Thursday, August 13, 2009

Socio- Political Context - Delegation Meeting Summary

In summary – the Guatemala Human Rights Commission – 2009 ‘Women’s Right to Live’ Delegation = 7 days = 15 meetings with groups/individuals, 15 members of the delegation – 14 women, one man from a variety of walks of life, a variety of perspectives. Together we shared an intense week, an experience that bonds us together in a unique way en solidaridad con las mujeres de Guatemala (in solidarity with the women of Guatemala)

Our learning and sharing during our time together was based on the popular education model , the methodology is about equality, that we are all experts of our own life experiences, and we are obligated to share, a participatory process, a process of breaking down barriers of positions of power and authority. This model extended to the women and organizations we met with.

Reminds me of a quote I’ve found as a guide in my work “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together”

To reiterate we meet with:
STITCH a women workers & violence in the workplace union organized in 1990. First the women where fighting for land rights and the right to organize and make decisions. As leaders they often became victims of violence. In 1947 the first Union was organized, work conditions were very bad with 16 hour work days. To get housing on the plantations the women were forced to sleep with the men owners. In 1972 they started bargaining with the United Fruit Company for rights of women to correct the wrongs and to gain labor benefits. After Hurricane Mitch 900 workers were fired. Currently there are about 40,000 workers on the South coast, working for Dole. Indigenous women are discriminated against more in the workplace.

The women have a sense of unity as they work together to challenge labor and economic obstacles across four regions, with each having a representative. Women continue to face sexual harassment and threats for speaking out. Wages have improved they now get about 100 Quetzals a day – but they work 9 hour days and they must pack 45 boxes of bananas a day – that’s 405 boxes of bananas every day. Back – breaking work.

UPAVIM is a cooperative that provides opportunities for the women to come together supporting five programs in their very dangerous community in Zona 12 of the city. They shared stories of their history of ‘reclaiming’ the water and their land, of coming together as women to take a stand and to make a difference for themselves and their children. They develop crafts, support a child care Montessori school a nursery, a pharmacy, and a health clinic. UPAVIM = together for a better life. Visit their site at and consider purchasing some of their crafts.

Gladys Monterroso a lawyer, law professor, political party secretary, wife of Procurador, victim of a March 25, 2009 kidnapping/torture. She courageously shared the story of her experience and the frustration with the justice system and her efforts to be heard and to bring her kidnappers to justice.
She will be coming to VCU in Richmond October 20, 2009 – join us to hear her testimony.

Survivors Foundation – Claudia Maria Hernandez, daughter of Norma Cruz meet with us to share the story of the program and services, legal, psychological counseling and crisis support and witness protection programs. They are working to influence the security agenda in Guatemala, to accompany victims, to strengthen the public prosecutor’s office and to denounce the sexual violence and impunity that plagues their community. They have They asked us to assist them in sharing info on violence against women in Guatemala especially in an effort to support women that come to the United States seeking asylum.

Myrna Mack Foundation were we learned about Myrna Macks’ work as an anthropologist studying populations in northwest areas of Guatemala a region severely hit by the war. In 1990 she wrote a report on the internally displaced – and was stabbed 22 times on September 11, 1990 by a special assassin of the mayor. Her sister Helen put pressure on the government for years to identify and prosecutor the material author of the crime, ultimately military officers were charged in her murder. Finally in Nov, 2003 an International Court ruled against the Guatemalan state and ordered reparations.

In 1993 Helen Mack received a Foundation for Peace Prize and used the money to establish the Myrna Mack Foundation. They recently published a major report on Impunity, Stigma and Gender which analyzes the gaps in the justice system and makes recommendations for improvements to bottlenecks and inefficiencies.

Rosa Franco’s daughter Maria Isabel Franco was 15 years old when she was killed on December 16, 2001. She was working in a boutique, a narcotics trafficker fell in love with her, but she wanted nothing to do with him, She was killed, tortured, raped and mutilated. Rosa worked initially with Amnesty International about the case, they did an investigation that have never been done before. The prosecutor said her daughter was a prostitute because she wore a short skirt. Rosa has written to President Bush of US and Guatemala.

In November 2006, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR )accepted a petition against the Guatemalan government for having failed to ensure a timely investigation in the murder of Maria Isabel. This is the first femicide case heard by IACHR

Rosa stated she is seeking action against the Guatemalan government for being complicit in her daughter’s death. The drug trafficker who killed her daughter had connections to military, the army. He lives near Rosa, and regularly harasses her, watches her, follows her and her sons . She now has some security paid for by the government which accompanies her everywhere. She worries because many of the security people are corrupt and want to work only with rich people

Rosa went to DC in March 2009 for the hearing at the IACHR a number of Guatemalan state representatives attended to testify against her. They have offered friendly agreement; a meeting is to be held Thursday August 13, to encourage Rosa to accept. “I refuse to accept – it is like I was selling my daughter – I want justice” They have offered they will name a street after my daughter. Rosa’s daughter would be 24 years old this year – but she reminded use of how much she has lost, how devastating this has been to her and her sons. She said again I want to live in peace – I want justice”

Sandra Moran of Women’s Sector at Casa Artesana
We shared dinner and conversation with Sandra Moran, an activist, feminist, and musician. she shared her story and talked of the work of her organization the Women’s Sector. They worked to bring the voices of women to the Peace Accords, working to have women recognized as having the right to organize, to talk, to meet. They organized 25,000 women to form a National Women’s Forum. Their work has been about consciousness raising, building a feminist movement in Guatemala with all the diversity, including forming 5 lesbian collectives and creating a lesbian political school and Latin America Conference. She shared her experience of being in exile for 14 years spending time in Nicaragra, El Salvador and Canada. A lively feminist discussion with Sandra reminding us that if we infuse ourselves into beauty, good energy and strength we come from that position – then “we are not struggling against we are building “

The room was bright and colorful filled with art from women in prison in Guatemala. She called it “art that cures” they work with over 250 women in prisión through music, theatre, painting, and dance. The women’s sector organizes and trains facilitators to create teams of women for non-competitive sports.
The future doesn’t arrive it must be built….

