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Women’s Forum gives Guatemalan women a new life – education and literacy

Maria Peréz Sales never went to school. Her mother died when she was seven years old and after being the only girl among five siblings, she had to take over the household. She cooked, cleaned and washed laundry while her father was at work and her four brothers studied or played at school. “Once dinner wasn’t ready when my father came home from work,” she says, “he would get so angry that he hit me with his belt until I had a weal on my skin.” The girl moved to her mother’s parents after the incident.

life seems to be predetermined

Maria had it better there, the grandparents were good to her. But they did not send Maria to school either. She had to herd the sheep instead. The tranquil time lasted six years, then followed the return to her father’s household, an early marriage full of violence and short duration, civil war, torture and the flight to Mexico. At the age of 19, Maria Peréz Sales returned to her home town of San Ildefonso Ixtahuacán, where she married and adopted two children. She finally wants to learn to read, write and calculate. Years pass without getting any closer to this goal. This is what the life of a simple girl in Guatemala can look like.

Millennium brought women’s rights

The civil war formally ended with the signing of a peace treaty in 1996, which provides for the establishment of a national women’s forum in Guatemala to be responsible for the implementation of all women’s-specific content of the peace treaties, such as the literacy of women and the strengthening of their political and social rights. The women’s forum ADIMH, Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Mujeres Huehuetecas (Association for the Comprehensive Advancement of the Women of Huehuetenango) 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 Huehuetenango, because the association has founded so-called “coordinadoras municipales” in almost all communities. These women’s offices serve the purpose of dialogue. Here, representatives are elected for the local council. In ADIMH training courses, they 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.

Collateral Support

Maria Felipa, an employee of ADIMH in the community of San Gaspar Ixchil, explains how difficult it was for women to found their own 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. 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.

read and write as base

But what is at least as important for women as political representation is the ability to read, write and calculate. 39 percent of women are illiterate. The ADIMH project offers a literacy programme, because reading and writing are essential prerequisites for getting a job. Sometimes the lessons take place in the school of the respective place, sometimes also in the backyard of a private house. A plastic tarpaulin is stretched over wooden scaffolding to protect it at least from the worst rain or the glowing sun. Maria Peréz Sales has finally realised her wish: she has already completed the beginners’ course in the ADIMH training centre in the district capital Huehuetenango and is preparing for the next stage. She plays an important role in the political and social life of her home community Sal Ildefonso Ixtahuacán.

New self-confidence helps

Felipa Carrillo also learned to read, write and calculate at ADIMH. She and her siblings dropped out of school as children after only one year to work for the family in a coffee plantation. Even today their lives are not easy. The economic situation in her home community Todo Santo Cuchumatan is difficult. The coffee crisis has aggravated the circumstances. Felipa Carrillo has already attended several courses for women. She has been active for another literacy group and was also able to bring about a new foundation in her village.

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