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

Amiga Article on Feminicide

This article, in Amiga, a Sunday magazine, mentions Lucia and the work our amazing volunteers are doing.  Our work is mentioned in the section titled “Eduquemos con cariño”, highlighted in Yellow.  Click on each section to enlarge for easier viewing.

Click para Ampliar.

Gender Savagery in Guatemala, By Michael Parenti and Lucia Munoz

(This article was originally printed in July 2007.)

On the outskirts of Guatemala City the body of an 18-year-old woman of indigenous ethnicity was recently discovered by her frantic parents who had been searching long and hard. Forensic evidence showed that she had been repeatedly raped and tortured and that her head had been severed from her body with a blunt knife while she was still alive.

This killing was more than just a passing aberration. Nightmarish crimes against women have been occurring with horrifying frequency in Guatemala. In the last seven years, over 3,200 Guatemalan women have been abducted and murdered, with many of them raped, tortured, and mutilated in the doing. The number of victims has shown a striking increase in the last few years with some six hundred murdered in 2006 alone.

The victims often are from low-income families deracinated from their rural homesteads during the civil war and forced to crowd into Guatemala City and other urban areas in search of work.

We might recall Guatemala’s horrid history of violence. From 1962 to 1996, a popular insurgency was defeated by that deranged murder machine known as the Guatemalan Army, trained, advised, financed, and equipped by the United States.  A United Nations-sponsored Truth Commission in 1999 characterized much of the counterinsurgency as a genocide against the Mayan people, a holocaust that left 626 villages destroyed, approximately 200,000 people dead or disappeared,  including many labor union leaders, student leaders, journalists, and clergy.  Hundreds of thousands more were either displaced internally or forced to flee the country.

Those years of untrammeled massacres provide some context for the current wave of femicide sweeping the country.  The 1996 peace accords officially declared an end to the butchery but the war against women continues albeit in more piecemeal fashion.  Guatemalan women are enduring the whiplash of  decades of dehumanizing violence—boosted by the same kind of deep-seated sexism and  gender-specific crimes (rape) that are perpetrated in many societies around the world.

Independent investigators charge that the vast majority of present-day atrocities against women have been committed by current or former members of the Guatemalan intelligence services.  Having escaped prosecution for human rights violations during the internal war, these trained killers are now members of private security forces or police and paramilitary units that have been strongly implicated in the crimes of the last seven years.

For the most part, authorities show little inclination to bring the perpetrators to justice.  Some officials blame the victims for their own deaths, implying that the women bring it on themselves because of their supposed involvement in gang activities or drugs, or because in some way or another they refuse to lead properly conforming lives within the safe confines of a traditional family and community.

Some of the victims indeed may have been entangled in shady operations. But many more have been working women, including those of indigenous stock, trapped in poverty. They are the prime victims of a broader “social cleansing” that reactionary hoodlums are conducting against a variety of groups including street children, teenagers, gays, and homeless indigents, a campaign that has claimed thousands of additional victims.

Guatemala is known as  the country of “eternal spring.” Some analysts have called it the land of “eternal impunity,” given how right-wing thugs continue to get away with rape, torture, and murder. Statistics reveal that hardly one percent of the perpetrators are ever tried and convicted and the sentences are outrageously light.

Even those rare cases that make it all the way to a prosecutor’s desk have little chance of resulting in a conviction due to the lack of reliable evidence. Recent reports reveal the continuing failure of investigators to collect and preserve essential evidence from crime scenes. More than ordinary incompetence is operative here.  Guatemalan authorities manifest little interest in training skilled cadres who might unearth really damaging information about who is behind the crimes.

Anonymous death threats have been sent to the volunteer exhumation teams that locate and examine the bodies of the murdered women and who try to publicize the evidence they discover. In May 2007 the leader of one such team was informed that his sister would be “raped and dismembered into pieces” if he continued to investigate the crimes.

While these murders may seem like little more than random thrill killings to some observers, in fact they serve a function of social control much as would any form of state terrorism. The violence perpetrated against individuals creates a pervasive climate of fear and horror within the victimized families and communities, thereby discouraging social protest and popular resistance. Instead of organizing around any number of crucial politico-economic issues, many of the demoralized and traumatized families cower in stunned silence.