Carolina Alvarado of the Presbyterian Kachikel Health Clinic in Chimaltenango provides medical, psychological, legal services including classes on laws, self-esteem and the constitution. They promote services via radio, pamphlets and posters in nearby communities. Carolina shared of new work they are doing with “forgotten women” – sexoservidoras = sex workers. Many area bar owners enslave the women, maintaining control by encouraging dependence through alcohol and drugs. They have been working to assist these women when they visit area health clinics since this is the only access the program can have with the women. Their dream is to open a shelter where women can stay in a program for one year and receive support and job training.

Nuevos Horizontes
domestic violence services in Xela
Maria a social worker was our host. This program has been around for 20 years created from the work of 3 people from the United States and 2 Guatemalans with a visión to help victims and their children. The services are provided as a holistic integrated service center including individualized social, medical,, legal, psychological and shelter services. They do outreach to sex workers and to women in prisión.

Their groups are offered to community women with a goal to be a model similar to “worker ants- teaching women they have rights and then those women teach other women.” She stated all our programs are educational – this is how we promote change” They start by teaching traditional skills like sewing and cooking, this i show the women get permission to attend – then they interject rights and educational information into the weekly meetings. Groups have evolved to organize income generating projects. Women have a right to earn own livelihood. Helps them know they can provide for themselves. It helps women have options to leave the abuse.

They provide medical services including paps, HIV testing, screening for cervical cáncer since alot of women in the area don’t have money to go to the hospital for such tests. They also provide education on reproductive rights and family planning.

Many of the staff are survivors , the dedication these women have with so few resources is inspiring. They often face threats to the staff and program including threats to burn the shelter down, men coming to the building with guns in an attempt to intimidate. They have been robbed two times and it was clear from what was taken it was the husband of one of their residents.

In the next 6 months the are expanding by building another shelter outside of the city with support from Dutch funders and the US.

midwives project in Xela
Health is a right !! They founded this group to promote the value and work of midwives who have not been recognized by the traditional health system. 80 % of the births in the area are attended by midwives. Their work is based in traditional health practices. They work in 20 municipalities with over 700 midwives. They have a school with a holistic training model – 2 years of training including traditional and technical midwife skills, mental health, political, civic, and organizing skills.

One of their goals is to lower the maternal mortality rates. They offer a clinic for pre-natal and other medical needs along with treatment for children. They also treat people who have been cursed. They use the popular education model and encourage older midwives training the younger generation. Births are free in the public hospital but Mayan women fear discrimination
The midwives charge about 25 quetzals per visit, but often accept eggs or other items in exchange for their service.

Highland Support Project sponsored women's micro-enterprise project in the small Mayan Mam village of Espunpuja outside of Zunil.

See blog on Mayan Women Warriors August 9, 2009

Thursday August 6

ACAM Midwives
project in Concepcion Chiquirichapa. We meet with 5 midwives and Phillipe the husband of Elana Ishcok, they had been exiled in Vermont for 25 years – they returned to their home village of Conception and have worked with 3 area villages to bring services and education to the women and families of these communities.

They shared of their concerns about the young women and boys growing up today, they feel that technology is ruining their culture. The youth have no respect and don’t have interest in listening to the wisdom of elders.

We heard wonderful stories of traditional Mayan culture directly from their experience, their connections to mother earth. Their philosophy of cosmo vision made up of earth, fire, water and air. They talked of the many grandmothers and grandfathers killed during the war, which took away their connections to their history and customs. They felt there were many methods to eradicate their identities, to tear them from mother earth. They stated there are many ways to wage ware and currently there is still a war on their culture. Such as corn that is now prepackaged which takes away the sacred process or drying, boiling and cooking the tortillas, multi-national companies are taking away their identities, seeds and pesticides are being introduced taking away sacred elements in our culture. It is a source of “great sadness, we are trying to stay connected to mother earth”

He pronounced that “we were invaded not conquered – we are still here !!”

Xajaxac-Community Radio Station – Solola
Don Felipe started the station 11 years ago as a Mayan radio station serving over 10,000 people in a 10 km area of 8 nearby villages. They transmit from a small multi-purpose building( car repair, grocery, pharmacy_ in the pueblo of Xajaxac. It is part of a cultural survival program. Programming is 100 % cultural with children’s programming to teach reading and writing, news programs, local, national and international, information on health and vaccine programs, Ranchera music to “make people happy” . We had 3 of our team have a opportunity for live messages about violence against women. Even in these remote villages everyone has a radio, even if it is a small battery operated one, and many listen all day even as they work the fields so radio is a very important way to share information in these remote areas. The station receives significant pressure from the government Ministerio Publico (the public defenders office) who wants to outlaw them! That because it is considered “illegitimate” – but a new law is being presented that will seek legitimacy for established community radio stations such as this.

Friday August 7

US Embassy – see blog posted August 9, 2009

Ana Gladis Ollas – Human Rights Ombudsman in the women’s sector . Her work is within government yet part of civil society organization. She understands the system – but has found a way to feel good about what she is doing. Not just a bureaucratic level – but understands where the holes are .
She was the quintessential advocate working to change the system, but also directly available for the women that contact her, accompanying them to court, finding services and shelter for them. She said she is from a rural area so knows the obstacles women face.

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