2nd Post, A Canadian Volunteer at MIA, Rebecca

In my second blog post from Guatemala City, I want to focus on the gender equality issues that we face here. Coming from Canada with a background in International Affairs and Women’s rights, it is easy to forget how unsettling the idea of gender equality can be when first addressed. Through MIA using the White Ribbon Campaign we are teaching gender equality in order to stop gender violence against women. Although this movement is relatively new in Canada, it is revolutionary in Guatemala. In my second week at MIA I learned how destabilizing and potentially dangerous even the beginning stages of equality can be.

In our final MIA class at USAC University this semester, a young women approached our Director Lucia Munoz and me. She had been attending our ten-week program with her male boss and male co-worker. She spoke to us in tears. Her boss was threatening to fire her because in the last class she had disagreed with him over a concept, and had risked voicing these differences. She had not been disrespectful or out of turn, but simply voicing disagreement seemed enough for him to threaten to fire her.

We of course offered any assistance we could, including meeting with her boss or his superior over this issue. Through tears she explained how she could not afford to lose her job, as she is a single mother and relies on this work to support her child and herself.

It was my wake-up moment. In our programs we try to create a safe place to teach about gender equality, social norms, patriarchy (machismo), social constructions of power, and other issues related to violence against women. However we are not teaching these ideas in isolation. These ideas have real world consequences and affect people’s lives, and concern for the welfare of participants must be a priority.

Power structures are difficult to change because those with power generally do not want to share it; and people without power often do not have the ability to demand equality. Violence comes in many forms, both physical and emotional, and attempts by those in power to maintain control is often a major factor in the violence. When the woman voiced her opinion, her boss threatened her in order to silence her.

Most people think that violence against women is a “women’s issue.” However since men commit the vast majority of that violence, both men and women have to be involved in creating change. Without the involvement of men, the underlying social factors that foster a climate of violence will continue to place women at risk. Until women in Guatemala and elsewhere can freely voice their opinions without repercussion, the pandemic of violence against women will continue.


A Canadian Volunteer at MIA, Rebecca Rappeport

As my flight touched down in Guatemala City, I suddenly thought, “What on earth am I doing here?” That fear however did not last long and within days I was embraced into the MIA, Mujeres Inciando en las Americas, family. My very first day I accompanied our fearless Director, Lucia Munoz, to a meeting at the Guatemalan Congress as well as a meeting with the head of US Aid. Talk about being tested by fire!

San Carlos

With Students at San Carlos University

For the past two weeks I have been involved in all aspects of MIA’s work. We just finished a successful semester of the White Ribbon Campaign at San Carlos University, and I was able to participate in the graduating ceremonies for the three graduating classes. Hearing the testimonials of the students was one of the best experiences I have had here thus far. One male student spent more than six hours every week commuting to and from campus to take the ten-week course. As he stood in front of the class explaining why it was important for him to understand gender equality, I understood more of why I am here in Guatemala and the necessity of MIA’s work.

The diversity of students astounded me. There were grandmas in the class, teenage boys, mothers, fathers; all of whom came to learn about how to prevent violence against women, and how to enact gender equality in our daily lives. The inclusion of men in preventing violence against women is the cornerstone of MIA’s work, and it is obvious from all the positive responses of male students it is something necessary and groundbreaking.

Last week I began co-facilitating a new semester of the White Ribbon Campaign in Zona 8, at an all boys school. The young students were very gracious with my Spanish and in addition to learning the difference between sex and gender (module 1 in the white Ribbon campaign).

The boys of Zona 8

At the boys school

They also had a lot of questions about my life in Canada and could not believe that tortillas are not a food staple for all Canadians. I will be with this school for the next eight weeks and look forward to the challenge.

Lucia Munoz has been a fantastic tour guide of the city and I now navigate the streets like a pro (well most of the time) and feel like part of her family. Last weekend we had a little party for all the volunteers and I was able to see the strength and diversity of MIA’s team. We have engineers, psychologists, development practitioners, and anthropologists all volunteering their time and this alone speaks to the strength of MIA’s programs.

As I look towards my next three months here, I look forward to our facilitation classes for the volunteers that I will be leading. There are exciting developments in the works with expanding our programs into congress in addition to rural areas with Indigenous populations. There is a lot of work to be done, but luckily I have an amazing team and leader. I will keep you posted on all developments!

 — Rebecca