In time people grow numb to the violence. Feeling helpless they almost routinely check the news each day to see how many additional victims have been reported. The effects on children can be especially telling.  Growing up in a climate of fear, they learn that their parents and community cannot keep them safe and that homicidal fury might strike anyone at any time.

Family members of murdered women report that authorities show hostility towards them when they request government intervention.

Guatemala’s legal system is rife with provisions that minimize the seriousness of violence against women, a system codified and enforced by men who have seldom displayed any concern for the safety of women. The Guatemalan Penal Code long reflected this bias, treating domestic abuse as a minor offence and generally offering scant protection from gender-based violence.

Guatemalan president Oscar Berger voices a commitment to confronting the crisis but has done next to nothing. Rather than devoting the necessary resources to investigation and enforcement, Berger appeared on national television in 2005 to announce that, for their own safety, women would do best to stay at home.

In 2005 Guatemala appointed its first female Supreme Court President, Beatriz De Leon, and two years later a female police chief. But there is little indication that high-placed female officeholders are going to buck the Old Boys network. Until the government makes some significant efforts towards implementing the recommendations outlined by human rights organizations (such as Guatemala Peace and Development Network, MIA, NISGUA, GHRC-USA, Rights Action, and Center for Gender Studies), the lives of Guatemala’s women will hang in the balance.

There are some encouraging signs. The Human Rights Committee of the Guatemalan Congress is giving serious consideration to a bill that purports to guarantee life, liberty, dignity, and equality for women along with stiffer penalties for those who physically and mentally abuse women and otherwise violate their rights.

Meanwhile a growing number of Guatemalan women are moving into nontraditional careers. In the upcoming election, at least one hundred women will be running for Congress. Some parties have designed campaign strategies intended to promote electoral victories for more women. At present of a total of 158 seats in the Guatemalan Congress only fourteen are occupied by women.

There also are efforts by human rights organizations to create a central, unified database of femicide victims, as well as an emergency response system for missing girls and women that would include utilization of state-of-the-art internet capabilities, DNA testing, and the like.

Awareness of the atrocities has been reaching other countries and gaining international attention. There is a growing demand from abroad that Guatemalan law enforcement agencies get serious about responding to the gender-based atrocities. The U.S. Congress is being pressured to get into the act. A House resolution condemns the murders and expresses condolences and support to the families of victims. The resolution urges the government of Guatemala to recognize domestic violence as a crime, and to investigate the killings and prosecute those responsible.

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling on the Guatemalan Congress to approve the actions of the U.N.-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. The commission intends to investigate the clandestine groups that use violence to advance their illicit political and financial interests.

Meanwhile innocent and unoffending women continue to suffer nightmarish fates at the hands of misogynistic maniacs who, some years ago, developed a taste for inflicting rape, torture, and death “in service to their country.”

Michael Parenti is a noted author and social commentator. His recent books include Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader (City Lights); The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories); Democracy for the Few 8th ed. (Wadsworth/Thomson) and The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press). See www.michaelparenti.org.

Lucia Muñoz is founder and president of Mujeres Iniciando En Las Americas, and co-founder of Guatemala Peace and Development Network. She has lectured widely across the United States on the struggles facing Guatemalan women. See www.miamericas.info.

Global Research Articles by Michael Parenti
Global Research Articles by Lucia Muñoz

Llamado a los nuevos funcionarios

Olga Villalta / Diario Centroamérica / 20 de septiembre de 2011

El miércoles 14 de septiembre, en un matutino local, cinco representantes de oficinas de Naciones Unidas en Guatemala (Unicef, Oacnudh, ONU-Mujeres,Onusida y Unfpa) publicaron una columna de opinión en la que evidencian cómo en la campaña electoral reciente los temas que tienen que ver con la existencia de abortos en condiciones de riesgo para las mujeres, el acceso a métodos anticonceptivos y la educación sexual no fueron abordados con seriedad y desde la perspectiva de los derechos humanos por las/os candidatos.

