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Femicide Law in Guatemala

VAW Forum in Antigua, Guatemala - coordinated by AFEDES

Already before heading to Guatemala I had been reading reports and news articles about the increased violence against women in this country, claiming to be more cases surpassing numbers of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. According to Guatemala’s Human Rights department the nation has registered over 4,000 violent murders of women from 2000 to 2008.

In May 2008, the femicide law passed in Guatemala. This became a huge victory for feminist and women’s rights organizations, as previously the only law addressing violence against women (VAW) was the law to Prevent, Sanction, and Eradicate Domestic Violence, passed on December 5, 1996. However, that law was still limited, as it didn’t recognize violence as a punishable crime, and now with the femicide law, violence against women is considered a punishable criminal act and perpetrators could now be given harsh sentences.

Even though it’s been over two years since the femicide law passed, a lot of people, including those within the governmental judicial system don’t know about it and thus, is not being effectively used. As a result, IDEX partner AFEDES is actively participating in coordinating municipality town halls or forums – what are more known as “Tables of Dialogues” (Mesas de Diálogos) where experts on the femicide law are invited to talk with community members from different sectors, mostly women, about the various steps that can be taken to submit a denouncement involving violence against women.

AFEDES has noticed that for these forums to be effective at disseminating information and at really supporting eradicating violence against women, the women needed parallel training in learning what VAW means in their spheres and how they can recognize it. The patriarchal system still dominates in most indigenous communities, where men still feel the right to hit and abuse their wives. Women need to know the different scenarios that play within VAW such as psychological, physical, economical violence.

Even though AFEDES does not have their own resources to carry out these workshops, they have coordinated with the National Coordination for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CONAPREVI) – a governmental institution that focuses on violence against women and has government funds to implement training workshops. What AFEDES has done is create a training program according to the local context of women living within the state of Sacatepéquez and have requested CONAPREVI to facilitate them.

I was invited to one of their first workshops in these series in Antigua, the most popular tourist town in Sacatepéquez. Because of Antigua, the state is recognized to be one of the richest states in Guatemala, without taking into account the tremendous gap between the richness in Antigua with all of the indigenous communities that are living within the state.

In this participatory workshop, the 25 women participants were first separated in groups and asked to draw what they thought represented the different roles of family members (being a woman, man, daughter and son). They shared and described their expressive drawings with everyone highlighting how women and daughters had different expectations, being responsible for household chores. They then watched a silent animated movie showing the many roles women play and had a discussion afterwards to see how the participants could relate to the film.

At the end of the workshop, after the facilitators provided basic information on how to recognize and identify the different forms of violence against women, the participants were separated in groups and drew what they would do now with this new information. Drawings included a man hitting their wife and a group of women on the side who can identify this form of violent act and can now help this woman victim to get out of the situation. Other drawings including sharing the femicide law to inform women that there is now a law that can support them.

More than just informing about violence against women, this training program are strengthening social transformations in the women participants, as they build confidence and courage to be vocal in demanding their human rights. The desirable end result is that women become empowered to improve their own lives and can recognize their rights. If they can see that they’re receiving a form of violence against women, they can step forward to change their situation.

That same afternoon, one of the forums that AFEDES has been coordinating was going to take place. AFEDES had invited a lawyer specialized in the femicide law, a member of the Peace tribunal (entity that is part of the Judiciary system, whose functional role is to ensure the laws from the Supreme Court of Justice are being followed) based in Santiago Sacatepéquez, a woman activist from San Lucas Sacatepéquez and AFEDES Board President, Justiniana “Justa” Cruz to be part of the forum panelists. Slowly, women started coming forward to talk about their own case of violence and asking the panel for advice on what steps to take to submit a report to the police.

A huge challenge is how uncooperative the police and the municipality officials have been in encouraging women to submit their claims by the simple act of just receiving them. This highlights the non-concern for women’s rights (especially if they’re indigenous). A basic example has been that a woman who is originally from Huehuetenango and now resides in Santiago Sacatepéquez wants to submit report to the Santiago police. They won’t receive because they say she’s from Huehuentenango. Once she went to her original birthplace, the police said that she now resides in Santiago and needs to submit it in Santiago.

It took a while for women in the forum audience to start speaking up and sharing their stories. Once the first one got up, then the other women started to follow with their tragic cases, not necessarily of their own, but of their daughters. The Peace judge was very supportive and kept responding to each case with detailed steps and resources and agreed with the deficiencies of Guatemala’s system in addressing these valid cases. He even voluntarily offered at the end his office number for any case that needs guidance, whether or not the women were from Santiago or not.

It was encouraging to hear a male Peace judge being vocal about women’s rights being respected and taking use of the femicide law. “But he always wasn’t that way,” shares Amarilis Guamuch, AFEDES executive director. “We’ve been inviting him to these forums for over a year now and at the beginning he didn’t show the need of such a law in Guatemala, but over time, hearing these tragic stories he’s turned around and is now being more pro-active in demanding these cases to be put forward.”

Guatemala is responding slowly to the femicide law. That same day of the forum – over two years the femicide law was passed – Guatemala’s judicial systems were going to present the protocol guidelines to take advantage of the law, a process that needed to be shared when the law came out.

Thanks to organizations such as AFEDES, Guatemala cannot get away from just simply passing the law on paper, but it needs to be actively used for the benefit of women.

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