strengthen their leadership capacity and political engagement skills. Through JASS’ Solidarity and Action initiative, we collaborate with other organizations to provide support to Guatemala’s National Women Human Rights Defenders Network.

For more context: Guatemala Briefing Note, 2011

Related Regional Articles

In early November, Hurricane Eta slammed into Central America. Honduras and Guatemala were hard hit, with heavy rains, flooding, landslides, electrical storms and high winds. In Honduras, an estimated 2.6 million people are affected, and some 700,000 Guatemalans. Close to 100,000 Hondurans are displaced, with massive damage to homes and infrastructure.

You are the voice of those who challenge the system. If you aren’t inside, who is going to speak for those who are outside? You have to be on the inside, you have to cry out, you have to speak up--and that’s what I have done. Be the voice

COVID-19 has killed thousands, infected millions, and changed our way of life. JASS spoke to our staff and allies on four continents about the impact of COVID-19 on their lives, their communities and the work they do.

In Guatemala, the conservative government has been increasingly bold and aggressive about consolidating its powers. The past few months have seen the election of a new conservative president, the dismantling of anti-corruption commission CICIG, and two states of siege on rural and indigenous communities. We interviewed a JASS ally, who preferred to remain anonymous due to security risks, to find out what this all means for our Guatemalan countries.

On #MothersDay, we are honored the courage and ingenuity of mothers around the world who are standing up, speaking out, and challenging injustice, starting with the feminist moms in our network!