October 18-20th, the Seattle International Foundation participated in a series of events and meetings with leaders in Guatemala working to end gender-based violence and address femicide, including representatives from government, civil society, the private sector and the international development community. SIF staff and Founders Bill and Paula Clapp were honored to join the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala and the U.S. Department of State Office of Global Women’s Issues (led by Ambassador Melanne S. Verveer) in this unique opportunity to collaborate on such a timely and important issue facing Guatemala and the entire Central American region. Please read below for an overview of each visit and visit our Flickr to view photos of the various meetings.
In Guatemala City, SIF had the opportunity to visit the newly inaugurated Criminal Court for Crimes of Femicide and other Forms of Violence against Women, an initiative spearheaded by Thelma Aldana, the recent President of the Supreme Court of Guatemala. The explicit role of these newly specialized courts is to not only serve as a response to the 2009 Law against Femicide, but also to prevent impunity that is prevalent in all other courts throughout the country. “When people used to say Guatemala, they [immediately] thought impunity. I think this is a new day,” stated Ambassador Verveer upon visiting with officials and witnessing the commitment of the government to address the epidemic of violence against women and femicide in Guatemala. This initiative is also supported by the office of Dr. Claudia Paz, Guatemala’s first female Attorney General internationally recognized for her valiance and dedication to human rights issues and rule of law in Guatemala. Click here to read a previous blog post by Program Officer Michele Frix about the Guatemalan government’s recent investment in specialized courts and prosecutor’s offices to address gender-based violence.
Following their visit to Criminal Court for Crimes of Femicide, SIF and Ambassador Verveer visited Guatemala’s Constitutional Court where they met with the three women magistrates: Carmen Maria Gutierrez Sole, Gloria Patricia Porras Escobar, and Maria De Los Angeles Araujo Bohr. Carmen Maria Gutierrez Sole is an alternate magistrate and a long-time Professor of Law at the Universidad Rafael Landivar. Gloria Porras is an internationally recognized member of the court. Porras stated that with regards to women, the Constitutional Court works on three areas: labor rights, inter-familial violence, and access to healthcare. The process of electing judges for the Constitutional Court is complicated, making it particularly difficult to elect women judges. The magistrates expressed that gender balance on the courts is essential because male judges view women’s issues much differently. “My job on the court is to provide the women’s perspective,” said one of the magistrates. Ambassador Verveer stressed the importance of women remaining in positions within the government to make great systemic change.
Ambassador Verveer met with several NGOs working on trafficking of persons and youth rights to discuss, exchange, and share motivations and experiences in regards to working on this issue. Present at this event were representatives from Refugio de la Niñez, International Justice Mission, Fundación de Sobrevivientes, La Alianza, International Labor Organization, ECPAT International, and Human Rights Ombudsmen. “I am here to learn about your efforts in Guatemala,” said Ambassador Verveer, “because we know that this is a growing criminal network where people are making billions of dollars around the world and I have worked on this issue both in an out of government.”
Ambassador Verveer encouraged discussion among the groups about the efficiency of the Guatemalan government in addressing this issue, and opportunities for collaboration. Many groups stressed the lack of relationship with the government: “We need you to help us talk to them. NGO’s are an essential part of this work…greater efforts can be made if both government and NGO’s work together.” Representatives also stressed promoting better practices and increasing government investments in programs that protect youth, while focusing civil society efforts to hold their governments accountable because that corruption and frequent turnover in the government are the biggest challenges to moving forward. Several institutions stressed the opportunity of working at the local level versus federal level to address these issues, so that local mayors’ offices could support peer mentor programs and other initiatives for youth. Ambassador Verveer emphasized the need for private sector involvement in these efforts as well.
SIF and Ambassador Verveer attended a dinner with high-level government officials and prominent NGOs working on gender-based violence, including representatives from the Presidential Secretary for Women’s Issues in Guatemala (SEPREM). Officials and NGOs discussed the many limitations for women in Guatemalan society, including a culture of young pregnancies and violence in households, lack of access to land titles and economic opportunities, as well as the need for institutional reform and placing women in positions of power.
According to SEPREM there are more than 50,000 pregnancies each year among 15-18 year-old girls in Guatemala, and more than 3,000 pregnancies among 10-14 year-old girls. The reasons usually vary from incest to teen girls being “sold” to drug lords or gangs as sex slaves. The biggest problem arises when women become part of the population of early pregnancies; the structure is passed down to their children – perpetually continuing the cycle. In addition, SEPREM representatives stressed that a lack of women in high positions of power has been detrimental to progress towards gender equality, and that this change must start at the local level by listening to local leaders about what their communities need in order to change the agenda.
Congresswoman Anabella de Leon acknowledged the urgent need for not only more women in politics, but for women to know their rights to protect themselves and ultimately change the public view that “In Guatemala, poverty has the face of a woman.” Alba Trejo, Presidential Commissioner against Femicide, raised concern about the high levels of femicide in Guatemala. According to Trejo, in the past four years, 4,000 children have been orphaned due to femicide. She expressed that there is a social stigma and danger accompanying cases of femicide, deterring prosecutors from taking cases.
SIF traveled to Chimaltenango to visit Asociación Generando (ASOGEN) a partner working to provide comprehensive services to survivors of domestic violence, as well as training for youth around violence prevention. SIF met with ASOGEN staff and over a dozen young women and girls who have received legal and psychological services from ASOGEN, as well as trainings around violence prevention. In addition to supporting ASOGEN’s services for women survivors of violence, SIF supports ASOGEN’s advocacy efforts to increase government funding for these vital services.
Launch of Mujeres Adelante Program
On October 19, 2012, representatives from the U.S. and Guatemalan governments, civil society and international development community, celebrated the launch of Mujeres Adelante, a new initiative of SIF and the U.S. Department of State Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) to combat gender-based violence (GBV) in Central America. SIF and S/GWI will bring Central American women leaders to the U.S. to enhance their personal leadership, skills and networks, as a key strategy to combat GBV.
“Long term lasting positive change, especially on critical issues such as gender-based violence, will only come by empowering and supporting leaders in Central America, who can lead the advocacy needed to increase awareness, create legal frameworks to protect women, and build institutional capacity at all levels on government,” said Mauricio Vivero, CEO of SIF.
“We, in the United States government, are so pleased and proud to be able to partner with the Seattle International Foundation today in this announcement that is being made to further attack the scourge of gender-based violence. This is a global scourge… it is fundamentally a violation of human rights. It is also a matter of national security, of a country’s stability… that is why we have come together today, with the Seattle International Foundation, to launch Mujeres Adelante…today the Foundation and United States government are committed to investing in and building the capacity of women, like many of you here, to end this scourge.” said Ambassador Melanne Verveer.
Central America has seen a significant rise of femicide, sexual assault, and domestic violence despite national and regional laws criminalizing violence against women. Mujeres Adelante will raise awareness and accountability on women’s rights and GBV; facilitate sharing of best practices; and build capacity and collaboration among women leaders in the region. Participants will meet with various U.S. private and public institutions focused on domestic violence and violence against women to enhance their knowledge around the most effective strategies, service models, and public policies used to address GBV.
Watch our new video about the program here:
The Seattle International Foundation (SIF) is working with corporations, foundations, governments and individuals to alleviate poverty in Central America. Since 2008, SIF has invested nearly $7 million in organizations working for positive social change throughout the region.
Under the leadership of Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) seeks to ensure that women’s issues are fully integrated in the formulation and conduct of U.S. foreign policy. The Office of Global Women’s Issues works to promote stability, peace, and development by empowering women politically, socially, and economically around the world.