Women’s Justice Initiative

Assisting isolated indigenous women to access justice and improve their lives

Freedom for Justice

Over 40% of the population of Guatemala are indigenous peoples, of which 75% live in a seemingly endless cycle of poverty. Indigenous peoples in Guatemala still suffer the repercussions of historical conflict. The Mayan peoples were repressed for centuries during Spanish colonisation and account for 80% of those killed in the counter-insurgency campaign of the 1980s, in what has since been named a genocide.

Many injustices are faced every day by the indigenous peoples of Guatamala, from lack of rights to their land, to marginalisation of language and culture, and little or no access to social services, economic or political participation. Most of these gross inequalities are a consequence of a systemic failure to enable Mayan communities to obtain their citizenship rights. The indigenous women of Guatamala bear the greatest indignities and structural inequality.

Indigenous women shoulder the double burden of discrimination, being both female and of indigenous origin, facing extreme poverty with little or no access to social services. They are especially vulnerable to violence and discrimination and most lack legal identity documents, locking them out of social services and the justice system. These women are less likely to finish school than others in Guatamala, are more likely to suffer illness and lack access primary healthcare services. Guatemala faces some of the highest levels of violence against women and girls, with the third highest femicide rate in the world.

The Women’s Justice Initiative (WJI) is helping Guatemalan women and girls to fight structural inequality, through education, legal aid services, and gender-based violence prevention. WJI provides free legal services directly to women, bringing lawyers and paralegals to communities and by providing bilingual Mayan-Spanish resources, helping to resolve issues including property rights, inheritance, and family law and retribution for victims of domestic violence. For longer term protection and empowerment, WJI’s two year education programme combines human rights education with leadership training, so that women from the communities become Community Advocates to mentor and intermediate for their peers. 

The WJI Legal Services team helped 41-year-old Magdalena and her family gain their legal identity. Magdalena is a mother of six who, like 50% of indigenous women in Guatemala, gave birth to all of her children at home. Giving birth outside of a hospital means women must travel to register their children at the national registry within 60 days. Magdalena could not afford the registration costs (approximately $6.85 per child) so none of her children had identity documents. Without this, her six children could not be enrolled in school, or receive medical attention. As adults, they would face barriers to employment. WJI helped the family obtain birth certificates through community midwives and the local health centre, for Magdalena and her children so that they can now assert their rights as Guatemalans.

By working with the local community and improving access to justice for indigenous women and girls, WJI is breaking the cycle of inequality for the indigenous peoples of Guatemala. 

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