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Women's Empowerment in GuatemalaGuatemala spent close to three centuries under Spanish rule before gaining independence in 1821, according to the CIA. The latter half of the 20th century saw the small nation experience various military and civilian governments and a guerrilla war that lasted for 36 years and killed more than 200,000 people. The government signed a peace treaty in 1996 but Guatemala still has problems to solve.

CNN reported in 2012 that gender-based violence is highly prevalent in Guatemala and the country ranked third in femicide worldwide. There are two women killed each day in the small country making women’s empowerment in Guatemala an important issue.

During Guatemala’s civil war there was a great deal of violence committed against women. This left a legacy of violence which still plagues the country today. The military and paramilitary personnel that committed these crimes with impunity were integrated back into society. Many of these men remain in positions of power and have not changed their thoughts about women, because of this women’s empowerment in Guatemala is an issue that must be discussed.

Just over 20 years after the end of the civil war violent crime is higher than it was during the conflict. Although the homicide rate is high, the UN estimates that only two percent of cases go to court. Women are especially prone to violence because of gender bias. Many women are brutally killed because of their gender. The methods used include rape, torture and mutilation which were also common during the civil war. This culture of gender-based violence makes women’s empowerment in Guatemala difficult to accomplish.

Drug cartels from Mexico and other criminal groups help contribute to the excessive violence that plagues Guatemala which leaves fewer recourses for authorities to investigate femicides. Many cases go unreported because women fear retaliation which further hampers women’s empowerment in Guatemala.

The Central American nation is deeply rooted in machismo culture which is one of the greatest obstacles for women’s empowerment in Guatemala. Around 80 percent of men believe that women need permission to leave their home and 70 percent of women believe the same. Ideas like this make life difficult for women in Guatemala.

Despite the problems women face in Guatemala, there are signs of progress. According to PCI Global, the Asociación para el Desarollo Sostenible de la Juventud (ADESJU) was created by a group of young Guatemalans in 2004. In 2014, ADESJU began to apply the Women Empowered Initiative (WE) with the help of PCI. This has helped around 2000 women become economically and politically empowered. ADESJU has organized 94 WE groups with 1839 participants. WE wants to encourage women to become economically independent and active members of their communities. Women’s empowerment in Guatemala faces many obstacles but organizations like these are doing what they can to advance it.

– Fernando Vazquez

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Guatemala
Guatemala is known for its government’s immense crimes against humanity during the 20th century. While there have been efforts to improve human rights in Guatemala, the country had not seen much progress until very recently.

The nation has been plagued by powerful criminal organizations and gangs for many years. They commit violence and extortion, terrorizing local communities and instilling fear in the citizens, and ultimately pushing many Guatemalans to emigrate from the country. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system is still incredibly corrupt, making it difficult for human rights activists to do work on the ground because they face the threat of violence and intimidation from corrupt government officials and local criminal organizations.

In 2013, retired military general Efrain Rios Montt was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 80 years in prison. General Montt led a military government from 1982-1983 and carried out heinous massacres of unarmed civilians. This conviction would have been a huge step for Guatemala, but the sentence was overturned by the Constitutional Court and Montt was set free. This was a major failure in the eyes of human rights activists because it demonstrated that the government would continue to pardon those in power even when they have committed a crime.

That being said, thanks to the aid of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), there have been a few successful prosecutions in cases of violent crime and corruption. In May 2014, General Montt was re-tried and was once again convicted. This time, however, the conviction remained in place, signaling a win for the Guatemalan people.

In February 2017, the Guatemalan courts made a conviction regarding crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence and sexual slavery. This was the first prosecuted case of sexual violence that related to the country’s 36-year internal conflict. It has been incredibly difficult to get convictions for the crimes and massacres committed during the conflict because of the level of corruption in the nation, but this was a huge step towards justice.