El aborto sigue siendo el secreto de miles de mujeres que recurren a él cuando se enfrentan a un embarazo no deseado por violación, por incesto, por falta de información o porque como cualquier ser humana, se equivocó. Se condena a las mujeres que lo hacen, pero no se atacan las causas. Para debatir este problema necesitamos que las/os tomadores de decisiones en el Estado se independicen de las posturas religiosas y asuman por fin que vivimos en un Estado laico.

El aborto es un problema social, de salud y de derechos humanos, y aunque en la campaña electoral muchas/os de ellos utilizaron el imaginario religioso para ganar votantes, al ejercer el poder, la ciudadanía debe exigir de ellas/os seriedad en los compromisos asumidos como país en el ejercicio de los derechos humanos, en este caso de las humanas.

Los avances en la legislación guatemalteca, promovidos en lo fundamental por las organizaciones de mujeres, deben respetarse y hacerse realidad. Debemos entender que es el Estado quien debe crear condiciones para la solución de la salud sexual y reproductiva de las mujeres, logrando así el derecho a una maternidad saludable y voluntaria.

El Estado debe realizar acciones hacia los hombres, no solo en el sentido de la responsabilidad en las funciones reproductivas (son ellos los que tienen hijos regados por todos lados), sino en promover una concepción del ejercicio de la sexualidad basada en los derechos humanos.

La criminalización del aborto obliga a las mujeres pobres a recurrir a personal no capacitado, poniendo en riesgo su salud y vida, además de enfrentarse a la estigmatización de la sociedad, viviendo en silencio su culpa.

Tomo la palabra de las/os funcionarios de Naciones Unidas, quienes nos llaman a “un debate que desafíe a respetar los derechos y libertades inherentes a toda persona”. Las y los funcionarios que asumirán sus cargos en enero (Legislativo y Ejecutivo) deben reconocer que existe una responsabilidad estatal respecto al pleno ejercicio de los derechos sexuales y reproductivos de las ciudadanas guatemaltecas.



Week 4

On Wednesday I facilitated two classes. One on Signs of Abusive Relationships and one Healthy Relationships. Lucia wasn’t able to be there because she was at an event, so it was really nice when two students in the first class helped me open the door to the classroom we use and helped me make copies and set up the projector. Another student, Negli, one of my mentors from my Saturday class, helped me run the projector so I could stay in the front of the class. It was really nice to know that the students are invested in the course. In the first class as we were going over signs of an abusive relationship, the students and I thought of safety plans for survivors, identified “red flags” and types of abuse, and discussed the cycle of abuse. The students also did a group exercise where they determined where different situations which may occur in a relationship belonged on a continuum between “acceptable” and “not acceptable.” The idea behind this was to understand that we all have different ideas of what is acceptable for us personally. One student, as we discussed the safety plan for leaving an abusive relationship shared her personal story of leaving an abusive relationship, such as letting her family know, packing her and her children’s things, getting a new cell phone, saving money, and having a place to go. We thanked the student for sharing her story and we were able to use her example to glean ideas for what we would need to bring in case we leave an abuser. This was touching because it showed that the student trusted the class enough to share and that they were connecting their experiences with the subject material.


In the second class we discussed Healthy Relationships. In this class the students had to determine if example situations were healthy or unhealthy and why. My favorite part of this exercise is when the students determined that some were more of a gray area, which was not part of the exercise but showed that they were thinking critically. The students shared about their own relationships or their ideas of what they want in a relationship and we determined what ideal communication would look like in a healthy relationship.

