Earlier this spring, gender-based violence in Guatemala came to the public’s attention…again. Unfortunately, such violence is not new to Guatemala, and it is a reality many of our clients face.
According to a 2012 Small Arms Survey, gender-based violence is at “epidemic levels” in Guatemala. The survey ranked Guatemala third in the killings of women worldwide. According to the United Nations, an average of two women are murdered in Guatemala each day.
There are many reasons women face such high rates of gender-based violence in Guatemala. One of the major contributions is the legacy of violence left in place after Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. Throughout decades of war, numerous atrocities were committed against women, who were viewed as the lesser gender. This patriarchal view persists today, manifesting itself in a culture of machismo and acceptance of violence against women.
Most of those who disappeared or were killed during Guatemala’s conflict were indigenous – like most our clients. And even in the years after the war, women and indigenous populations are still victims of violence and terror. Extreme poverty, coupled with this legacy of violence and weak law enforcement and judicial systems, means Guatemala still has one of the highest rates of violent crime in Central America.
Our mission is to empower women in Guatemala to create better futures for themselves, their children, and their communities through microcredit and education. One of the pillars of our nonformal education curriculum is women’s rights. Through these education sessions, we bolster women’s self esteem and increase their knowledge of their basic rights. We want our clients to feel empowered to challenge harmful social norms and become engaged as role models of positive change.
Otilia Margarita Sánchez López (in photo above, on left) is a Friendship Bridge client who faced abuse and neglect from her father when she was a young girl. Today, through the loans, education, and services Friendship Bridge has offered her, she is a successful, empowered entrepreneur. Otilia is even serving as a role model for her sister, who has recently exited a psychologically abusive relationship.
Gender-based violence is a pervasive issue, but it can be eliminated. We empower women to stand up against violent crimes against them and advocate for positive change in their communities and nation.