By T Engel
I’m a self-defined activist. I participate in marches and demonstrations in my country of residence, Guatemala, and in my country of birth, the USA. I deeply believe that public activism is necessary and important, that it instigates social change, and that it inspires peace, unity and solidarity.
So, when the Women’s Marches blossomed all over the internet in the days leading up to and after the inauguration of Trump, I voraciously scoured the news for articles and pictures covering protests all over the world, from my home in Guatemala City. They filled me with so much pride and joy that I was brought to tears on multiple occasions, especially when I saw the people I love actively engaging in the type of work I love.
But they have also stimulated anxiety within me. So what now…?! seems to be the persistent question I ask both publicly and privately, and it is a question that fills me with dread. There is all this opposition, all this resistance, all this fear, all these calls to action, all this presencia and solidaridad, but what will it actually achieve? The future is more uncertain than we have seen it in years, and confronting that reality can be paralyzing.
One thing that feels concrete and solution-based is the work that I am engaging in with MIA, Mujeres Iniciando en las Américas. March 8th (International Women’s Day; how fitting!), 2017, marks my 3-year anniversary as a volunteer with the organization, and I began as Project Coordinator just a month ago.
It may sound like hyperbole, but MIA’s work changes lives. Its preventive-education based structure has durable, lasting results. Its didactic material facilitates dialogue about sensitive topics that are still taboo in Guatemalan society, such as sexual harrassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, gender identity and sexual diversity, and child sexual abuse. MIA’s courses open safe, confidential spaces where participants of all ages can and have expressed incidents of abuse at home, in the workplace, at school, on the bus, and on the street. Some of these students share that they’d never before spoken openly about this personal information — that they’d felt silenced, powerless, and voiceless. MIA gives a voice to the voiceless. MIA has deeply affected thousands of Guatemalan men, women, boys and girls, and its education is empowering.
Just to give you a sample of the day-to-day work that is currently being done: we are preparing the Hombres Contra Feminicidio diploma course which will take place at the San Carlos National University at the end of February; we are meeting and collaborating with the National Men’s Network of Guatemala; we are carrying out workshops at an all-girls elementary school; we are writing project proposals for funding; we are participating in local forums and events. We are constantly busy and working to improve, and yet there is still so much to be done.
And thus the challenge I have forced myself to engage in is to channel my fear and apprehension and uncertainty about the politics of the US (and by default, the world) into tangible solutions and achievements through MIA’s programming. Every morning, and anytime I open The New York Times/Atlantic/Guardian/Al Jazeera/PrensaLibre/Nomada/etc., and read about the latest executive order, Cabinet appointment, statistic on femicide, or number of Guatemalan GIRLS (aged 9-15) who became pregnant in 2016, my commitment to MIA is reaffirmed.
Of the dozens of articles I pored over in the aftermath of Election Day, one by Lindy West, entitled “Her Loss” particularly resonated with me. West, expressing her acute feelings of grief over not only the results but the insufferable nature of both campaigns and Hillary Clinton’s tireless battle just because of her sex writes, “We, as a culture, do not take women seriously on a profound level. We do not believe women. We do not trust women. We do not like women.” This is, of course, a universally-held concept, but in my personal comparison of the conditions for US women to Guatemalan women, there is no comparison; Guatemala easily trails the US by 75+ years.
At the end of West’s article, she defines the battle cry that I so desperately needed to hear, ponder, and believe in, post-election. “We [women] have been weathering this hurricane wall of doubt and violence for so long, and now, more crystalline than ever, we have an enemy and a mandate. We have the smirking apotheosis of our oppression sliming, paw-first, toward our genitals. We have the popular vote. We have proof, in exit polls, that white women will pawn their humanity for the safety of white supremacy. We have abortion pills to stockpile and neighbors to protect and children to teach.”1
Children to teach. Children to teach. Yes, I said to myself, we need this kind of education so badly. But it would be harmful and self-sabotage if we were to focus on educating just the children. We need to educate the girls, the boys, the women, and the men. The men. The men. The men.
So, when I feel inundated by horrible news from my country and its leaders, and the horrible news from Guatemala and its leaders, when I think that women’s rights and human rights couldn’t possibly become rolled-back any more, I seek resilience and protection in knowing that MIA’s education work in Guatemala affects not only Guatemalan women, but women the world over.
1 West, Lindy. “Her Loss.” The New York Times. 9 November 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/opinion/election-night-2016/her-loss