Posted by IDEX
IDEX Executive Director Vini Bhansali reports from Guatemala, where she visited with IDEX partner Women’s Association for the Development of Sacatepéquez (AFEDES).
I leave early from Guatemala City to visit with IDEX partner Women’s Association for the Development of Sacatepéquez (AFEDES), where Amarillis Guamuch, their fearless leader, shares the origins of her organization.
From Working in the Kitchen to Running the Show
Years ago, the men of a cooperative in Santiago Sacatepéquez were meeting to organize politically when the women began to accompany their husbands mostly to cook for their meetings.
While cooking, the women began to talk amongst themselves and recognize that they, too, could engage in economic empowerment activities. Thus, 1996 saw the start of AFEDES’ work in training women to sew, bake, and sell groceries.
By 2001, AFEDES had built a microfinance program that promoted savings and microcredits for small-scale income-generating projects accompanied by technical assistance and skills training. Outwardly, the program seemed to be a success.
Microcredit Alone Not The Solution
But in 2008, after an assessment survey conducted in the region, AFEDES found that women were not necessarily becoming more empowered and, in fact, at the household level, some women were worse off and deeper in debt than at the start of the program.
And, while no one was talking openly about domestic violence at the time, its impact could certainly be felt, too.
Women’s Oppression Hindering Their Success
Some women were being forced to become a part of the microcredit programs under duress and suffered sexual and economic violence when they exercised any resistance. Husbands were taking away their land titles or fathers would move the property in the name of their sons in law rather than daughters.
After a period of analysis and reflection, AFEDES shifted its work understanding that women’s oppression could not be solved by credit alone.
Women Learn Their Rights and Stand Up Against Violence
AFEDES started what they call “School for Women’s Political Education”– an 18 week-long program to educate and empower indigenous women about their rights and share information about the mechanisms – both legal and social – that exist to protect their rights. AFEDES organizes many of their workshops with the full family in mind and especially encourages children to attend.
“Unless a woman herself learns to stand up against violence, she will forever be subjected to someone who wants to act their power over her,” explains Amarillis.
Organizing with Other Women’s Rights Groups for Policy Change
AFEDES has also been a long-term member of the National Alliance of Women, a women’s social movement in Guatemala with 33 member organizations actively participating to make women’s voices heard and propose public policies that are in favor of women.
Together the alliance works on actions against the re-militarization of the communities in Guatemala and on the defense of labor rights. To participate effectively in this forum, AFEDES’ women are being trained as community organizers.
A Shelter for Women in Need
For seven years now, AFEDES has been struggling to get a shelter for battered women to seek psychological counseling and be served in their indigenous languages.
The exclusion, discrimination and racism facing indigenous women and their organizations continues unabated. They have marched to the governor’s office and have been rejected, but AFEDES is determined. Now, with is a seat at the table in coalition with other groups, this is a policy victory that they intend to win this year.
No More Violence
I am humbled by the courage of these fierce women holding all systems accountable. And I am struck once again by their wisdom and rigor when the discussion turns to how important it is to help women see that they have the right to have a critical mind, to think, to research, to discuss and to make their own decisions.
Las Mujeres No Esperamos
Alto a la violencia ya!
No mas violencia en…
Mi Communidad y
The Women Aren’t Waiting
Stop the Violence Already!
No more violence in…
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