Through continued assistance from CICIG and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Guatemala is on the right track to being a safe country for its citizens. Continued foreign aid can help reduce violence and poverty and increase economic opportunities and good governance. There is a lot of work to do regarding corruption in the government and atoning for past crimes against humanity, but the future for human rights in Guatemala is looking fairly bright.

Liyanga De Silva

Photo: Google

Librarians Without Borders
Founded in February 2005, Librarians Without Borders (LWB) addresses the vast information resource inequity existing between different regions of the world. The group’s vision is to build sustainable libraries and support the librarians who keep these institutions running.

LWB is a nonprofit organization that endeavors to improve access to information resources notwithstanding language, geopolitics or religion by forming connections with area industries in developing regions.

Information Freedom and Literacy
Information literacy connects a library and its users. To that end, the Academy be designed to help users navigate the resources, services, and space, Librarians Without Boundaries it is incumbent upon the LWB to enhance information literacy skills in the region by devising curricula for trainees and by providing practical materials for educators for student application. LWB is creating a framework and presenting practical ideas, beyond basic literacy that is embedded in the Asturias curriculum.

Librarians serve an essential position as champions of intellectual freedom. They must grant equitable means to approach information. Access to information is vital in supporting learning and literacy, reducing poverty, empowering citizens, and building healthy, active communities.
Open access is critical in supporting education and literacy, reducing poverty, empowering citizens, and building healthy, vibrant communities. Librarians Without Boundaries does not draw cultural or linguistic boundaries; LWB embraces diversity; The organization will work with our partners in their cultural context and their languages.

Programming
One of LWB’s partners in Guatemala is the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy.

Through an association formed in 2009, LWB and Asturias act in tandem to promote literacy and learning by focusing on development and operation of a school and community library. By creating a community library in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Every Spring since 2010, Librarians Without Boundaries travels to the Miguel Angel Asturias Academy in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala to accomplish remote work on the ground, to discuss emerging needs with LWB partners, and to reconnect with the students and school staff.

Lending of Library Materials
LWB is working to implement a library loan system for local students and staff. The program is a significant milestone for the Academy since many students do not have books at home. By implementing specialized software to track and guide to the borrowing of materials a uniform library cataloging model is instituted and training library staff to use and maintain the library loan systems and equipment.

Implementing a borrowing system extends access to information resources not only for students and families but also the community-at-large. Increased borrowing privileges create opportunities for students and their families to engage in reading activities at home and during after school hours. LWB fosters strong literacy skills and a love of books in the community.

The 2017 Service Trip
The most recent program occurred this year from April 22 to May 12. LWB members performed such duties as:

  • Cataloging, processing, and supplementing the library’s collection with new materials.
  • Programming targets all students and levels through multi-day library events.
  • Professional development workshops for teachers promoting library integration into the curriculum.

The 2017 spring’s commitment at the Academy included ongoing collection development activities. LWB works with Miguel Angel Asturias Academy to provide opportunities for volunteers to engage in activities that will help nurture a thorough understanding of libraries, education and culture in Guatemala. The 2017 Miguel Angel Asturias Librarians Without Borders team brought with them to Guatemala over 200 books in their luggage!

Librarians Without Borders has thus made a massive difference in this community. Providing materials and education for libraries provides students with a more well-rounded education, and the communities most definitely prosper.

 

Heather Hopkins

Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in GuatemalaEach day, 33 people become entrapped by human trafficking rings in Guatemala. Nearly 60 percent of the 50,000 victims of human trafficking in Guatemala are children, according to a report by UNICEF and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). The report estimates the industry to be worth $1.6 billion a year – this number represents 2.7 percent of Guatemala’s gross domestic product.

Guatemala’s pervasive culture of gender inequality – coupled with extensive sexual abuse in the home – promotes trafficking. Often, human trafficking affects families that have already experienced domestic and sexual violence by fathers and stepfathers. The violence they experience prompts boys and girls to run away from home, leaving them prey to sexual exploitation by traffickers. Mothers who sell their children into the sex trade are often victims of trafficking or domestic abuse themselves.

