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MADRE Partner at the Launch of UN Campaign to End Violence Against Women

Posted on: Thursday, December 10, 2009

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

Raising the Voices of Maquila Workers

Today, Human Rights Day, officially marks the end of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign. The 16 Days Campaign, which begins annually on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25 and runs through December 10, is used as an organizing strategy by individuals and groups around the world to call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women.

This year, the UN launched the Latin American regional initiative of UNiTE, their campaign to end violence against women. MADRE partner Sandra Gonzalez traveled to Guatemala City to represent MADRE and MADRE’s sister organization, the Women Workers’ Committee, at the events held during the launch.
Sandra was invited speak about violence against women maquila workers. In her capacity as director of the Women Workers’ Committee, Sandra has done more than just document labor and human rights violations. The organization has built a community for women workers and provides them with opportunities for empowerment through literacy classes, health fairs and sexual rights trainings.

From Sandra’s presentation:

Limited access to education means that Guatemalan women aren’t afforded the opportunity for economic advancement. For most women, career development won’t happen in the workplace as businesses generally won’t employ women who are pregnant or over the age of 35. Women are forced by necessity to work whatever jobs they can find.

Common labor violations against female workers include:

  1. Physical and verbal aggression towards the women by business owners, supervisors and security guards.
  2. Wrongful dismissal because of pregnancy
  3. Not paying workers the full salary or benefits
  4. Long working hours and enforced overtime. Many women take pills in order to stay awake.
  5. Sexual harassment by the administration
  6. Laws that are meant to protect the rights of the workers are extremely difficult to enforce, due to bureaucracy and corruption
  7. Complaints can’t be filed against facilities or businesses, but against individuals
  8. Maquila workers are paid less than the national minimum salary
  9. Workers are required to stay late and provided no security measures for getting home in a dangerous country, increasing the risk of assault, rape or death.
  10. Simply by changing their name and the name of the owner, companies can fire all former employees without paying social security benefits.

The impunity granted to businesses allows the owners to grow rich, while leaving women workers impoverished, sick and dead.

Learn more about maquila workers and the work that MADRE supports through our partner, the Women Workers’ Committee.

Though the 16 Days Campaign has come to a close this year, MADRE joins other progressive organizations in recognizing that working to end gender violence can not be limited to 16 days out of 365. For women around the world, violence is a daily reality, so the work to end violence deserves daily attention from all of us.

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