Photo of Alli Bunting

CanWaCH Policy and Governance Officer Alli Bunting is on a special work trip in Guatemala during the month of August visiting the project sites of Horizons of Friendship, a CanWaCH member that is active in the region.

Stay tuned to this space as we share photos, videos and articles from Alli about the important work being done for women and children’s health in Guatemala. 

 Day 13 & 14 – Visiting project sites with Horizons of Friendship and their local partners

View of Totonicapán region near Quetzalte-nango, where the project sites are located.

My site visit began in the evening when I met with OSAR – a Guatemalan non-profit that is very active in the health sector. They work with community-based organizations on educational programs, they monitor sexual and reproductive health across the country and they also work to implement structural changes by supporting and pushing the government to ensure that the right to health is accessed by everyone, everywhere.

 

PIES de Occidente Midwife Training Day.

The next morning, I met with Horizon of Friendship’s partner, PIES de Occidente to observe their maternal and child health program. We attended a midwife training day with 35 midwife community leaders who have been selected by both the Guatemalan Health Ministry and PIES de Occidente to receive capacity training one day each month. After each training session, they then return to their communities to share what they have learnt.

Alli with three Guatemalan midwives from the training day

Alli with Midwife Training Day participants and her translator.

When I spoke individually with the midwives, many commented on how powerful these training sessions were, how much they were learning, and how energized they felt to return to their communities and share the information. We then went to observe community health workers conduct house visits among families with children under the age of 2 in rural areas, providing information and guidance on everything from nutrition to sanitation. These two meetings were inspirational, demonstrating the power of partnership between community, national and international actors, as well as the need to continue to work with governments to realise the universal right to health.

Day 11 – Indigenous Women Stand Up for their Rights in the North Transversal Strip

Map of Guatemala with the FTN highlighted in red.

North Transversal Strip area in Guatemala

From 1960 – 1996, Guatemala was embroiled in a brutal civil war. One area that was particularly affected by the violence was the North Transversal Strip (FTN). It is a resource-rich area across the centre of the country (see map) and the people living in the area makeup approximately 54% of Guatemala’s rural population. 

The region is in the spotlight again with the government classifying the area as a ‘corridor for development’ and they are expanding the extractivist and agro-export activities in the area, including hydro, mining, petroleum, and more recently, palm oil production.

However, control remains in the hands of the wealthy and there is increasing environmental degradation caused by the expanding economic activities, especially the palm oil production that contaminates the water with biohazards. Economic activities in the FTN have also affected local women and their families.  

Julia Hartviksen, a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics in Gender Studies is conducting her field research in the FTN and I met with her in Guatemala City to discuss her work, which focuses on analysing ‘violence against women’ as experienced by rural and primarily Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ women, and examines the assumed benefits of macroeconomic development.

Photo of Julia

Julia Hartviksen exploring the FTN.

Julia has found that many women relate the expansion of palm oil in their communities to different forms of violence and exclusion they have experienced. The impacts of palm oil typically affect women’s social reproductive roles (washing, bathing, etc.), which has given rural Indigenous women greater legitimacy and authority in participating politically to resist palm oil production and expansion. While many of the women continue to face social, political and economic barriers, their activism has made them increasingly aware of their rights and they are becoming more involved in their communities to challenge and transform gender roles.

Indigenous rural populations are some of the hardest to reach populations around the world with huge costs associated with establishing infrastructure and realising human rights. When governments and corporations pursue economic growth and development, rural populations, particularly women, often absorb most of the impact, with minimal social, political or economic benefit. The reorganization of the economic sphere – particularly of how people subsist and make a living – will invariably have implications in other spheres of society. Importance must be placed on how macro-economic development is undertaken, with proper consultation, investment, and ownership by local populations.

 

Julia Hartviksen holds a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Doctoral Fellowship and a LSE Studentship. You can read more about Julia’s research here and you can follow her on Twitter at @_yulinka_

Day 9 – Changing attitudes towards child marriage in Guatemala

I came across this Plan International poster at the entrance of the catholic church in San Pedro la Laguna, denouncing child marriage. Since 2015, the legal age of marriage in Guatemala is 18 years for both boys and girls (it was previously 14 for girls and 16 for boys). 

Today with my Spanish teacher, we were discussing how in certain rural areas, with poor access to basic services and fewer economic and educational opportunities, child marriage persists, and with it teen pregnancy and birth complications. UNICEF claims that about one third of girls in Guatemala are married by the time they’re 18.

While critics say that the law is not enforced and the practice continues in rural areas, seeing the poster was heartening: this issue is increasingly visible, Guatemalans are fighting to protect children’s rights, and slowly there is a cultural shift that values girls in a different way, transforming gender roles and changing societal expectation for girls to marry.

Day 7 – Learning to Weave at Batz Textiles

On Saturday afternoon, I spent the day at Batz Textiles, a women’s weaving cooperative in San Juan on Lake Atitlan, learning how to weave on a backstrap loom. Alli weaving on a backstrap loom
 
Weaving is an important artistic, cultural, historical and economical tradition for many indigenous women in Guatemala. The types of patterns and hand-woven cloths I have seen here are astoundingly beautiful. I was incredibly slow to weave (but very proud) and it took me 2 full afternoons to weave 3 feet of material. Apparently my skilled teacher can weave 1 scarf a day.
 
Maltyoox (thank you) to my teacher for teaching me to weave and someAlli holding up her weaving creation
basic Tz’utujil phrases!
 
To learn more about Batz Textiles cooperative and view the lovely handicrafts, visit: www.batztextiles.com

 

 

Day 1 – Arrival to Antigua

Streets of Antigua

Antigua’s streets follow the Italian Renaissance grid style.

Upon my arrival in Guatemala, I visited Antigua. Its name (Antigua = Old), is derived from its association as the old capital of the area.

Located approximately 2 hours away from Guatemala’s capital, Guatemala City, this UNESCO world heritage site was once the cultural, religious, political and economic capital of the region until 1773 when it was hit by a series of earthquakes, abandoned, and then eventually resettled.

Antigua is now a very popular tourist spot, showing off its grid-style planned city streets, beautifully preserved buildings from the 17th and 18th century, and well-maintained ruins from previous earthquakes.