In Guatemala, very few sex trafficking cases are actually detected each year – about 3 percent. Although Guatemala has adopted numerous programs and laws to tackle human trafficking, only two prosecutors work on sex trafficking cases across the country. Therefore, the number of trafficking convictions in Guatemala remains low, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In 2014, the Guatemalan authorities convicted only 20 human traffickers, according to the 2015 U.S. Department of State report on human trafficking.

Education is a key factor in eliminating human trafficking; in Guatemala it occurs largely due to the absence of family education. Illiterate or uneducated children and adults are more vulnerable to abuse. Traffickers target poor, uneducated and unemployed women and girls, luring them with promises of earning money as a waitress or model. Girls as young as 12 work in brothels and are forced to have sex with up to 30 customers a day.

Just as it plays a large role in preventing human trafficking, education also plays a critical role in helping survivors of human trafficking to escape the trauma they experience after victimization. Instruction and counseling are immense steps toward rehabilitating the survivors and reintegrating them into society. When survivors are provided with education, they gain an opportunity to “reprogram” their lives by increasing their knowledge.

All members of society in Guatemala being more educated and knowledgeable on human trafficking is essential for the defeat of traffickers. Every avenue must be explored on how to raise awareness about the nature of the crime, its causes and the damage human trafficking inflicts on its victims.

Heather Hopkins

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rate in Guatemala
The poverty rate in Guatemala is high by most standards. Guatemala is a country in Central America which is bordered by El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and Mexico. It is known for its massive Lake Atitlán and ancient Mayan ruins. It is home to 16.5 million, people making it the most populous country in Central America. Although Guatemala’s official language is Spanish, 40 percent of its inhabitants speak Indigenous languages.

The poverty rate in Guatemala is very high. According to the World Bank, 59.3 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. In addition, 23 percent live in extreme poverty.

The indigenous people in Guatemala are most affected by poverty. In fact, 79 percent of them live in poverty, while 40 percent of them live in extreme poverty. Eight in ten indigenous children suffer from chronic malnutrition, a condition that weakens their immune system and does not allow their bodies to fully develop.

The indigenous population also suffers from discrimination and exclusion in Guatemalan society, which makes it difficult for them to rise out of poverty. The country’s topography also keeps indigenous people living in rural areas isolated from the rest of society, making it more difficult for them to receive help.

Income inequality is high in Guatemala. According to a study conducted by the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS), 260 Guatemalans own 56 percent of the national economy. This means that 0.001 percent of the population owns more than half of the country’s wealth.

Agriculture is a very important source of revenue for Guatemala. It accounts for 20 percent of the GDP and employs more than 40 percent of the population. Main food exports include sugar, bananas, coffee and vegetables. However, due to the country’s susceptibility to natural disasters, including hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and landslides, many citizens are in a constant struggle to survive and make a living.

Many NGOs stepped in to help improve the poverty rate in Guatemala. For example, The World Food Programme (WFP) delivers emergency food supplies to Guatemalans and teaches farmers how to grow more crops and better market the food they harvest. The NGO Food for The Poor brings food, medicine, and education supplies to needy communities in Guatemala.

Anna Gargiulo

Riecken FoundationThe need for educational opportunity in Central America has not gone unnoticed. The Riecken Foundation was established to address this need.  Since building its first library (the first of 65), the organization has paved the way for literacy and access to knowledge in Honduras and Guatemala.

For nearly 20 years, the Riecken Foundation has been building a network of community libraries across Honduras and Guatemala in often underserved, rural areas. Following a unique organizational model, the foundation has found long-term success by establishing libraries under strong community governance.

The foundation was born in 2000 out of the efforts of Susan Riecken and Allen Anderson. In the 1960s, Anderson worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras, and his experiences in Honduras stayed with him over the years. Upon his retirement from venture capitalism, Anderson partnered with Riecken to address the educational needs of Honduran and Guatemalan villages and to promote literacy in developing parts of the world.

