How MUIXIL is Empowering Indigenous Guatemalan WomenAs the 1960 Guatemalan Civil War continued, military dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt targeted the indigenous populations of the country as part of his counterinsurgency tactics from March 1982 to August 1983. His “scorched earth” policy led to the brutalizing of Indigenous Mayans, specifically those in the Ixil region. As few as 10% of Ixil villages remained by the end of 1983, and over 5% of the Ixil population was killed. The effects of the civil war and the genocide continue to be felt by the Ixil people—especially women, which is why MUIXIL works to empower Indigenous Guatemalan women.

The Effects of the War on Ixil Women

The Ixil region of Guatemala was specifically targeted during the civil war because of the indigenous population. As a result of the destruction of their villages, 29,000 Ixil people are estimated to have been displaced by the war. This displacement and destruction caused many Ixil people to lose their birth certificates and other forms of identification that are necessary for political participation in the post-war country, making it nearly impossible for many to vote in elections and creating widespread indigenous disenfranchisement.

The mass murders of Ixil people during the war widowed many women, making them solely responsible for providing for their families. This struggle was significantly more difficult for Indigenous women in Guatemala as they were often denied access to jobs and resources that could benefit them financially. Widespread poverty, malnutrition and the highest infant mortality rate in Central America at 23 deaths per 1,000 births are associated with the financial troubles of Ixil people.

Guatemala has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world, and in a two-year period ending in 2016, more than 2,000 women were murdered. Indigenous women are disproportionately affected by violence against women, which many researchers say is a result of the widespread violence against them and the lack of punishment for sexual and gender-based violence that occurred during the war.

The History of MUIXIL

MUIXIL was founded as Mujeres Sufridas de Area Ixil (Women Sufferers of Ixil) in 2003 to empower and support indigenous Ixil women, especially those who survived the civil war. The grassroots organization aims to promote the civil, political and economic rights of Indigenous Guatemalan women through the development of income-generating projects and a support system made up of other Ixil women.

The MUIXIL Weaving-Collective

MUIXIL partnered with MADRE, an international women’s empowerment nonprofit, to develop a weaving-collective for Ixil women. The project provides grants for women to purchase materials, such as yarn, that are needed to create products that can be sold at local markets. By selling their creations, these women earn additional income and learn entrepreneurial skills. The weaving-collective also preserve a culture that was nearly destroyed by the war as the women incorporate traditional designs into their creations. As of 2012, 45 women participate in the weaving-collective.

Also in partnership with MADRE, MUIXIL runs a sustainable chicken farming initiative. Indigenous women are given chickens to establish small-scale farms and grants to purchase the supplies needed for upkeep. At the end of 2010, 350 women participated in this project, supporting nearly 2,500 individuals. The initiative was later expanded in 2013 to three more communities with 50 additional women participating.

Like the weaving collective, the chicken farms provide Ixil women with income as they sell eggs at local markets. The chicken farming initiative also combats food insecurity in Indigenous communities as it provides access to protein-rich chickens and eggs.

Political Empowerment for Indigenous Guatemalan Women

MUIXIL also hosts workshops to show Ixil women the importance of and teach the skills needed for political participation at the local and national levels. The nonprofit organization also assists Indigenous women with the legal system, “including in trials to hold perpetrators accountable for human rights abuses against Indigenous Peoples.” Women seeking the recognition of their human rights by the government are accompanied by MUIXIL’s members for support.

During the 2012 session of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, MUIXIL advocated for the political rights of Indigenous women in Guatemala in the Report on Violations of Women’s Human Rights. In this report, the organization called out the national government for failing its constitutional duty to protect women and indigenous peoples by excluding them from the legal system. This exclusion takes on many forms, such as a lack of access to translators who are fluent in Indigenous languages, which effectively prevents many women from seeking justice. MUIXIL also provided recommendations in this report for how the government can better protect the rights of Indigenous women, including decreasing costs within the legal system, making courts more accessible by spreading them throughout the country and launching a program to document Indigenous peoples who were displaced or lost their forms of identification during the war to allow for more widespread political participation.

The Guatemalan Civil War witnessed genocide against the country’s Indigenous Ixil populations, leading to long-term consequences for these communities, especially women. MUIXIL combats the legacy of violence and discrimination against Ixil women by providing income-earning initiatives, political empowerment and a space where Indigenous Guatemalan women can find support and continue their cultural traditions.

