Examining women’s leadership in Guatemala

 

Seattle University and the Seattle International Foundation carried out a research trip in June with ten student research fellows — myself included — to assess the impact of Generando, one of SIF’s grantees working to end violence against women. One of SIF’s priority strategies is to invest in women leaders from civil society in Central America as means to attain sustainable, systematic, and structural change across all sectors of society.

Photo: Sy Bean

Generando is a women-led organization that generates opportunity for women’s economic and personal empowerment as a way to combat interpersonal violence, teenage pregnancy, and lack of opportunities in Chimaltenango, Guatemala. Generando also promotes the involvement of youth (particularly young women living in both urban and rural areas), to become more civically involved—especially around accessing educational opportunities and promoting reproductive rights.

The importance of conducting this research is to highlight how the leadership formation of Generando’s staff has impacted their communities. Part of Generando’s approach to ending violence against women is to provide mentoring through workshops on topics ranging from self-esteem to sexual and reproductive rights. As a result, The Asociacion Sololateca por los derechos de las mujeres indigenas was founded by one of the young women mentored by the Executive Director, Danessa Luna and Coordinator Director, Helen Rojas. This organization works with local schools to raise awareness on teen pregnancy, sexual and reproductive rights, self-esteem, healthy relationships, and gender equality.

(left to right) Michele Frix, Generando staff, Research Fellows, Mayor of El Tejar, Dr. Serena Cosgrove

In order to gain an institutional understanding of the situation of gender-based violence in Guatemala and Generando’s role in eradicating it, we also visited the Anthropologic Forensic Foundation of Guatemala, representatives of the Department of Justice, Guatemalan Women’s Group, judges and attorneys from the Femicide Courts, and Chimaltenango’s mayor. While visiting the Court of Criminal Sentence in Chimaltenango, Chief Justice Walter Campos highlighted that the state only handles the sentencing, and Generando is the only institution working on prevention services. Campos also added that women’s leadership in the organization creates a welcoming environment for women navigating a complicated bureaucratic system.

During our stay in Guatemala, we witnessed change. As part of the yearly review of the Chimaltenango State budget, the Council of Urban and Rural Development singled out Generando for the quality of their services and the need for a shelter to protect women victims of violence. SIF Director of Programs Michele Frix and Executive Director of Generando Danessa Luna were interviewed by local press about the importance of Generando’s prevention services as well as their assistance through the Centers of Integral Attention for Women (CAIMU) in Chimaltenango; click here for a clip of the interview.

While the underlying factors of violence against women are extensive, Dr. Serena Cosgrove, professor at Seattle University, stated, “we have perceived that a lot of Guatemalans no longer want these high levels of violence. It is important to work with men as well, to break the machista scheme.” The conclusions of the research will be shared with the general audience in the fall. Generando will also be receiving an impact assessment study later this year.

Lara Sepulveda-Machado is a Seattle University alumna and is currently the Special Assistant to the CEO and the Central America Program Assistant at the Seattle International Foundation.

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