Educational opportunity is limited in Honduras and Guatemala and contributes to poverty in both countries. Nearly one in five Hondurans live in extreme poverty, and, for many Honduran students, the chance of dropping out of school or repeating a grade is high. In Guatemala, 23 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty. Educational quality is poor, and, as a result, fewer than half of students meet national standards by sixth grade.

The Riecken Foundation exists to address these issues and much more. A Riecken community library provides a village with access to books and other free resources, such as technology, youth programs and technical workshops that would otherwise be unavailable.

While other rural libraries might suffer as a result of mismanagement or neglect, a Riecken community library is strengthened by leadership from engaged volunteer citizens who are supported by their municipal government and the Riecken Foundation. It is this collaboration that often ensures the success of a Riecken community library.

For those in rural areas, the library becomes a place to explore diverse ideas and develop community projects. The community is directly involved in the success of their library, and their active engagement in its success creates a sense of prideful ownership over it.

The Riecken Foundation has found that the libraries promote literacy and a better understanding of local government institutions and transparency. It is with this understanding, along with greater access to knowledge and resources, that rural villages in Honduras and Guatemala can begin to move away from poverty and toward a stable environment that fosters growth and prosperity.

Jennifer Faulkner

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in Guatemala
Out of a population of 16.3 million, 59 percent of Guatemalans live in poverty, and 23 percent live in extreme poverty. However, efforts are being made to improve living conditions for the country’s people. Here are some organizations that are setting examples of how to help people in Guatemala.

  1. The World Food Program (WFP) has worked in Guatemala for 43 years and supports the country’s residents with essential services. In 2016, they provided food to 627,400 people and aid to 16,875 drought-affected homes. WFP also advocates for a country strategic plan that focuses on overcoming Guatemala’s food security and nutrition challenges.
  2. SOS Children’s Villages offers counseling and training programs to Guatemalan families. They also provide children with nutritious food and housing if they cannot live with their families. For young people who are victims of poverty and violence, SOS supports and trains them to accomplish their goals.
  3. ActionAid helps Guatemalans access education, health, and other necessary services. Since the country’s rural area has few schools above the primary level, the organization’s distance learning program allows students to hear class lectures on the radio. ActionAid also runs disaster workshops that prepare Guatemalans for earthquakes, fires and other natural disasters.
  4. Children International utilizes various tactics to help Guatemalans. They teach residents the fundamentals of proper nutrition, provide school uniforms to poor families who cannot afford them and teach Guatemala’s youth important life and job skills. As a result, Guatemalan teenagers now score 85 percent on leadership knowledge assessments (above the global average) and 89 percent on management skills.
  5. Mayan Families uses education and community development programs to help the impoverished communities of Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán region. In 2015, they operated six centers that focused on bilingual fluency, early childhood literacy, parental education and nutrition. The nutrition programs have also improved Guatemalan children’s weight, oral hygiene and scholastic performance.
  6. Habitat for Humanity has supported 75,605 Guatemalan families since 1979. In 2016 alone, they helped 1,718 families. In addition to helping reduce Guatemala’s housing deficit by 4.6 percent, Habitat for Humanity is planning a nine-day trip to teach volunteers how to help people in Guatemala. A professional construction leader will supervise the volunteers while they lay block foundations, dig for septic tanks and perform other tasks in building and improving homes for residents.
  7. Water For People (WFP) collaborates with Guatemala’s local community and government to ensure that 95 percent or more of the country’s residents can access sanitary water. WFP also works with Guatemalan microfinance institutions to support loans for community water projects. Guatemala’s local government and community provide finances for school and water sanitation systems, relieving underfunded schools of those expenses.

With these organizations and their efforts, Guatemalans could live better lives in the near future. Additionally, programs dedicated to education and learning facilities will make many job opportunities available to the country’s youth. As these organizations continue their work, they show others how to help people in Guatemala.

