Needs and Responses
The impact of civil war and violence in Guatemala has been differentially experienced by women and men; by rural and urban inhabitants; by indigenous and ladino. Very few women participated in the conflict as combatants but almost all women in rural areas, who are also mainly indigenous, were directly affected by it. The large numbers of widows and orphans is one indication of this.
Men were not assaulted by continous violence coming from the same directions, in the way that women were. Nor did similar violent acts resonate with men and women in the same way. For example, a son remembering a violent, drunken father who abused his wife would not normally identify with the victim to the same degree as a daughter would, unless perhaps the son had been particularly close to his mother. (Children are usually encouraged to identify with adults of the same sex.)
During the conflict, women in general took on a far more active role in decision-making, taking risks and dealing with the hostile external world. Many had considerable influence in deciding whether or not to move during La Violencia.
Refuge has led to profound transformations in gender relations and in the lives of women, giving rise to a new 'exile culture'. This is particularly true of the women who lived in camps in Mexico, whether or not they were heads of households. Even those living outside the camps, and especially those who were seeking employment, had to adopt Mexican dress codes and learn Spanish, which disproportionately affected women.
In order to survive, these women (most of them indigenous), had to assume new responsibilities and roles which contrasted dramaticly with their earlier experiences. Before being displaced and thrown upon their own resources, they had been expected to be subservient to men, to work long hours and in some cases to accept maltreatment. They were unaccustomed to taking responsibility, since the very strict sexual division of roles had excluded them from decision-making. Few of them had any education, were literate or able to speak Spanish.
Male authority was undermined in the camps. Even if a man was the head of a household, his partner was often no longer economically dependent upon him; he was unlikely to be a wage earner and his household received its support, at least initially, from UNHCR.
However, the process of return to Guatemala has been more difficult than these women who experienced exile could have anticipated. They have encountered the problem of lack of adequate infrastructure, making it very hard for them to meet basic needs. The rebuilding of homes and communities is proving to be an arduous process which makes extraordinary demands on time and energy. As a consequence, women have seen their domestic workload increase.
Just as refuge had opened up spaces for women to experiment with new concepts and practices of their gender identity, the return was seen by women's groups as a further opportunity for growth. Many women believe refuge, despite the significant material and emotional losses, had a positive impact on their lives through their relative empowerment, and they thought the return process could provide a similar opportunity. Many returnee women went back to Guatemala literate and with an awareness of their rights and heightened self-esteem. There was also potential for these women to share their skills and experience with women who had not been in exile.
However, it appears that, on returning to Guatemala, men are reclaiming their traditional positions of authority over women. Violence against women has further increased, said to be in part because of men's greater access to alcohol, which was prohibited in many refugee camps in Mexico. The right of membership to community organisations is reserved for men and widowed or single mothers. Refugee and returnee organisations are still male-dominated.
Illiteracy is still one of the problems most frequently cited by women and the level of education among all women, including refugee and returnee women, remains low. According to one survey, 66% of women cannot read or write, a percentage which might be higher since many women who consider themselves literate have great difficulties with written Spanish. This is higher amongst the more monolingual groups with more deeply rooted cultural patterns ( CIAM/Mamá Maquín 1994 ). Few women have an income, and those that do, tend to have comparatively less formal education and less ability to speak Spanish, since they usually belong to the poorer groups with no land to cultivate.
The issue of land ownership, one of the root causes of conflict, can particularly be a problem for women. In practice, they have access to credit and land only as members of a family group, which essentially makes women invisible since land is registered only in the husband's name. Since these practices are culturally rooted and appear to be 'normal', women tend not to claim ownership rights. When they do, there are no administrative mechanisms to enforce them.
Among women-headed households, those headed by widows face a series of particular problems and hardships. Widows are disadvantaged by virilocal residence patterns, the tendency to patrilineal inheritance, the sexual division of labour and a lack of employment opportunities for women. The high level of loss of male kin suffered by some households only exacerbated these problems. The war widow, and those close to her, became stigmatised and isolated; her children were often labelled as 'children of the guerrilla'.
The highly restrictive nature of female employment opportunities means that child labour, however minimal, is often the main source of income in many female-headed households. Boys and girls are often put to work prematurely by mothers and grandmothers, usually boys as wage-earners and girls carrying out more domestic duties. Boys as young as seven are sent to seek employment in rural areas or on the coast, where possible accompanied by an adult relative or by other boys of a similar age. In the towns and cities such boys can be found shining shoes, selling ice cream or sliced fruit and helping on street stalls; on the coast they harvest coffee and cotton on the fincas there.