The next day I went out on the town to eat breakfast by myself before going to the University. I looked a little fancy I guess since it was Yohanna’s birthday and we were going out right after the last class. So when I stopped at a little cafe, Cafe El Echape, and asked the proprietor what the Cafe’s address was, I think she thought I was a travel writer or something because she looked at me with hope in her eyes and began telling me the Cafe’s address, name, and her name. I really just wanted the address so I could let the taxi know where to get me, but then I suddenly felt like she was expecting me to give the Cafe a review or something. So here I am, telling you readers that I ate a typical breakfast, platanos, huevos estrellados, pan, y frijoles with horchata and it was excellent. That day Yohanna and I co-facilitated two courses on Signs of an Abusive Relationship. In the first class, since it was her birthday and the class was pretty small, I got cake for everyone. Lucia had brought happy birthday glasses and a candle, and some of the students bought soda for the class. Another special surprise was that Daniel Velasquez, veteran member of MIA, came by the class and I finally got to meet him! He was amazing and told all the class about himself and his work, and he participated with us in celebrating Yohanna’s birthday and going over the day’s coursework. The second class was the same material and that class also went really well. Then Yohanna and I went to Trova Jazz, a Trova bar in Zone 4 for her birthday.



The next day, Friday, I went to visit my friend, an amazing poet named Manuel Tzoc, at his work, Ronald Esteticas in Zone 1. We hung out at his work for awhile and then took a walk to make copies since I needed them for Saturday and he needed to make copies of his new poetry book. We stopped and had some pupusas and then I went home since it was almost dark. Though I told him I couldn’t go out that night since I’d be prepping all night for Saturday, when Jenny called me and also invited me out, I realized how badly I wanted to get out. So I stapled up all the new copies, prepared the schedule for the next day, showered and went out with Jenny to see the same band in the same bar as before, at Cien Puertas. Thereabouts, as Cien Puertas and Gran Hotel are neighbors so we always end up at both, we saw both Manu and Abner, which was nice.

On Saturday I got to see the Video Project class again. I am love with Saturdays. This day we discussed domestic violence, we filmed a scene for each video, we took photographs for our bios, and we did a brief editing workshop. After welcoming everyone back we did a brief icebreaker wherein we had to say what we called our gentials. Then, to remind the students that their videos are supposed to be revolutionary as in based on Latin American Revolutionary Film Theory, they got into their groups and discussed how their videos are revolutionary and then presented.


Afterwards we broke up into small groups of the students with their mentors and discussed 6 handouts based on domestic and sexual violence, how to be supportive, and crisis intervention. Later we presented more on Domestic Violence based on materials from the Long Beach WomenShelter and then the students did a test on DV created by a good friend of mine, Marea Perez.

After a short break the students broke up into their video groups and half of them filmed while the other half took photographs and vice versa.

To end, we did a short editing workshop and ended with something positive.

The mentors and I, mainly Emmi, filmed some of the events of the day and I made a short video of what we did.

That night there was a rock concert in the Park in front of the National Palace and I told both Jenny and my old friend Carlos Ibanez that I would meet up with them when I suddenly ran out of saldo (minutes on my phone)! I wasn’t able to call a taxi and finally, after a lot of time and thinking, I threw on a hoodie and walked the 6 or 7 blocks by myself, at night! I never in a million years thought I would do that, but I did it and it was completely fine. I won’t do it again of course, but I am proud of myself in a way for not letting my gender paralyze me completely. When I first got there I couldn’t find my friends and luckily after awhile met up with one of Manu’s friends Joel who I met the previous week and he let me stand with him so I wasn’t alone in the park. Finally I found everyone and we all rocked out and then went out dancing at El Gran Hotel.  Carlos, Giovanni, Jenny, walked alone.

The next day I met up with Joel again in his music studio and he agreed to make original music for the student’s videos if they need it. How super exciting!



Week 3

By Marina Wood

This weekend was crazy because we had the film project on Saturday and Sunday instead of just Saturday. Saturday was devoted to talking and learning about feminism, sex, sexuality, the body, body image, sexual pleasure, sexual boundaries, sexual health, sexual identity, and gender identity.

We began with an icebreaker wherein everyone in the class had to say one word about sex.

Then, because I promised them the first day that we would watch a movie clip and analyze it but the tiny computer I brought didn’t have a DVD slot, so we watched a short clip from Miss Congeniality and talked about it.

