Blog > Community Development Events Women's Health > Mayan Families Joined Hundreds of Indigenous Women Advocating for the Recognition of their Rights

Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Mayan Families Joined Hundreds of Indigenous Women Advocating for the Recognition of their Rights
Juan Haro

Last week, Guatemala City hosted almost 300 indigenous women leaders from hundreds of organizations and people from 22 countries in North, Central and South America as part of the VII Continental Meeting of Indigenous Women of the Americas. Participants met to discuss issues related to indigenous women in the Americas, and create recommendations to empower them politically and socially.

For the first time, Mayan Families worked with indigenous women and international experts to set a political agenda to propose to the States, the United Nations system, the international cooperation framework, and the indigenous movement from the Americas. The VII Continental Meeting of Indigenous Women of the Americas represented an incredible opportunity to be involved in the most important discussions on gender rights and equality for indigenous women, and allowed Mayan Families to be considered a key partners in the region.

Among the attendees and institutions present were Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, representatives from Amnesty International, the Ford Foundation, the World Bank, and Fondo Indígena, and United Nations bodies such as the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, UN Women and UNFPA.

Activist Rosalina Tuyuc Velásquez, during the opening ceremony - Photo Credit: Juan Haro

Sharon Smart, MF co-founder, and Sandra Chiroy, Director of Education, with Rigoberta Menchú at the main conference room - Photo Credit: Juan Haro

During the event Mayan Families participated in different workshops on violence against women, racism, cultural identities, sexual and reproductive health, climate change, territorial sovereignty, and more. One of the most active discussions was the Human Rights table where we got the chance to share our experience and work with women and families from the Lake Atitlán region.

We also met international feminist and activist Erika Guevara, Regional Director from Amnesty International, who said, “Men and women should work side-by-side in development, gender and indigenous rights. In the Americas, an indigenous woman who fights for her rights is seen in the eyes of media, justice bodies and public opinion as a criminal…this criminalization is unacceptable”.


Indigenous Guatemalan woman takes pictures with an amputated arm during the event  - Photo Credit: Juan Haro

Mayan Families staff member, Juan Haro, interviews Erika Guevara about the Human Rights situation

Violence against women and territorial expropriation were two topics that were extensively discussed in search of a joint solution. The two topics are closely related, and are ones we have shown our commitment to. As an example, our Shelter Program ensures that women have access to land through securing the property title for the mother and children in the family before construction, thereby ensuring land security for the next generation. Dianna Pizzaro, from the World Bank, emphasized  that land access and territorial sovereignty for indigenous women can offer economic and social independence, and reduce the rates of violence against women. Land access is necessary for the progress and development of indigenous communities, especially in rural areas; however, women's agency in decision-making processes surrounding agriculture production is still relatively low.

In a patriarchal society that is dominated by a neoliberal economic system, indigenous women are confronted with barriers both by their own family and the State. Many indigenous women are invisible in national census surveys and are excluded from national political processes, as their role in broader society is seen as limited to housework. This approach ignores their invaluable contribution to the national economy and marginalizes them. The inability to enter economic markets due to an incongruent belief in their role in both society and the family home was a deep concern of the women at the conference. Many strong women told of the shame and rejection they had experienced by family members and also a misunderstanding of the role they play in broader society. They felt that governments do not recognize their ability as income generators and business women, perceiving them as solely housekeepers. Furthermore, the current system prevents them from selling their own products and devalues alternate economic systems and smallholder production. These women activists and international stakeholders presented new ideas and recommendations for economic and political inclusion resulted very relevant for us, and we will work to implement them in Mayan Families programs that empower indigenous women.

Rosa, Medical Coordinator, and Erica Berthelsen, Mayan Families Director of Development & Operations, in a gender discussion

Rosa joins other women leaders to work on economic rights

After four days of intense discussion in different panels and workshops, forum attendees reaffirmed their commitment in the Final Declaration of the event to "the struggle for the fullness of life of women and indigenous peoples, protection, defense and healing of Mother Earth."

Rosalina Tuyuc Velásquez, a prominent Guatemalan human rights activist, perfectly captured why Mayan Families takes this issue so seriously: “Indigenous women face two adversities, being a woman and being indigenous. In Guatemala this is a serious problem.” This is a reality we work with on a daily basis and it is what motivates us to stand with this group of extraordinary women activists.

Co-written by Erica Berthelsen, Mayan Families Director of Development & Operations


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