Rhondjé Singh Tanwar

Photo: Flickr

Fighting Common Diseases in GuatemalaCommon diseases in Guatemala include malaria, bacterial diarrhea, and HIV/AIDS. These diseases are common throughout this area of the world. Malaria spreads through mosquitoes, which are common in Central American countries, putting inhabitants at a greater risk for the disease. People in these countries may live in areas without proper sanitation, consequently causing a high prevalence of bacterial diarrhea. HIV/AIDS is common in Guatemala partially due to a lack in sexual education programs.

In certain areas of Guatemala, malaria rates are higher than in other countries. In 2015, there were 6,834 cases of the disease. Since 2005, the government has been fighting the disease with additional funding from the Global Fund. The goal is to nationally eliminate malaria by 2020. In order to avoid bacterial diarrhea, doctors advise individuals to practice good hygiene when using the restroom, maintain clean water, and properly clean food.

Lastly, Guatemala created a comprehensive sexual education plan to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. However, a survey in 2015 showed that only 7 percent of students learned all of the intended points in the program. Another issue with this program is that out of classrooms that taught students about condom usage, 43 percent did so incorrectly. Since STDs and STIs are a common problem in Guatemala, people are pushing for improvement of the sexual education program through better instructor training or a complete reconstruction.

These are a few of the most common diseases in Guatemala. Travelers are warned against malaria and bacterial diarrhea. Additionally, HIV ranks number nine in the top 10 causes of death in Guatemala. Through better education and prevention, the prevalence of these common diseases in Guatemala can significantly drop and the well-being of the people will improve.

Helen Barker

Photo: Flickr

Central American Refugee Crisis
Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, commonly referred to as the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA), have seen drastic increases in the numbers of migrants fleeing to nearby nations, creating the present Central American refugee crisis. Since 2012, pending asylum cases in the U.S. and Mexico have reached 109,800.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), large-scale violence, poverty and unemployment motivate men, women and children to flee. Classifying the increase as a ‘protection crisis,’ the UNHCR recently stated that it is “particularly concerned about the rising numbers of unaccompanied children and women on the run who face forced recruitment into criminal gangs, sexual- and gender-based violence and murder.”

In a study conducted by the UNHCR, 64 percent of the women interviewed included direct threats and attacks by members of criminal armed groups as a primary reason for their flight. These attacks corresponded with increased violence against women and minimal police protection.

In an attempt to escape the violence, Central American refugees and asylum seekers most often flee to the north. Mexico experienced a 164 percent increase in asylum seekers between 2013 and 2015. Currently, the majority of Mexico’s 3,448 refugees arrived from Central America.

Mexico accepts less than one percent of NTCA child refugees, despite their escape from violence. In 2015 alone, Mexico apprehended more than 35,000 Central American migrant children, a 55 percent increase from the year before.

The Human Rights Watch determined that authorities in Mexico often complicate processes of seeking asylum, forcing thousands of children to return home.

To further complicate the NTCA refugee’s plight, women who flee often face heightened risks. High smuggling fees, rape and extortion threaten women throughout their journey, especially near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Despite these obstacles, more than 66,000 unaccompanied children fleeing NTCA countries reached the U.S. in 2014. An additional 66,000 NTCA families entered the U.S. in the same year.

Data from 2015 shows the U.S. continuing to be the main country receiving asylum applications from Central America, registering almost twice the number in 2014.

In response to the Central American refugee crisis, the UNHCR has been working with governments and civil society partners in the region to develop heightened refugee screening capacities. They are also aiming to build stronger assistance programs for asylum seekers, including greater reception capacity in neighboring countries.

Asylum Access, an international organization that works with local governments and the UN, helps refugees assert their rights in first countries of refuge. Asylum Access has operated in Ecuador since 2007 and expanded to Panama and Mexico in 2015.