Girls either accompany and assist their mothers if they go to the fincas or are sent to work as maids in urban areas. The practice of sending girls to work in domestic service increased during and after the conflict. Parents, in general, are reluctant to let their children go, fearing harsh treatment, abuse and that they would pick up bad habits from the ladinos. However, economic necessity has often obliged families to let them go.
A pervasive problem in Guatemala is the issue of street children and the hardships and abuses they endure. They are estimated to number between 1,500 and 5,000; most of them live in Guatemala City. Some 20 to 30 per cent are thought to be girls. An estimated 65 per cent are aged between 10 and 17 ( HRW 1997 ). The practice of sniffing glue or solvents is particularly prevalent among these children, in attempt to escape from their hunger and deprivation. Robbery, prostitution, and begging are the main sources of income for most street children. For many years they have been subject to violent abuse and even extra-judicial execution by members of the police and military, as well as at the hands of death squads.
- Casa Alianza - http://www.casa-alianza.org/EN/index-en.shtml
- Save the Children - Guatemala - http://www.savethechildren.net/guatemala/index1.html
- Human Rights Watch - Guatemala's Forgotten Children (1997) - http://www.savethechildren.net/guatemala/index1.html
The role the Government of Guatemala played in facilitating the return process and the reintegration of returnees and displaced people was carried out by a series of government and non-government organisations and was often poorly uncoordinated.
The Guatemalan government, The Special Commission for Attention to Refugees and Repatriates (CEAR) and UNHCR developed a three phase plan for the return of refugees under the International Conference on Refugees in Central America (CIREFCA). The first phase was the reception of returnees and the provision of emergency aid. The second phase involved projects funded by CIREFCA and the UN Programme for People Displaced, Refugees and Repatriates in Central America (PRODERE), such as primary health care, agriculture and literacy programmes. The third phase involved long term sustainable development to be implemented by the government in collaboration with NGOs. The National Fund for Peace (FONAPAZ) was set up by the government to finance development in the regions to which the refugees were expected to return. Aware that the government did not have the financial or human resources to implement the extensive reconstruction and development programmes needed, CEAR attempted to collaborate with NGOs. But suspicious of CEAR links to the military, NGOs were reluctant to work with them. Conversely, the government and armed forces were resentful of NGOs' ability to work with the rural poor and were hostile towards them.
In Guatemala, numerous social funds were established during the 1990s, the largest of which are FONAPAZ and the Social Investment Fund (FIS). Both use a decentralised model designed to involve municipalities, grassroots groups, NGOs and the private sector in carrying out local projects. FIS is a semi-autonomous agency, which works in poor rural areas. FIS has received international support from the World Bank and other donors such as Germany and Japan. Verification that funds administered through FIS actually go to where they are intended for, has been raised as an issue in the past by some observers.
The National Commission for Attention to Returnees, Refugees and Displaced People (CEAR) is the government institution providing assistance to the displaced and formerly displaced. It is mainly concerned in the actual physical return of refugees and assisting them in accessing land. Internally, CEAR works principally with INTA and externally with COMAR and UNHCR. One of CEAR's main constraints has been its relatively small staff. CEAR is also mandated to establish projects to reintegrate returnees into the economy and to prevent conflict with existing communities. It also has a role in facilitating returnees' access to land, food aid, health services, legal documentation, housing and infrastructure. CEAR has been criticised for providing insufficient, poor quality food and inadequate shelter materials.
In collaboration with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), CEAR has been providing credit for agricultural production. In this activity, it has been criticised for assisting only returnees and not the local community who are also in need. Communities also complain that in this programme, CEAR and IICA make it very easy to gain access to credit in principle, but then do not respond to requests submitted to them.
Obstacles to CEAR's work in the reintegration of returnees include poor infrastructure, lack of planning and scarce human resources. In 1993, CEAR had just one project specifically directed at women, which was providing housing in the Ixcal Triangle.
FONAPAZ was established in 1991 to provide socioeconomic rehabilitation assistance to refugees, returnees, internally displaced, the demobilised as well as those people who remained in their communities during the armed conflict. It is not an implementing agency, but acts as an intermediary between the municipalities, NGOs and local committees. FONAPAZ targeted some assistance to widows and orphans, mainly in the form of housing.
