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A Mother's Campaign for Justice in Guatemala

Posted on: Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Keywords: Guatemala, Latin America and Caribbean, Combating Violence Against Women

“Sometimes I want to give up.” When she spoke these words, Betty Gonzalez had not only suffered the brutal murder of her daughter, Rosemary. She had also been fighting for years with a justice system that didn’t seem to care about the murder of women from Guatemala’s poorer communities.

But with the support of women from her community and from all over the globe, Betty didn’t give up. She took a stand that reverberated throughout Guatemala. What’s more, she gave hope to people campaigning to end gender-based violence everywhere.

In Guatemala, women and girls face widespread violence, sexual assault, discrimination and even targeted killing because of their gender—a crime known as femicide. A staggering 99% of femicide cases go unprosecuted.

Betty and Yifat.jpg

Yifat comforts Betty. 

Consider Betty’s ordeal: when she reported her daughter missing, the police took no action. After Rosemary’s battered body was discovered, they made only a minimal effort to investigate the murder. For months, the Guatemalan Public Ministry did not investigate Rosemary’s death nor prosecute any suspects. When Betty sought help from public officials, they mocked and dismissed her.

A group of determined women changed all that. The Women Workers Committee, a grassroots women's group and MADRE’s sister organization, stood by Betty. They helped her face down callous officials and ultimately bring her daughter’s killer to justice.

Since 1997, MADRE has worked with the Women Workers Committee to meet urgent needs for healthcare, education and women’s safety in Barcenas, a marginalized community at the edge of Guatemala City. Together, we’ve also conducted workers’ rights and women’s rights trainings and advocacy.

After a series of MADRE-led activist trainings, the Women Workers Committee made sure that the courtroom was packed with local women when Rosemary’s killer was on trial. They formed a circle of support around Betty and let judicial officials know the community was watching.

Betty Gonzalez Press Conference.jpg

Betty refused to be silent about the murder of her daughter Rosemary. 

In fact, the whole world was watching. MADRE had documented Rosemary’s case in a report to the UN Human Rights Committee. The report brought international pressure on the Guatemalan government. The women of Barcenas were directly involved in creating the report. They used it as a tool to increase awareness of women’s human rights in Guatemala and demand justice for Rosemary—and themselves.

To keep Betty’s spirits up throughout the trial, MADRE asked our members around the world to grow the circle of support around Betty. Their letters flowed to Betty, letting her know how important her struggle was for women in Guatemala and around the world.

When Rosemary’s killer was found guilty, it was the first conviction of a woman’s killer that the community had ever seen. Betty told us of the immense relief she felt, knowing she had found justice for her daughter. And our partners at the Women Workers Committee told us that it was their work with MADRE—the activist training, the legal services, the campaigns directed at their government, and the friendship and support they felt from women around the world—that made their victory possible.

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