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Reclaiming Women's Human Rights in Guatemala

"I may not know how to read or write, but I know my rights" – Member of Muixil, a MADRE partner organization

On a quiet evening in July 2008, Betty Gonzalez received an alarming phone call. Through the cackle of the phone's static, a menacing voice informed her that her daughter Rosemary had been kidnapped. The anonymous messenger warned her against calling the police–and then swiftly hung up.

Betty immediately reported Rosemary's kidnapping to the local authorities. They dismissed her concerns and refused to begin the investigation until 24 hours after Rosemary was reported missing. When the investigation commenced the following day, their efforts were half-hazard and mocking.

Betty's worst fears were confirmed several months later, when Rosemary's battered body was found. The Guatemalan Public Ministry did not investigate her death nor prosecute any suspects. Betty is still fighting for justice.

Rosemary's case is not unique. Throughout Guatemala, women and girls face widespread violence, sexual assault and discrimination. A staggering 99% of femicidecases go unprosecuted, creating a climate that perpetuates violence against women.

MADRE has been part of a crucial effort to reclaim women's human rights in Guatemala.

Together with our partners, we presented a report before the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations on violations of women's human rights in Guatemala. The report focused on violence against women and highlighted the following points:

  • Femicide

  • Gender-based violence

  • Violence and political discrimination against Indigenous women

  • Violence against women in prisons

  • Human rights violations within maquilas (sweatshops)

Ana Ceto, a leader of our sister organization in Guatemala, traveled to New York totestify before the committee. In her testimony, she elaborated on the discrimination that Indigenous women face and offered recommendations to ensure that their rights are protected.

In response to the testimony and report, the Committee concluded that Indigenous women face a triple discrimination–based on social origin, race and gender–and urged that all necessary measures to allow for access to justice be taken. The concluding observations handed down by the Committee closely echoed the concerns raised and recommendations proposed by MADRE and Ana Ceto.

This is a huge victory for Rosemary, Betty and our partners. For years, they have worked tirelessly to give a voice to Guatemalan women. Finally, it seems like someone is listening.