Asylum Access provides Latin American refugees with legal assistance, community legal empowerment and advocates against deportation and arrest. Through establishing the Hospitality Route initiative, Asylum Access Mexico helps refugees from Central America avoid detention, deportation and arrest by providing access to safety and rights.

The UNHCR and Asylum Access are leaders in Central American refugee assistance and resource provision. With programs and policies that provide desperately needed and powerful aid, the Central American refugee crisis and its dangers will hopefully lessen.

Anna O’Toole

Photo: UNHCR

Sex Education in Guatemala
Guatemala has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Latin America. By age 20, 54 to 68 percent of indigenous or uneducated women have married or become pregnant.

This number is raised by a high rate of sexual abuse that boys and girls suffer: 10,000 cases are reported every year. One of the many reasons these statistics are so alarmingly high is a lack of comprehensive sex education in Guatemala. In 2012, only two percent of schools had effective programs; but fortunately, many advocates have worked to counteract these dismal statistics over the past few years.

Comprehensive sex education is incredibly beneficial to children of all genders. The National Survey of Family Growth discovered that pregnancy rates for 15 to 19 year olds are 50 percent lower for teens who receive comprehensive sex education than for teenagers who received less education.

Guatemalan children need to be taught about contraceptives, STIs, HIV, pregnancy and especially consent. Programs should emphasize the goals of improved gender equality as well as increasing male involvement in family planning. These alterations would allow teenagers to have more control over their reproductive health as well as counteract the dangerous culture of violence and rape.

Fortunately, new legislation has paved the way for improvement. The 2010 Preventing through Education Act calls for comprehensive sex education in Guatemala and increases teenage access to sexual health services.

Sex educator Ana Lucía Ramazzini insists that “sex education cannot be successful in Guatemala without being taught from a feminist viewpoint that addresses consent, assault and the power dynamics and social inequalities between men and women.” Two other laws have been similarly positive — hospitals are now required to report pregnancies for girls under 14, and the marrying age with parental consent has been raised from 14 to 16.

Three years after the Prevention through Education Act, a program with gender equality views was incorporated into nine regions. After the 2010 law passed in Guatemala, the rate of teen pregnancy decreased from 90 births per 1000 women ages 15-19 to 81 births in 2014. While the statistic is not overtly dramatic, the steady decline does indeed bode well for the future.

Ten Guatemalan organizations and a handful of international organizations continue to transform sex education from bill to reality. UNAIDS works to educate people about HIV and decrease the stigma surrounding the condition for the 65,000 people in Guatemala who live with the disease and require treatment. Two Guatemalan organizations in particular, Asociacion Pro-Bienestar de la Familia de Guatemala (APROFAM) and Incide Joven, have done exceptional work in this field.

APROFAM is a family planning organization that serves Guatemala with 27 permanent clinics, five mobile facilities and a large number of community distributors. Their clinics and workshops provide education for both men and women about the effectiveness of contraceptives and family planning services. Using media from comic strips and television shows, they educate the public on both sexual health as well as issues of consent and abuse.

Incide Joven is a similar organization, but its uniqueness stems from the fact that it is entirely youth run. Like APROFAM, Incide Joven is dedicated to making sex education available for teenagers. Their advocacy was very successful in creating the valuable Gender and Cultural Diversity office as part of the Ministry of Education to oversee new sex education. APROFAM and Incide Joben share sex educator Ana Ramazzini’s ideology by encouraging both genders to take an active role in family planning.

With such high rates of abuse and teenage pregnancy, sex education in Guatemala is a tough job; fortunately though, children are growing more aware of their rights and the risks of young sex. A 10-year-old listing off information about HIV at a UNAIDS event said that, “[children] are very young for sex. Ah! And that our body is only ours and no one can touch it.”

The emphasis on consent in sex education in Guatemala not only builds a better informed public, it also is a large step in the right direction for female empowerment and youth rights.

Jeanette Burke

Photo: Bustle