On Tuesday 12 February 2019, Time for Equality in collaboration with Rotondes, Luxembourg hosted the second event of the season entitled Expressions of Humanity – What kind of world do we want to live in?. “Empowering women in Guatemala” which aimed to create awareness and a dialogue about ways and opportunities for Guatemalan women to use their own resources to work themselves out of poverty. Vanessa Rees has written a blog post we are pleased to share. Below is a photoreportage of the evening, with our thanks to Raoul Somers for supporting TFE and the Expressions of Humanity cycle with his time and professional skills. Time For Equality wishes to thank all partners and sponsors, our keynote speaker Magali Paulus, and all individuals who have contributed with their ideas, voluntary work, presence and participation, to make this event possible. We realise that this is just a small part of the process. We’ll continue to work together, to spread awareness, information, discuss and take action. A follow-up section “What can I do” will be published soon.
The evening began with the screening of Ixcanul the multi-awarded film by the Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante followed by a discussion on the challenges for the indigenous populations in Guatemala especially women. This was accompanied with a presentation of activities and projects supported by Luxembourg-based associations Frères des Hommes and ASTM.
Ixcanul is the first film made in the Kaqchikel Mayan language, directed by writer-director Jayro Bustamante. The film starts slowly as we follow teenage coffee-bean harvester (Maria Mercedes Coroy) go about her daily life, mostly with her mother. The film is named after the active volcano beneath where the film is set. At first it is slow moving, we are privy to the habits of a simple family capturing how the characters can carry a forest’s worth of firewood on their heads without missing a step or witnessing them getting their pigs drunk on rum in hopes of speeding up the mating season. The scene is set with the family betrothing their daughter to the impoverished family’s landlord, a way to keep them all in work and with a roof over their heads. But Maria has other ideas, she is in love with local village boy Pepe who dreams of going to America and wants to run away with him (), She is fascinated with his stories of America. They talk of life beyond the volcano, through Mexico and into America. One-night María finds him drinking heavily with the other village men and convinces him to have sex with her. From here she finds herself pregnant. In order to avoid the embarrassment of her swelling belly the mother tries to abort the baby, using old remedies including some bizarre hopping at the volcano. Finally, when their land is infested with snakes it is an old myth that a pregnant woman can scare of the snakes. This is where life begins to get more complicated for María, forcing her into an almost unbelievably unjust confrontation with the modern world and one that is based on the real-life, ongoing exploitation of indigenous people in Guatemala. Maria is rushed to hospital in the city where neither of her parents speak Spanish. There are around 22 Mayan languages, but Spanish is the language of authority as can be seen in the movie when Marie unknowingly has her baby taken away from her. This also illustrates the corruption that exists in Guatemala and later in the movie as Marie returns home from the police station when they have realised what has happened to the baby, but nobody is really listening. Huddled in the back of a truck with her parents she imagines the baby is now living in America.
Following the movie, a lively audience discussion focused on the status of women: poverty, lack of access to education; increased vulnerability to violence, forced marriage; migration. The discussion covered women’s strength and resilience and their empowerment through the valorisation of culture and income-generating activities.
Magali Paulus from Frères des Hommes Luxembourg explained more about the lives of the indigenous populations in Guatemala today. Most of the indigenous population faces extreme poverty without access to basic needs and struggles to defend their lifestyle and land rights. Women and children especially are most at risk. The film was a powerful illustration of how situations can quickly become disasters for many women living in rural communities with no access to local medical care and no ability to communicate in their own indigenous language showing that they essentially live in a country where they don’t belong or speak the same language.
It is estimated that 60% of the population are discriminated against, mostly women, they miss out on education and don’t understands the language of the government or state institutions. The cycle of poverty and corruption that exists is hard to break at a higher governmental level but instead by working directly with families at grassroots levels local NGO’s help empower them to be able to stand up for their rights and to exist in parallel with the state.
According to the World Bank Guatemala has the biggest economy in Central America, but statistics illustrates its stubborn inequalities. One is particularly shocking: Almost 50 percent of Guatemalan children suffer from chronic malnutrition, one of the highest rates in the world.
However most of this poverty is still very well hidden, young girls, like Maria in the movie hardly ever take decisions it is always done by the family, it is important to empower women to be able to take and make decisions. Spanish is the language they need to learn to be able to take advantages of opportunities but all too often they miss out on school and on learning opportunities.
It is obvious the state does not work or function for indigenous populations. Through its work with organisations at grassroots level Magali from Frères des Hommes illustrated the small pockets of hope and despite the lack of enthusiasm for female empowerment it is beginning to be recognised. It is through the work that is being done by the NGOs that communities are slowly strengthening actions for women which will enable indigenous populations to have more equality in their own country without stigma, poverty and discrimination.