Non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations
There were estimated to be 1,500 NGOs in Guatemala providing different forms of assistance, at the time of the signing of the final peace accords ( Loughna & Vicente 1996 ). The provision of assistance by NGOs to the uprooted population is a relatively recent phenomenon in Guatemala. The participation of NGOs in assisting refugees, returnees and the internally displaced, both technically and politically, only began to develop significantly in the early 1990s. During the repression of the early 1980s, it was only the Church (other than the army) that continued to organise social groups, and even then not in all regions.
Beginning in 1989, the governments of Central America in collaboration with UN agencies, held a conference to discuss the adoption of an integrated approach to resolving the conflicts in the region and linking this process to the provision of sustainable development assistance for refugees, returnees and the internally displaced. The International Conference on Central American Refugees (CIREFCA) evolved into a five-year process of providing assistance to displaced people and formerly displaced people all over the region. In Guatemala, the process facilitated improved relations between the government and NGOs, and gradually allowed for the participation of NGOs in CIREFCA, before it concluded in 1994.
A regional network of NGOs, which became ARMIF in 1990, was set up to participate in the CIREFCA process. In the post-CIREFCA period, ARMIF retained an important role and widened the definition of the uprooted to include ex-combatants. The Coordination of NGOs and Cooperatives Accompanying the Population Affected by the Internal Armed Conflict (COORDINACION) was formed in 1992 to facilitate the return of refugees from Mexico and other neighbouring countries. Through such organisations, as well as the ASC, NGOs became not only project implementers but also assumed important roles in lobbying and national policy development.
In Guatemala, UNHCR had a clearly defined role in assisting in the process of the voluntary return of refugees from Mexico and the implementation of assistance projects for them. This continued until the organized return programme ceased in 2000, and UNHCR massively scaled down its operations in the country. During the 1990s, it carried out its work by financing projects through NGOs. Thus UNHCR's presence in the country of return and work with returnees is legitimised and formalised in agreements with the government. UNHCR solicits the technical assistance of other UN agencies, notably FAO, ILO, OMS, UNDP, UNESCO and WFP. UNHCR provides returnees with money in cash, food for nine months, agricultural tools, minimum technical assistance, and cooking utensils.
In February 1992, UNHCR in collaboration with international, regional and local NGOs as well as UNDP, staged a conference on refugee, returnee and internally displaced women in the CIREFCA context, known as FoReFem. Refugee women were represented at FoReFem by Mamá Maquín and La Nueva Union and were successful in overcoming government hostility to the resulting plan of action for gender-oriented work.
In 1995, UNHCR began to provide technical assistance to refugee organisations conditional on women becoming co-owners - with their partners - of land, to ensure the protection of women and their children, and the participation of women into the decision-making process. In their 1996 mission plan to adopt a gender focus, UNHCR's principal objectives and activities included the following:
· Facilitating the process of integration of returnee women in cooperatives by supporting their efforts to participate in the purchase of land. It intends to do this by providing training for trainers and in producing materials as well as providing transport and food for meetings and workshops to exchange experiences and ideas on integrating women in cooperatives.
· Facilitating dialogue between returnee women and Guatemalan NGOs by making available a directory of NGOs working in returnee communities.
· Strengthening the role of women in the process of development by organising training courses in project management, increasing the number of women development promoters and adopting a gender approach in Quick Impact Projects (QIPs).
· Integrating UNHCR's gender approach in all its activities in Guatemala and ensure their sustainability.
· Training its own personnel in issues of gender and development and also to sensitise implementing agencies, donors, accompaniers and the press on gender issues.
· Coordinating all activities with a gender focus at a regional level to optimise this process.
Since 1992, UNHCR has been providing assistance to returnees all over Central America through its QIPs. QIPs are small UNHCR-financed projects in returnee communities, administered by an international NGO and implemented by national NGOs and the Church. These projects are targeted at both the returnees and the local population.
In Guatemala, not wishing to be seen as taking sides in the dispute between returnees and the land's current occupiers, UNHCR has avoided implementing QIPs in places where there is a conflict over land ownership. Since QIPs require community participation, they have not been successful in communities in which people are unsure that they will settle. Participation of women in projects has been limited in large part by gender discrimination in communities. Although a gender approach is in principle an integral element of QIPs, in Guatemala the participation of women in projects has been limited by existing patterns of gender discrimination ( Garoz 1994 ).
