Women’s Forum gives Guatemalan women a new life
Education and literacy
Maria Peréz Sales is a Guatemalan woman who never went to school. When she was seven years old, her mother died and she had to take over the household as Maria was the only girl among five siblings. She cooked, cleaned, and washed laundry while her father was at work and her four brothers studied or played at school. Maria describes “Once dinner wasn’t ready when my father came home from work, he got so angry that he hit me with his belt until I had a weal on my skin.”
Life Seems to Be Predetermined
After that incident, Maria moved to her maternal grandparents who were kind to her and she experiences a better life there. However, instead of going to school still she had to work and herd the sheep. The peaceful time lasted only six years, then she returned to her father’s household. An early marriage full of violence and short duration, civil war, and torture were reasons that she decided to flee to Mexico. At the age of 19, Maria Peréz Sales returned to her hometown of San Ildefonso Ixtahuacán, where she married and adopted two children. She enthusiastically wants to learn reading, writing and calculating but many years have passed without getting any closer to this goal. This is what the life of a simple girl in Guatemala looks like.
Millennium Brought Women’s Rights
The civil war formally ended with the signing of a peace treaty in 1996, which provided the opportunity for the establishment of a national women’s forum in Guatemala. The organization was responsible for the implementation of all women-specific subjects of the peace treaties, such as women’s literacy and the strengthening of their political and social rights. The “Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Mujeres Huehuetecas” (ADIMH) is an Association for the Comprehensive Advancement of the Women of Huehuetenango. It represents the umbrella organization “Foro de la Mujer”, in which all women’s organizations of civil society come together to stand up for economic, cultural, political, social, and civil rights.
Women Learn to Stand Up
ADIMH has members in the whole province of Huehuetenango. By the association efforts, the “coordinadoras municipales” have been founded in almost all communities. These women’s offices serve the purpose of dialogue, and representatives are elected for the local council. ADIMH education courses aim to learn how to successfully implement the concerns of women in political institutions, what laws exist for women, and what rights all citizens of Guatemala are entitled to. Each Guatemalan municipal council has one seat reserved for women by law. However, it is not always easy to enforce this right.
Maria Felipa, an agent of ADIMH in the community of San Gaspar Ixchil, explains how it was difficult for women to found their grouping and to find recognition: “The mayor did not want to hear anything about the participation of women in the political decision making processes in the community, law or not. Also, the women were afraid to disregard the opinions of the men. Assertiveness, willpower, and tenacity have proved their worth. The women supported and encouraged each other in the groups and enforced their demands. Today there is a women’s group in San Gaspar Ixchil and also a representative in the local council.”
Reading and Writing as a Basis
The women’s ability to read, write, and calculate is at least as important as political representation. As reading and writing are essential prerequisites for getting a job, the ADIMH foundation offers a literacy program. The classes take place in different locations, sometimes in the school of the respective place or in the backyard of a private house that is protected by plastic tarpaulin stretched over wooden scaffolding to protect the classes from the worst rain or the glowing sun. Maria Peréz Sales has finally realized her wish, she has already completed the beginners’ course in the ADIMH education center in the district capital Huehuetenango and is preparing for the next grade. She plays an important role in the political and social life of her home community Sal Ildefonso Ixtahuacán.
New Self-Confidence Helps
Due to the economic situation in the Todos Santos Cuchumatán Society, living conditions are difficult. Felipa Carrillo and her siblings dropped out of school as children after only one year to work for the family in a coffee plantation. The coffee crisis has aggravated the circumstances. However, now she has learned to read, write and calculate at ADIMH and has attended several courses for women. Felipa Carrillo has been active for another literacy group and has also been able to bring about a new foundation in her village.