We then discussed the homework from last week which was selected portions from the article “The Male as a Risk Factor: Masculinity, Mental Health, and Reproductive Health” by Benno de Keijzer. This was exciting since some of the students were just bursting to talk about it and had clearly learned a lot.

Then, to transition to the next topic we did another icebreaker wherein everyone had to form a circle and mime an activity they like doing such as swim or dance.

The next topic was something I decided to create after the previous week’s comments. When we were teaching about Feminist Film Theory the class had a lot of misconceptions about feminism and were turned off by the word because they equated feminism with separatism. So we started with an exercise in which each student was handed either a myth or a fact about feminism and had to determine which it was and why. This was to show the diversity of opinions about what feminism is and to think through some of the uglier misconceptions. Afterward the class read a short essay I wrote defining feminism out loud and we spoke more about feminism and clarified vocabulary and history questions.

Then we did a private, silent activity called Yes, No, Maybe though we started with one out loud as an icebreaker. The idea is to read a detailed list of intimate and sexual acts and situations and determine if you would do them, not do them, or maybe do them. The one we read out loud was “My partner can touch me affectionately in public” and everyone had to answer. The class then worked on their personal Yes, No, Maybe lists in order to determine their personal sexual limits.

We then watched a video about bodily diversity and looked at photographs of different penises, breasts, and vulvas in order to understand that, as Planned Parenthood says, different is normal. Then we watched a video about how to safely and properly use a condom.

After that we broke up into small groups: 2 students to each mentor and spoke about a range of topics such as feminist sex education, menstruation, safe sex, sexual and gender identity and orientation, and sexual pleasure. We then reconvened into the larger group and shared what we spoke about.

The last activity was a short ally training in which I taught the students how to be an ally to the LGBTQ community.

We then ended the day by sharing something positive either about the day or in general.

That night my friend Emmi stayed the night since she lives very far and had to come back the next morning. Though we were exhausted, we planned the next day’s activities and then I took her out to eat in a fancy Mexican restaurant. Emmi works very hard both at home and at work and is still poor so I treated her to dinner and then when she mentioned she had never been out in Zone 1 I took her to two of the best bars there, Cien Puertas and El Gran Hotel, where we ended up dancing all night. She was super happy to be out of her house since her family doesn’t let her go out, and I was super happy to show her a good time.

The next day, Sunday, we had a long day. Instead of meeting from 1pm to 6pm we met from 10am to 6pm and since the University wasn’t open we met at MIA’s founder and director’s apartment/office in Zone 1. Though the day was longer we had less activities that took longer to do. We began with an icebreaker by Emmi, one of the mentors. She had the class write down five things they like about themselves and five things they would like to change and then present. She explained that the reasoning behind this was to recognize how we typically concentrate more on the negative than the positive in ourselves and also to practice praising ourselves since it is something we are not accustomed to do.

Then everyone cut up magazine they brought to make collages on their new notebooks that MIA donated to them.

After that the students and mentors presented on the three Latin American revolutionary film manifestos that they had read the night before: Imperfect Cinema from Cuba, Third Cinema from Argentina, and Cinema Novo from Brazil. When one of the students, Carolina, presented on Imperfect Cinema I literally cried because at sixteen years old she understood the article so well and the concept was so beautiful. (Imperfect Cinema basically says that cinema does not need to be professional and expensive and anyone who wants to make films as a tool for social change can do it.) We then watched a short clip of The Hour of the Furnaces (Getino, Solanas 1970) as an example of Third Cinema.

After that we brainstormed about how many films we wanted to make and on what subjects and the students decided to make two films, one about family violence and one about competition between women. Once the groups were formed I brought out the cameras and they opened them and practiced using them. Then we all walked down to 6th street which is kind of like Universal City Walk or Downtown Disney and in the two groups we ate lunch, talked more about the videos, and took more video footage. Unfortunately it started raining heavily and we hid out for awhile in Quiznos but finally had to go back because a few of the students had to leave at 4, so we all ran home in the rain.

Then we watched some of the footage the students took and talked about it and closed with something positive.

HTML for youtube video of footage taken by Michelle, one of the students:

Since this weekend was so full, I will start my next blog with Monday.