—Sydney Leiter
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Human Rights in Guatemala
Guatemala is a tourist destination well-known for being the center of the ancient Mayan civilization. What many people may not realize about this small, Central American country, however, is that from 1960 to 1996, Guatemala struggled with a 36-year civil war that has left the country in a problematic state in regards to human rights. Although there have been several improvements to human rights in Guatemala, there is still work to be done. Below are 10 important facts about human rights in Guatemala.

10 Facts About Human Rights in Guatemala

  1. The Guatemalan Civil War was the aftermath of the CIA’s involvement in overthrowing democratically-elected President Jacobo Árbenz in 1945. Private interests of the United States were at a disadvantage from policies and reforms put in place by Árbenz that would have largely benefitted the indigenous population in poverty. After the coup d’état, the new leader, right-wing Army General Efraín Ríos Montt, came into power.
  2. Tensions between the right and left had escalated until 1960 when a civil war erupted between the military and leftist guerrilla groups. Eventually, however, the military began targeting anyone deemed as sympathizers to the rebels’ cause, including Catholic priests and entire native villages. By the time the war ended with a treaty in 1996, over 200,000 people were killed, more than half a million were left displaced and several others had been raped and tortured.
  3. Out of the 200,000 killed during the war, a majority of casualties were indigenous people. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHA), extreme poverty rates are three times higher among the indigenous population. During the civil war, the extremely poor were targeted by military groups, and some indigenous groups had fallen victim to genocidal acts. In 1982 and 1983, 1,771 Mayan Ixil civilians were murdered in over 105 massacres throughout the country. Although the civil war is over, poverty, exclusion and violence still persist at higher rates against Guatemala’s indigenous population.
  4. Heinous human rights violations may have subsided since the end of the civil war, but the problem of accountability and sentencing for human rights abuses still persists. Over twenty years after the end of the war, several former military officers have finally been indicted for their crimes, but they are still awaiting trial dates and formal sentencing for human rights violations such as rape, massacre and genocide like that of the Ixil civilians, including Rios Montt.
  5. In light of the issue of slow trials, the IACHA also recognizes the importance of a currently pending judicial reform. This reform addresses the organization of the work of The Supreme Court of Justice, as well as the processes for judicial appointments. This reform is highly favorable throughout Guatemala but has yet to be officially approved.
  6. The Guatemalan government has been working with human rights investigators to uncover incriminating evidence that has been scattered or hidden in over 80 million pages of documents. The nonprofit Benetech has been helping to organize and digitalize all documents that contain evidence against those accused of human rights violations. Benetech suspects that, during the war, police had participated in disappearances and assassinations, leading to even more document cover-ups.
  7. The U.N.-backed International Community Against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, has also played a key role in prosecuting violent crimes and human rights abuses in the country. CICIG has worked with Attorney Generals, police and other government sectors “to investigate, prosecute and dismantle criminal organizations operating in the country.” The organization has made efforts to decrease violent crimes and extortion from gang-related violence and has acted as a key investigator in many high-profile assassinations in the country.
  8. Journalists have been some of the biggest targets of violence with several TV and newspaper journalists having been assassinated in recent years and many more have been victims of assassination attempts and death threats. The IACHR notes that the interior of the country is the most dangerous place for journalists and social communicators due to their overt commitment to combating corruption and abuses of power.
  9. Women’s and girls’ rights in Guatemala are also a human rights issue that has more notably come to light after the March 2017 fire that occurred in a government-run shelter killing 41 young girls. A room, only meant to hold 11, contained 56 girls locked in for the night without access to water or restrooms because they had been protesting sexual violence and poor living conditions within the facility. While court proceedings have begun against the officers who failed to release the girls during the fire, this tragedy brought to light the poor conditions for adolescents and women in Guatemala.
  10. In 2017, the US Congress approved $655 million in assistance as part of The Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, which intends to reduce incentives for those who want to emigrate from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. This aid seeks to reduce violence, increase economic opportunities and strengthen governance, actively fighting corruption and impunity in the community.

These facts about human rights in Guatemala show that things have improved since the genocidal times of civil war, but many issues persist. The rights of indigenous people, journalists and minorities need more attention from the government. While Guatemala seeks justice for its past crimes with the aid of organizations like CICIG and Benetech, current human rights issues lack effective attention. With an improvement in economic opportunity and governance along with a decrease in impunity and corruption, Guatemala could significantly improve its human rights situation and experience a greater decrease in poverty and violent crimes.

– Matthew Cline
Photo: Flickr