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Women in Conflict: Role of Women in Guatemala

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Guatemala is the land of Eternal Springs and the home of the richly cultured and historic Mayan people. It it also the country of Rigoberta Menchu, an illiterate farm worker, turned voice of oppressed people everywhere. Guatemala also has the sad distinction of being home to Latin America's oldest civil war. For more than three decades, left-wing guerrillas have fought a series of rightist governments in Guatemala. The war has killed an estimated 140,000 in the country, which has 11 million people.

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Gender equality and women's empowerment are critical both to the protection and expansion of human rights and to achieve socioeconomic development. Human progress is certainly affected when women, who represent over half of the global population, own only one percent of the world’s wealth and hold only sixteen percent of the world’s parliamentary positions. When women are both poor and suffering from violence not only are their rights compromised, but the development of the entire society is at stake. By 2009 Guatemalan women were experiencing the highest level of violence in the Latin American region and one of the highest in the world. The fact that crimes against women in Guatemala have not declined, but in fact are on the rise points to the ineffective nature of the existing policies. We argue that to reverse this trend, a larger investment in antipoverty and other socioeconomic policies is needed. To the extent that violence against women is linked to poverty, violence will not be reduced unless poverty is reduced because largely the victims are poor women. If as Paul Collier argues there are clear connections between lack of development and societal violence, money spent on antipoverty programs will not only contribute to diminishing violence against women, but also will contribute to the country’s development and to reductions of overall violence in Guatemala and in neighboring countries as well.

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Central America is a unique example of a region capable of successfully resolving and maintaining peace after the prolonged civil wars endured during the 1980’s. Despite differences and situational particularities specific to each individual country, the common causes of these conflicts were rooted in the region’s shared historic conditions of poverty, political repression, social exclusion, and inequality; all which were further exacerbated by the international tensions caused by the Cold War. (Paola Worby)These conditions led to the formation of revolutionary groups inspired by an agenda towards the pursuit of social justice against the established right-wing dictatorial governments. In a region where culturally women are restricted and expected to conduct themselves according to traditional standards of behavior, the emergence of these revolutionary movements found an appealing audience within the female population since “many movements regarded women’s liberation as an integral dimension of their overall struggle for social justice” (Birgitte Sǿrensen, 1998)

Therefore, by joining these movements, which women did amply and in varying capacities, ranging from being soldiers, community and household leaders, human rights advocates, among many other occupations, provided a beginning towards a departure from the constraints in their assigned gendered-biased roles.

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All things considered, attention should also be given to strengthening the organizational abilities of indigenous women, their ability to gain political leverage and to resolve inequities in their own communities. There are many challenges ahead, but much progress has been made and, in the majority of successful cases, the catalysts have been indigenous women themselves.

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Birgitte Sǿrensen. Women and Post-Conflict Reconstruction: Issues and Sources. WSP Occasional Paper No. 3, June 1998. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.

Fundación Arias para la Paz y el Progreso Humano. El conflicto armado y su impacto en la vida de las mujeres. Cuatro estudios de caso: Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua y Colombia. San José, 2006.

Ilja A. Luciak. Gender Equality and Electoral Politics on the Left: A Comparison of El Salvador and Nicaragua. Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol. 40, No. 1. 1998.

Fundación Arias para la Paz y el Progreso Humano. El conflicto armado y su impacto en la vida de las mujeres. Cuatro estudios de caso: Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua y Colombia. San José, 2006.

Paula Worby. Organizing for a Change: Guatemalan Refugee Women Re-Affirm their Right to Land. Women’s Land and Property Rights in Situations of Conflict and Reconstruction.Gender Profile of the Conflict in El Salvador.

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