QIPs have been criticised for affording women insufficient information about their ability to participate in projects, and are often coordinated by the NGO in collaboration with Spanish-speaking community members who are not necessarily part of the community's recognised leadership. In addition, projects are progressing to advanced stages without a contract having been signed and without responsibilities being allocated. In practice, these problems prevent or discourage the participation of women in QIPs.
Since 1994, the EU, with the US, has been the largest donor of aid to Guatemala. In January 1996, the total cost of projects being executed was US$ 415 million. Prior to 1996, the EU focused its donations to Guatemala in two areas: first, financial and technical assistance, in particular through a series of rural development projects for the poorer areas most affected by the conflict; second, emergency action, self sufficiency programmes and support for specialist organisations to facilitate return. A less expensive area of activity involves supporting the democratisation process and providing assistance for non-traditional exports to the European market. Currently the EU has 98 projects being implemented, or soon to be implemented, in Guatemala. Most of these projects are administered by international NGOs and implemented by national ones, though some are implemented through governmental agencies. The projects are concentrated in the departments of Quiché, Alta Verapaz, Huehuetenango and Sololá.
The Catholic Church has actively supported and assisted the return process through the Mediation Committee, declarations of the Bishops' Conference and participation in the Religious Conference of Guatemala (CONFREGUA). The Church provides assistance in the form of housing, drinking water, food and in agricultural production to the internally displaced population which it regards as particularly vulnerable and without support.
Various international NGOs, such as Christian Aid and CAFOD, have assisted refugees and communities inside Guatemala. Many of these programmes focus on health and educational development, including radio programming in indigenous languages, credit and agricultural development. No detailed information is available on the gender implications of these programmes. By mid-1997, Action Aid, Oxfam and Christian Aid all plan to have representatives based in Guatemala.
Despite the repression, grassroots organisations and the peace and human rights movement in Guatemala has a strong rural, as well urban, base. These groups are mainly calling for demilitarisation, genuine democratisation and social and economic reform. Women's organisations hope that such reconstituting of the Guatemalan state and society will enable women to maintain gains made in refuge and will create the space for other emergent feminist demands.
Women's presence in the new social movements, however, has been significant, especially in those which advocate respect for human rights and reject impunity and forced recruitment by the army to the civil patrols. Women have used their gender identities as wives and mothers as the pretext for entry into the public arena on issues such as human rights. There is also a strong presence of women in grass-roots movements and neighbourhood or peasant organisations which struggle for land, housing, health, sanitation and other basic social services.
More recently, in the context of debates in the ASC, which brought together different women's organisations among others, an incipient and very heterogeneous women's movement has emerged. Many of these have the official status of an NGO. Others are 'feminist' groups which advocate on behalf of women's rights. The women's sector of the ASC has managed to remain relatively consolidated.
The Mutual Support Group (GAM) was initiated by a group of mainly indigenous wives and mothers of 'disappeared' men. It has campaigned for the creation of a Truth Commission to investigate killings and disappearances. Since it was set-up in the mid 1980s, GAM has been targeted by military and security forces. During the peace negotiations and beyond, the principal organisations of refugee/returnee women were Mamá Maquín, Ixmucane, Madre Tierra and ARDIGUA. Through these groups, the participation of refugee women in public life is gradually changed. Although, upon return, there strong moves to return to traditional roles and values. Many of the advances made by refugee/returnee women, and Guatemalan women more broadly, were under considerable threat.
- UNHCR Evaluation - http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/+QwwBmepX269wwwwwwwwwwwwhFqo20I0E2gltFqoGn5nwGqrAFqo20I0E2glcFqzH1wBnMwcwDzmxwwwwwww/opendoc.pdf
- Health: Organización Panamericana de la Salud (OPS) - http://www.paho.org/default_spa.htm
- Instituto de Nutrición de Centro América y Panamá - http://www.incap.org.gt/
- Human Rights: Amnesty International: Guatemala's Lethal Legacy: Past impunity and renewed human rights violations - http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/engAMR340012002?OpenDocument&of=COUNTRIES\GUATEMALA?OpenDocument&of=COUNTRIES\GUATEMALA
- US Department of State: Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2002 - http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/18333pf.htm